Articles 9, 10, 11 and 12
THE GROUP LEADER
Art. 9 – Each Prayer Group is presided over by a Group Leader, who is elected by an absolute majority of the members, in a plenary meeting, in the presence of a priest delegated by the Bishop. If no one obtains an absolute majority in the first ballot, the person who obtains even a relative majority in the second ballot is deemed to be lawfully elected. This election must be confirmed by the Bishop and the Director General. The Group Leader is elected for a period of five years, but can be re-elected for a maximum of three periods of five years.
The directive here speaks clearly enough as to the mechanics of the election of the Group Leader. This is, as other articles are, practical elements for a smooth functioning at the individual, national and international levels of our Association. One element that is necessary, beyond the approval of the Bishop and presence of the Spiritual Director at the election of the leaders, is the election itself. After the initial Leadership Council has been established and approved, all subsequent Leaders must be elected, not appointed, unless the appointment, for some specific reason, has been permitted by the Director General or the local Ordinary. We have to avoid creating “dynasties” of power. A true leader does not make people follow him or her only, but encourages leadership in others by allowing them to see their own capabilities and desire to serve. True leaders, those who seek to serves the good of others, are willing to let go when the time arrives and others are elected, but is ever willing to offer assistance in any way needed to the new leadership in suggestions, ideas, etc. based on past experience.
The Association seeks to create a sense of spiritual brother and sisterhood, in the spirit of Padre Pio. A term limit is established for the Group Leader and others so that no one becomes so imbedded in their office that no one else can have the possibility of serving and making use of their own God-given talents. We’ve probably heard the saying that the only person who likes a change is a wet baby. Change is difficult for those who have successfully led the Group and/or who were possibly the initiators of the Group. We are reminded in Scripture that true greatness lies in doing God’s Will and not necessarily always being in the forefront of everything. Change at the proper time of leadership personnel can be a wonderful means to bring fresh ideas and enthusiasm to a Group, while at the same time offering others to share the gifts of the Spirit they have received.
THE ASSISTANT GROUP LEADER
Art. 10 – The Group Leader is assisted by one or two Assistant Group Leaders, elected by an absolute majority in a plenary meeting of the members. If an absolute majority of votes is not obtained in the first ballot, a relative majority will suffice. They remain in office for five years and can be re-elected for a further five years.
The same reasoning for the Group Leader applies here as well. Assistants are necessary both for the continuity of responsibilities should the Office of the Group Leader be made vacant for whatever reason, or the Leader be incapacitated. Time limits are the same and reconfirming the position by vote follows as for the Group Leader.
If, for any reason, the post of Group Leader becomes vacant, in the course of a five-year period, the senior (older) Assistant Group Leader assumes the direction of the Group. It is the duty of the Assistant Group Leader to arrange a meeting of the Group members within thirty (30) days, in order to elect a Group Leader in accordance with the Norm of Art. 9.
Even here the office is taken over for a brief period for the sake of order. An election must be had by all the membership so that the person directing the Group be the chosen of the majority and not the selection of a few.
Art. 11 – The Group Leader nominates a Secretary who remains in office for five years and can be re-appointed. The Secretary shall keep a register of the members of the Group, and a record of the decisions of the Direction of each Group. The Secretary will assist the Group Leader in all matters required for the proper functioning of the Group itself.
The Secretary is not an administrative position. For this reason, the Secretary is appointed by the Group Leader and not voted in by the Group. The Secretary serves as one who records all activities of the group and keeps the Council and membership informed. When questions arise, the Secretary should be requested to clarify matters by presenting the deliberations and decisions of the Council and membership.
THE SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR
Art. 12 – Each Prayer Group has a Spiritual Director who is a priest nominated by the Diocesan Ordinary. His special task is the religious instruction and formation of the members. To this end, he will organize Retreats, or courses of spiritual exercises and initiate other ways he may deem useful and suitable.
This is a very important article regarding one who has an essential role in the Prayer Groups. Most often Spiritual Directors of Groups see themselves and are seen by others as “the priest who sits with us”, or “the priest who says our Mass”, or some such statement. Padre Pio envisioned the Spiritual Director as precisely that, a “spiritual” Director, i.e., one who is qualified because of his office to assist others in their spiritual journey. He is one who should be prepared to speak individually with the members in helping them to understand their particular place in their journey to God and assist them to grow in the Spirit of God and the spirit of the Association whose fundamental charism is the Capuchin Franciscan way of living the Gospel values within the Roman Catholic Church, obedient to the Holy Father and the bishops in union with him. This last part cannot be stressed enough. Anyone who presents and promotes issues contrary to the teachings of the Gospel, the Church and/or the Holy Father cannot be Spiritual Director, nor can that person of the Association consider him/herself a true member of the Association and Spiritual Child of Padre Pio.
The spiritual journey of the Group requires that they plan for special experiences of prayer, above and beyond the usual monthly meeting. Retreats strengthen the soul and offer periods of more intense prayer and reflection to grow in the Lord. Other social activities as well can even be planned to create a greater sense of brother- sisterhood among the members. All these spiritual and social activities give witness to others of the power of God’s spirit and grace working within us.
The Spiritual Director, ordinarily, presides over liturgical celebrations and sacred functions organized by the Group, in agreement with the Parish Priest or the Rector of the church.
Because of his special position in and with the Group, The Spiritual Director is expected to offer the Eucharist with the Group and instruct them on Gospel values and any area that pertains to our Faith.
The Spiritual Director must be a priest. (There are exceptions permitted for a given time and/or for specific reasons but these should not extend over a lengthy period of time.) The Spiritual Director is not a priest who just happens to be present once a month with the Group, or who casually finds others to take his place – although sometime this may be necessary because of previous commitments or unexpected demands made upon him – to preside at monthly Eucharist and meeting.
While the Lay Leader and Council keep the schedules and activities flowing properly and according to the regulations of the association, the Spiritual Director is responsible for the spiritual growth of the Group. Each one must take care of his/her own soul and its progress in grace to God. But the Spiritual Director is the priest who has been appointed to be the guide for the Group. The Spiritual Director hopefully accepts this personal responsibility with a sense of grateful awe that God will work through him for others and humbly prayer that God may always enlighten him through the Holy Spirit to fulfill God’s plans for those who come to him for direction.
The word “direction” causes a little difficulty as well. The place of the Spiritual Director is that of one who has the spiritual growth of each single member of the Group at heart. Besides presiding at the Eucharist, offering prayers at the monthly meetings, and being present and possibly sharing some spiritual insights once a month with the Group, the Spiritual Director is expected to accompany each member on their spiritual journey.
Spiritual Direction is not a “therapy session”. If someone needs psychological assistance they should be directed to a professional in that field. Nor should the Spiritual Director try to “solve every problem” or “have all the answers” to difficulties. But, the Spiritual Director should be available at reasonable periods for each member of the Group to listen to them (should they request his particular assistance) and offer his prayers and objective spiritual guidance to assist them in progressing in their spiritual journey.
When Padre Pio spoke of his Spiritual Children, he spoke of those whom he had taken under his direct guidance. They visited and wrote him frequently. Many of his responses written down in letters or remembered by his Spiritual Children, show the depth and simplicity of the man of God. Spiritual Directors should be open to do the same.
If the prayer life of the Spiritual Director is centered on God and his vocation, he can be certain that his direction will be simple, straightforward and centered on the issue. There is so much that can be said on this point. Hopefully, I will be able to share some thoughts with all of you on the place of the Spiritual Director in each Group, (Arch) Diocese, Region, and Nation at a later point. For the purpose of these present Reflections (Statutes 1986) I will stop here on this issue.
However, please keep in mind that the need for spiritual growth in each one’s life and the essential presence and participation of a priest Spiritual Director in every Group is not just the mind of the International Leadership, but the mind of Padre Pio himself.
We priests should consider it an awesome responsibility and honor to be asked to spiritually guide the Groups and assist in their growth in the Spirit. It could be seen as God’s way, through Padre Pio, in keeping us faithful to the persona Christi we were ordained to be, and also as a way to keep our hearts focused on values that are eternal, while we journey and minister in a world filled with so many seductive allurements and illusions.