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From the very beginning, the Assumptionists have been engaged in a wide variety of apostolic works. All that advances the coming of the Reign of God has always been deemed worthy of our apostolic energy. This continues to be true to this very day. Some of us are teachers, engineers, wood-workers, journalists ; others are missionaries, pilgrimage directors, hospital chaplains, parish priests. Our activities run the gamut from theological research to foreign missions. We place particular emphasis on work for unity and relations with the Eastern churches, on fostering vocations in the Church and on the communication of the Christian message through social work, the media, preaching and teaching.
The Assumption has never forgotten that its name and in a way its vocation come from the school where we were founded (Assumption College in Nîmes, France). Though the Assumption was never an exclusively teaching order, the founder wanted all of his religious to be "teachers" in at least the broad sense of that word. Early on d’Alzon concentrated on the education of the leading classes in France, but then later founded minor seminaries (that he called "alumniates") to educate students of lesser means and even opened a number of orphanages. The Congregation continues to be involved in the world of education, at the secondary and university levels, as school administrators, teachers, chaplains, and leaders of different catechetical and youth movements.
The media are heavily criticized today, and in the 19th century the Church was hardly enthusiastic about this form of communication. The Assumptionists were among the first to dedicate themselves to the mass media and to take up the challenge of communicating a Christian position in a secular setting and to encourage genuine dialogue between the Church and the world in which a great variety of people live and work. Admittedly a major ambition! From the primitive working spaces of the “Bonne Presse” publishing house in Paris, France, to the modern, computerized services of “Bayard Presse” today, still in Paris, but in a dozen other countries of the world as well. The challenge remains the same: whether the content is religious or secular, whether it is addressed to young children or senior citizens, it is the same Gospel vision that is at stake. The Assumption wants to be present at the heart of the world, a word more and more taken up with the media.
How could you possibly be an apostle of the Kingdom – Thy Kingdom Come ! – without wanting to go where Christ's good news is hardly known? Some religious families are essentially "missionary", but again that is not the case with the Assumption. We are "generalists" when it comes to ministry, and so from the beginning we have wanted to travel abroad to work in the "emerging Churches": in Africa, in China, in Latin America … Now these Churches are forming their own clergy and becoming in turn missionaries. Today, many young people from the Congo, from Madagascar, and now from Russia and Eastern Europe, are committing themselves as well to the Great Mission.
It is thought to be virtuous not to have any preferences, but we Assumptionists do have one nonetheless. It's a preference for poor, in response to the Gospel and to the Church calling us today to be on their side. For us too it's a consequence of our own vow to live as poor men. Some will dedicate themselves full-time to this work: with marginalized people of every kind, in hospitals and in prisons, "worker priests" or volunteers in different organizations … But all of us try to live in union with the poor, because "the poor will always be with us", because the poor are too often neglected even within the Church. This is a bias that the Assumption encourages.
It took nerve 130 years ago to launch a pilgrimage movement. Popular in the Middle Ages, pilgrimages had almost faded into oblivion, but the Assumptionists brought them back to life in the 19th century. D'Alzon wanted religion to "get out of the sacristy" and to show itself in the public place. He invited the crowds to gather in Lourdes, at La Salette, in Jerusalem. They even began producing their own magazine, The Pilgrim, still going strong today. These gatherings renewed an old tradition, a form of evangelization still effective today. To be a pilgrim is not just an opportunity to visit the sites, but to move your life from one place to another, perhaps to rediscover a greater source of life.
There's another « pilgrimage » that we easily enough neglect: the call to unity. Ecumenism is not just an old tradition for Assumptionists; it's an essential part of who we are. From our first missionaries
in Bulgaria to the recent episcopal ordination of one of our religious in Turkey, ecumenism has been a priority. How could the Kingdom come if it were proclaimed by divided Christians? At the beginning of the
20th century, a third of our religious were involved one way or another in ministries in Eastern Europe and the Near East, from Jerusalem to Athens, from Bucharest to St. Petersburg. In the West, other
Assumptionists have been involved in research and dialogue in the Anglican and Protestant worlds. After many years of communist persecution, our Eastern mission is once again growing, and the new challenge of
relations with the Orthodox Church will demand all of the energy and passion that we can muster.
In one body - Assumption's Ecumenical Mission
Are Assumptionists made to be parish priests? Clearly not, if it's just a matter of doing the work to which diocesan priests are called. But yes, for a particular mission, in a particular way, especially as religious living in apostolic community, with our doctrinal, social and ecumenical concerns. Yes, if it is to work closely with the poor, or with young people, or in "mission" territories. In parishes, our goal is not simply to maintain the structure, but to be imaginative in our methods of evangelization, to speak in a language people understand, to encourage the creation of small communities and the involvement of the laity.