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The Solemnity of St John of God - Letter of the Prior General

I wish to extend my very best wishes to all of you on the Feast of Saint John of God on March 8, trusting that we shall prepare for, and joyfully celebrate the Solemnity of our Patron and Founder.

You may recall that, this time last year, I spoke to you about returning to Granada and emphasised our Founder’s courage and commitment at this juncture in his life, to serve as a source of inspiration to all of us, and which naturally continues to apply to all of us in the present time, calling us to return every day to our mission, and thereby to respond to the Lord’s call.

This year I wish to continue along the same lines and remind you of the episode that occurred at the beginning of John’s return to Granada, at the Casa de los Venegas, which today we know as the Casa de los Tiros. For it was the proprietor of the house, Miguel Abid Venegas, who helped him and allowed him to go out at night to pick up the poor from the streets and take them in.

On the façade of the house, the arms are still visible today – the sword and the heart – with the motto, “let the heart command”. The family that lived there certainly intended to highlight the values of generosity, goodness and outreach to others, among their other values. Fate would have it that our John found out for himself that these values were put into practice by that good family, until their vestibule of solidarity became too cramped and John had to find another, larger, one.      

When he returned to Granada, John of God realised that the time had come to act, to offer a visible demonstration of what God was asking of him, to practise hospitality by devoting himself to the poor and the sick. Granada will be your cross! And there he went to wear himself out on behalf of others, knowing that serving the poor and the vulnerable people of this world was tantamount to serving Christ Himself.

Through his life, John of God fully lived up to the motto of the Casa de los Venegas – let the heart command -  which took the form of a real and visible commitment to all before eyes of everyone. It is from the heart that the best intentions and the best values spring, for the good others. From the heart of John of God, hospitality sprang in the manner of the Good Samaritan, like the warp and woof of life, capable of transforming the world. From that moment onwards, the words “let hospitality command” became engraved in his life and in his heart.

I believe that for all his followers and for all the Members of the Hospitaller Family of St John of God, his experience is also a source of inspiration and a call to reflect, particularly over the coming days, on the way we must construe and practise the hospitality which formed the centrepiece of his life and his interests, as the centrepiece of his heart.     

“Let hospitality command” epitomised our Founder’s life and project. And it epitomises the charism, mission and above all the spirituality of his followers. It means that hospitality must always be the key criterion of our lives, of our mission and work, of our relationships, of our conduct – in short, of everything. It is the criterion for human, social and ethical discernment. It is always the benchmark to which we must refer whenever we take any decision.

I urge you all to reread this motto in all its depth, especially in the times through which we are living today. Saint John of God is urging his followers to take an honest look at our hearts and see what dwells there, eliminating the self-referentialism and egocentrism that sometimes occupies too much space there. In our hearts, hospitality alone must command, taking the form of service and self-giving for the good of our most vulnerable, sick and needy brothers and sisters. They are real people, suffering from the effects of physical, social and spiritual sickness. Like the blessed John, let us each return to our private Granada and respond with this same motto as the driving force of our lives: let hospitality command on behalf of the needy. That is the prophetic response that our world needs today, more than ever before.

During 2015 we shall be celebrating Hospitaller Vocation Year. The Feast of our Founder must be used as a key moment for celebrating and giving thanks for our vocation. His life and his example are a call to all of us to invite others to join us in this project, so that hospitality can also command in their hearts, too. The best way to do this is certainly to bear witness through our own lives, that is to say, to testify to others to enable them to discover that it is hospitality, in the manner of Saint John of God, that commands. Of course, there are certainly many other things we have to do, but this is the most important one, to ensure that, hopefully, many other people will join us in practising hospitality.

I would like to take this opportunity to announce to the whole Order the result of the 2014 campaign for the “Renovation of the Saint John of God Psychiatric Hospital at Cochabamba (Bolivia), the Women’s and Children’s (Psychopedagogical) Units”. The appeal raised 317,820.52 euro thanks to your generosity and solidarity, for which, once again, I wish to express to my most sincere thanks and gratitude.

At the same time I would like to tell you that during 2015 we will continue to wage the campaign to support our centres in Sierra Leone and Liberia, as a consequence of the Ebola crisis. Once again I thank you for your generosity and I urge you to continue to serve this cause, that the epidemic will be beaten completely wiped out during the course of this year. 

I send my best wishes to all the members of our Family and wish you a happy Feast of Saint John of God. On that day, let us remember in particular all the sick, the poor and the needy, and all the victims of the Ebola epidemic and our Brothers and Co-workers who are continuing to perform their mission in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Let us continue to celebrate enthusiastically the Hospitaller Vocation Year and let us prepare, in April, to close the Centenary of the death of Saint Benedict Menni, who was one of Saint John of God’s outstanding sons. Let us pray that hospitality always commands in our hearts, and increasingly in the hearts of ever more men and women.

United in our Lord and St John of God, I send you my fraternal good wishes.

 

Bro. Jesús Etayo

Superior General 

 

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