Next week, delegates from around the world will meet in Rome to participate in a special gathering of young Catholic lay persons and religious who are being asked to join a conversation about how the Church can best engage with their generation. Among those delegates will be a De La Salle Christian Brother from the District of San Francisco New Orleans with high hopes for both what he might contribute to it and what he might gain from it.
Brother Javier Hansen, FSC is one of three representatives from the United States to the Pre-Synod Gathering in Rome March 19 – 25. At age 27, he is a Brother in temporary vows, having entered the Lasallian Region of North America (RELAN) novitiate in the fall of 2015 and taken first vows the following summer. Currently, “Brother Javi,” as he is known to students and confreres alike, teaches religion at Cathedral High School in El Paso, Texas.
The Pre-Synod Gathering is a preparatory step for the 2018 Ordinary Synod, Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, a meeting of the Synod of Bishops to be held in October, 2018 at the Vatican. The Gathering was conceived, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) website, as “as a way to listen directly to the voices of young adults around the world.” In announcing both the Pre-Synod and the Synod itself, Pope Francis stated, “Through this journey, the church wants to listen to the voices, the sensibilities, the faith as well as the doubts and criticisms of young people. We must listen to young people.”
As the Pre-Synod approaches, Brother Javier shared his thoughts about being a delegate to this historic and extraordinary event, as well as the prospect of what the experience might hold for him and his community.
How did your selection as a delegate to the Pre-Synod Gathering all come about?
I was teaching class one afternoon and recognized an email from the Visitor, Brother Donald. I opened it and saw an invitation to go to Rome to be involved with a process regarding the youth in the Church. I accepted and a few weeks later the USCCB contacted me to begin organizing my travel. At first, I did not know the seriousness of the task I had accepted. It was not until a phone conversation with Father Ralph O’Donnell that I realized that there were only three delegates from the U.S. At that moment, my mind began swirling.
What was the reaction of the Brothers and family and friends to the news?
I was able to tell my community and family over Christmas break, but not able to speak about it too much until the press release from the USCCB was published. My mom and dad were very impressed and happy for me. Sometimes I imagine they have a hard time keeping up with all the opportunities I have had, such as living in four different time zones, traveling to Myanmar, accompanying groups of students in Mexico…When the Brothers found out, I received a countless number of congratulations, including an email from the Superior General!
What are you looking forward to most about your trip and the experience of the Pre-Synod Gathering?
I am most looking forward to meeting the other delegates from other countries. And I have never been to Rome and so, of course, I am looking forward to visiting the “Eternal City” for the first time. So much myth and legend surround my understanding of Rome, and I hope that my travels will clarify a lot of this. Brother Nick Gonzalez lent me a book about the history of Saint Peter’s Basilica. This has made me even more excited. I am also most looking forward to meeting the other delegates from other countries.
The theme of the Synod itself will be “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.” What message(s) about each of the three parts of this theme do you hope to convey at the Pre-Synod Gathering?
Being a young person and the teacher of many young people, I imagine that I will have a lot to add on this particular theme. I am interested in seeing how we can keep young people engaged in the Church. I also hope that my trip will help me recognize what part of the faith is most interesting to young people and the best methods to present it. With my own vocational discernment, I am excited to see what others have to say about what leads young people to discern religious life and the priesthood. I am the only U.S. delegate who is a religious, so I am interested to see how many of the delegates will also be members of religious orders.
What insights from your own vocational discernment journey do you feel will help your participation in the conversations around this theme?
Throughout my vocational discernment, I have very actively participated in it. I have enveloped myself in Lasallian themes in my formation, and even shared with my superiors my advice for future members. I think this has prepared me to an effective member of this pre-synod gathering.
What insights from your work with your students do you feel will help with your participation in the conversations around this theme?
I was reminded by members of the USCCB with whom I have been working that, as a high school teacher, I not only represent myself as a young person but also all the young people with whom I interact on a daily basis. I hope I can do a little bit of surveying on themes that I can take to Rome with me. An area outside of my classroom is that hopefully I would be able engage those in the larger diocese in working with young people and gathering their opinions as well.
What do you hope to communicate to your fellow participants about the Lasallian charism and Lasallian educational tradition?
I am sure that a lot of the participants will have heard of the Brothers, but I hope to share with my fellow delegates the uniqueness of our particular vocation. The Brothers’ mission of education expands beyond the classroom and I am sure I will be able to connect with many of the delegates because so many of us were chosen based on our broad involvement with young people.
What do you hope to bring back from your experience at the Pre-Synod Gathering to your community and to your students and colleagues?
I have already received several invitations to share my findings upon my return, and I am almost looking forward to these as much as the trip to Rome itself. I look forward to sharing with my colleagues at Cathedral High School how we can better teach the faith. And, as we have been reminded time and time again, no matter whether or not we teach religion classes, we are all religion teachers in some capacity.
Photos courtesy Brother Javier Hansen, FSC, and Cathedral High School, El Paso, Texas.