SVD GENERAL COUNCILOR IN ROME FR JOSÉ ANTUNES DA SILVA – “Our Society has been blessed with many vocations in Asia”

The Society of the Divine Word is gaining momentum in Asia with the growing number of new vocations, says the SVD General Councilor in Rome Fr José Antunes da Silva. Speaking to O CLARIM, he mentions about the establishment of missions in Myanmar and Bangladesh, the challenges the congregation faces throughout the world and the work carried out by Pope Francis in the Vatican. Macau is also a topic of conversation.



You are an SVD priest in Rome. Can you describe the nature of your role?

I am a member of the General Council of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD). My role, together with the other councilors, is to help the Superior General to coordinate the Society’s work around the world, and to animate our members and our collaborators in their life and mission.


How many new missionaries finish their studies each year and receive their first missionary assignment?

In the last ten years there has been an average of 100 new SVD missionaries (brothers and priests) who profess final vows and receive their first mission assignment every year. The great majority of them come from Asia, especially Indonesia, India, and Vietnam. And the majority of them are appointed to a mission outside their country of origin. Our Society has been blessed with many vocations in Asia.


What are the challenges the SVD face throughout the world?

One of the challenges is interculturality. Today, we live and work in multicultural contexts, in our communities, parishes, schools, and so on. This requires an ongoing process to dialogue with people coming from other cultures, learn from them, and together, create spaces where all people can feel at home. In addition, there are some countries where, due to political and economic situations, war and violence, it is very difficult to do missionary work, for example, Liberia, Congo, South Sudan, Venezuela. But our missionaries remain there with the people, sharing their life and hardships. Speaking up for truth and justice, being the voice of those poor and marginalized, as well as that of an ailing and suffering environment will surely be among the challenges of the Church at large and the SVD as well for a long time to come.


How about in Asia?

The presence of several religions calls us to engage in interreligious dialogue. I recall, for example, the work done in India by of our Centers for Dialogue. The refugees are also another challenge, as well as the issues related to the environment. Worth mentioning is the work done, for example in Indonesia, to lobby in the area of ecology and the protection of the environment or our work together with other people and institutions in the fight for justice and peace.


There are missions ahead in the pipeline in Asia, such as in Myanmar and Bangladesh. What can you share with us regarding this subject?

Soon, probably after the coming New Year, two teams of SVD missionaries will arrive in Myanmar and Bangladesh to open two new missions. The bishops of these two countries have been asking our Society to come there and help especially in the formation of the local clergy and lay people, to engage in social work and pastoral work. We are happy to contribute to the Church in these two countries where the Catholics are a small minority. The recent visit of Pope Francis to both countries it’s an inspiration for us, and in a certain way confirms the decision taken by us to accept the invitation of the bishops to work in Myanmar and Bangladesh.


You have worked as a missionary in Ghana. What’s the current situation of the SVD mission in Africa?

The SVD is present in several African countries and through its parishes, schools and other apostolates collaborates with the local church and the people to create better living conditions, to care for the poor and the homeless, to contribute to reconciliation and peace among cultures and religions. For the SVD, Africa is also a continent full of hope because of the growing numbers of young men who are joining our Congregation, especially in Ghana and Congo.


Mission Animation, Bible Apostolate, the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, and Communication and Media, are the four characteristic dimensions of the SVD Spirituality and SVD Focus. What can you tell us about their overall importance?

These four dimensions are somehow our family traits. Of course, they refer to the specific ministries and apostolates that we do in several areas. However, more than a ministry that we do, for example, promoting Bible study groups or publishing magazines, they are basic attitudes. We would like that every SVD missionary and every one of our lay partners could be a man or a woman who is inspired by the Word of God, collaborates with others in the mission, reaches out to other people in an attitude of dialogue, and works for the transformation of the world.


How do you assess Pope Francis’ work within the Vatican?

There are several things that I appreciate in Pope Francis. I’d like to mention just a couple of them. Pope Francis wants to put back the Gospel at the center of the Church’s life and work. And it is from the Gospel that all his actions and words can be understood. This approach led to a change in the language of the Church. Pope Francis dreams of a servant Church, a welcoming Church where everyone can find mercy and walks with the people, not above the people. Also, some of his gestures brought the attention of the world to the dramas of today. His visit to Lampedusa [Italy] marked a turning point in the way the media, the politicians and even the Church in Europe look at the refugees. Unfortunately, sometimes this way of the Pope creates opposition within the Curia and the Church at large.


You have been to Macau recently. What’s your personal impression as a Portuguese who visited the territory for the first time?

It is difficult to express in words what was my impression when I arrived in Macau. In a certain way, but not knowing how to express it, I felt at home. Was it the narrow streets and the baroque churches? Was it the past history that can still be sensed under the surface of a modern, hectic and busy town? Anyway, I felt at home.


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