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Report of the 21st General Assembly of UCESM from 15 to 20 April 2024 in Vranov (CZ)

The theme of the meeting was “Religious life: Identity and Future” – Facing the challenges of today.
Out of a total of 38 Conferences, for various reasons, only 27 were present (15 from Eastern and 12 from Western Europe).
Our Executive Committee was also there, of course: President, Fr. Jānis Meļņikovs, Latvia; Vice-President, Sr Olena Bys, Ukraine, and members: Fr. Mark-Robin Hoogland, Netherlands, and Sr Vojtěcha Zikešová from the Czech Republic, until 20 April succeeding Sr Mary Hanrahan, Ireland, who unfortunately had to step down.

The secretariat was fully present: Sr Marjolein Bruinen and Mrs. Nicole Jacqué.

We were also able to greet some prominent guests: Sr Mary Barron, president of the UISG, Fr. Martin Michalíček, general secretary of the CCEE, Mrs. Josian Caproens, president of the ELF, Prof. Thomas Schwartz, director of Renovabis, Fr. Zsolt Labancz, former president of UCESM, and Fr. Anjei Yukhnevich, president of the coordination group of superiors in Belarus.

Vranov is a Minims monastery, beautifully situated on a mountain, with plenty of silence and nature all around. Everyone had, divided over three floors, a spacious and comfortable room with bathroom.
In the dining hall, we were able to enjoy delicious food, extremely diligently organised by the Sisters of St Borromeus: Sr Fidelis, Sr Agnes and Sr Amadea.
There was an intimate chapel, where we had daily morning prayers and celebrated the Eucharist.
There were always a whole series of concelebrants.
The liturgy in several languages was perfectly prepared by our participant and secretary general of KNR (NL), Rev. Simon Evers.
The texts of the various speakers can be found on this website; therefore, I will not elaborate further on their content.


Monday 15 April

The very intensive shuttle service organised by Sister Vojtěcha – with the invaluable help of Sr Zdeňka Švédová – to and from Brno, where most participants arrived by train or Flixbus from all directions, brought (almost) all participants in time for the welcome address and opening Mass by Fr. Janis at 18:00.
After dinner and the welcome speech on behalf of the Czech Conferences, the participants were introduced to each other in a playful manner, led by the Czech sisters. This relaxed feeling continued throughout the meeting.

Tuesday 16 April

Today our four translators, led for years to our great satisfaction by coordinator, Mr. Paolo Colonnetti, began their work.
Our facilitator, Fr. Grzegorz Dobroczyński, opened the meeting, after which messages followed by the President, Fr. Janis, and the general secretary, Sr Marjolein. The row was concluded by Abbot Erik De Sutter with his financial report.
After the break, we enjoyed the lecture by 3 representatives of religious life in the Czech Republic, Sr Denisa Červenková, Fr. František Hylmar and Fr. Lukáš Fošum who, under the title “Between today and tomorrow: who are we?” presented a picture of the reality of religious life in the Czech Republic.
In the afternoon, we were in contact by zoom with the secretary general and successor of Mons. Carballo, Sr Simona Brambilla of DICLSAL, accompanied by Dott. Daniela Leggio, who had been able to join us last time. It was very nice to get to know Sr Simona.
After the Eucharist, we enjoyed dinner with Mons. Jan Graubner, Archbishop of Prague and President of the Czech Bishops’ Conference, after which Fr Miroslav Herold gave an exposé on the development of religious life in the Czech Republic.

Wednesday 17 April 

On this day, we enjoyed a great lecture by zoom from the Philippines by the Indian Brother Philip Pinto on our vulnerability, titled “How can this be?” (slides here).
After noon, we listened to Fr. Luis Manuel Suárez from Spain, responsible for the vocations apostolate on behalf of UCESM, and discussed how to move forward in this.
The subsequent Eucharist was celebrated by the Apostolic Nuncio in the Czech Republic, Mons. Thaddeus Okolo (his homily cont.), who enjoyed dinner with us.

Thursday 18 April

Another particularly esteemed guest: Sr. Nathalie Becquart, undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops, spoke under the title “How to become a synodal Church in mission with the laity?”
Before she began, Mrs. Josian Caproens introduced herself as a representative of the European Laity Forum.
After lunch and after taking the mandatory group photo, we left for Brno in two buses. We were able to experience religious life in the Czech Republic up close in three places: with the Salesians, with the contemplative Sisters of St Clare and with the new community of the Beatitudes.
We met back at the Cathedral of St Peter and Paul, where Mons. Pavel Konzbul, Bishop of Brno, celebrated Eucarist.
The day ended enjoyably at the restaurant of the Carmelite International Community close to the cathedral.

Friday 19 April

Our last working day began with a zoom meeting with members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors from Rome, who outlined their commitment. We had discussed the terrible issue of abuse earlier in the week and heard from each other how it is dealt with in the various Conferences.
The rest of the day was devoted to decisions and votes:

  • The civil edition of our statutes was adopted by the Assembly
  • It was decided that we support the activities of the vocations apostolate, insofar as they provide a platform for knowledge and exchange
  • Sr Marjolein proposed a new way of paying the annual fee to UCESM, namely that each Conference commits to an amount for the next 5 years or so. Those who had still not done so will be contacted personally.
  • The financial auditors appointed confirmed the financial report and, as a result, Abbot Erik and the Executive Committee were discharged.

A very important point was still the election of a successor to Sr Vojtěcha on the Executive Committee. There were three candidates and Sr Angela de Fátima Coelho from Portugal was chosen. We are grateful to her for taking on this task!
A final message* was read out by a drafting committee comprising one person from the west, one from the east and one from the south of Europe, which was accepted by the entire assembly with great appreciation.
Finally, we still talked about the where, when and what regarding the next General Assembly in 2026. You will still be notified about that!
We can look back on a wonderful meeting, in which we felt that we were growing closer together and – despite all the questions – look to the future with confidence!

Due to a technical problem, Fr. Mark-Robin Hoogland’s homily during closing Mass was not attached to the report. We are happy to provide that one now!

* Final message in Polish and in Ukrainian