For this begining of the year, Michel Bernard de Vregille, answered some of Louis-Etienne's questions about the Emmanuel Community and the Church actuality.
LE : Hello Michel Bernard
MB: Hello Louis -Etienne
LE: we are happy to be able to do this little interview with you. It’s a first and then maybe there will be others with many other people…It has been two years since you were elected general moderator of the community. How are you doing?
MB: Listen, I am very well. I’m very well, I’m happy in my mission which is not always comfortable, but there you go. Very happy in my mission
LE : And how is your family?
MB: My family is also doing well – this is an important point, especially in the initial discernment when we ask ourselves the question: are we making ourselves available or not? But in fact, it’s going very well. It was a family discernment, including with the children, since you know that we have six children and six grandsons. The grandsons were not included in the discernment of course but everyone is doing very well. You must pay attention to the agenda, especially now. We’re not in circles so we have to put everything on the agenda and when I have family time, I put them on the agenda so that things go peacefully.
LE: So you’re a full-time moderator. And Catherine ? Can you remind us ?
MB: Yes, I am a full-time moderator, so I am indeed an employee of the Emmanuel community. I’ve been an employee of the Emmanuel community for about six years now. Before that I worked in big markets distribution for 13 years and then in logistics for 18 years. And Catherine is responsible for the chaplaincy of an hospital, the hospital of Chinon in Touraine.
LE : And you live…?
MB: In l’Ile Bouchard
LE : Thank you! So first question : what does a moderator do concretely ? How does he occupy his week, what does he do with his days?
MB: In fact, I like to recall a sentence that touched me in a text by François, which speaks precisely about pastors. He talks about the bishops, and so he says that the shepherd must be in front of his flock at certain times, who must be in the middle of his flock to know the smell of the sheep, and he ends by saying that he must also be behind the flock for what they may have difficulties, but he also says because the flock itself has a sense of smell to find new paths.
I think that today a general moderator of the Emmanuel community, makes a lot of that. He is certainly not the one who has the infused science, he is certainly not the one who knows from the start where we must go, but he is the one who must listen. A lot of listening to his brothers and sisters and then to guide, to moderate to discern with them, this is what the Lord is calling us to. Because concretely what is important when we discern? It is to do the will of the Lord, so here we try, in community, to live it.
LE: So, what is it concretely? Travels, meetings?
MB: Yes, then I would say that there are several levels. Already very quickly, the government of the Emmanuel community is an International Council that is elected, for which I am responsible. It meets every month. Every month afterwards there may be specific questions and I am in contact with the members of the Council.
Then there is the Council of the Fraternity of Jesus, which meets three times, four times a year and is responsible for the retreats that are organised within the framework of the Fraternity of Jesus. There is the Council which was new and that was something important at the beginning of my mandate, which is the Council of the Clerical Association of the Emmanuel Community which concerns our brother priests and our brother deacons. And then the last authority, which is very operational, I would say, is what we call the International Bureau. So, what is the International Bureau? They are my delegates for the zones, since we have six zones at the international level. So I have delegates who follow the zones plus all the persons in charge of the international transversal services typically perhaps the best known such as Love and Truth or the question of the Young People, topics that concern everyone, who are what we call transversal services, and who also meet every month.
So this is really the government, the community, and then of course there is the relationship with our pastors, with the bishops, with the Church, with our dicastery’s, since we depend first and foremost on the Dicastery of the Lay Family and Life of Cardinal Farrell, and also on the dicastery, the Congregation for the Clergy with Cardinal Stella.
LE: And so, in concrete terms, do you travel a lot or are you more at home?
MB: Yes, I travel a lot. So obviously we are in the same situation as you know from COVID, but indeed. Well, before I was delegate of the moderator, my predecessor and friend Laurent Landete, for France and now that I am the general moderator, normally I should. I travel, under normal conditions, I travel much more to go and see the communities abroad: first the members themselves, obviously, and then the different projects that one can have.
LE: One or two trips per term?
MB: Yes that’s right. Well, there are no rules, but it’s true, yes, it’s in that order.
LE: But it helps to put things in perspective. We’ll come back to everything you carry in your heart. We’re going to start with a message, a letter you wrote, or rather a video message addressed to the members of the Emmanuel Community, it was in November 2020. At a time when we are in a serious health crisis and shortly after the publication of the Pope’s encyclical letter Fratelli tutti ( All brothers). But you had, well, I think I know that you hesitated to speak, and this is what you say in your message. But why did you hesitate?
MB: Perhaps I hesitated because I thought that everyone already had a lot of things to say, that today you can’t turn on a radio, watch TV, look at your screen without hearing about the current situation, so a lot is always being said and I thought that it’s not necessarily useful. Is it necessary to say a word also to address the brothers? In fact, many have asked me, and friends have also asked me “what does the community say? “I like to remind them that the Emmanuel Community is in the church and therefore there is no magisterium of the Emmanuel Community. We are in the church, we are at the service of the church, we are on mission. So I say to myself, should I speak or not? and it is true that I was very touched by this encyclical of the Holy Father, of Pope Francis, because I wanted to make my brothers want to read it, to meditate on it, to work on it, because it seemed to me that this encyclical responds to our present situation. Now we are in a particular situation, it is not a question of being catastrophic. Humanity has already lived through many difficult periods, but we are nevertheless in a tested period and trying period at the international level, at the world level, which is nevertheless quite new, especially with globalisation, in which we are at the economic and also at media level. And it seemed to me that the Holy Father in this encyclical brings us back to the essential which is obviously the Christ, but in the way of living it, in the implementation through this fraternity that it is necessary for us to live with each other whatever our convictions may be.
Many passages of this encyclical have touched me and so it is true that I finally decided to address my brothers and then to take up certain passages again, in any case to encourage them to read and meditate on it.
LE: Yeah, you use this beautiful expression, you say that Fratelli tutti is like a providential antidote to the evils we are living through today.
MB: That’s it, that is what it is, precisely today and we are only at the beginning; well, I was going to say unfortunately but I don’t know. In any case, we can see that sociologists and doctors are already seeing the collateral damage of what we are going through, and the fact that we are wearing masks, this social distancing, as it is called, when the term itself is already a bad term because it shouldn’t be. A corporal distancing, perhaps, to avoid the transmission of the virus but it shouldn’t be a social distancing, but it is becoming one and we can see that it will be one of the difficulties and one of the collateral damages of what we are going through. There will be a before and an after. I mentioned this in another short message I sent for March 25th, but the difficulties we encounter will leave their mark and at the same time we know that in God everything is grace and therefore the question is how to live this time, how to live our difficulties by being very attentive to God and by living it as a sign of the times; there is something biblical in what we are living.
LE: The very name of this letter, All Brothers, from the Pope made you think of Pierre Goursat…
MB: Yes, because I believe that deep in our charism, Pierre Goursat, who is the founder of the Emmanuel Community and who in ’72 with Martine Catta, lived a weekend of prayers in the Paris region and accepted a prayer known as the prayer of the outpouring of the Spirit, which in fact consists of asking for a renewal of the grace of baptism in the Holy Spirit. They live this prayer, and they say, although they were very different, from very different backgrounds, of very different ages, Pierre was much older than Martine, and they actually say at the end of this prayer: “we recognised each other as brothers and sisters”. And at that moment, without knowledge, the Emmanuel Community, spiritually, was born.
So afterwards they started a prayer group, the prayer group grew, and then you can read about the history of the community on the internet, I’m not going to develop. But the group grew, and it became the Emmanuel Community.
So at the heart of our charism there is this question of fraternity and moreover in the Emmanuel Community. So the ordinary members of the Emmanuel Community commit themselves and the commitment they make is renewable every year, but within it there are members who are called into the Fraternity of Jesus and this is a consecration of the members of the community who feel this call to truly give their lives for the fruitfulness of the Emmanuel charism and this is a definitive consecration. At the heart of our charism there is this dimension of fraternity, which is obviously in line with what the Pope’s encyclical says. So we have to live it among ourselves but obviously much more widely.
LE: You say that the word of the Pope is a prophetic and you also say how much you are struck by the continuity of Pope Francis with his predecessors John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Personally, I would not necessarily say that but….
MB: Yes, perhaps that’s precisely why I wanted to insist on this, because in this encyclical Pope Francis is very much in tune with his predecessors. And it is true that it is very I would say a deep sorrow, to see that often our present Pope is perhaps not welcomed, received as I think he should be. It is also linked to the current media world. We no longer talk about debates, we talk about polemics. In fact, I am struck by the fact that as soon as a subject arrives somewhere, there is no debate, we must create a polemic. There is a polemic and therefore one goes from polemic to polemic, and this is also true for the Holy Father. As soon as he expresses himself, one has the impression that some people are more ready to find out what is wrong with what is said than to understand what God is telling us through this man whom He has given us. In concrete terms, and here it is the Catholic who is speaking, but finally I think that the Holy Spirit was not mistaken on the day of the election of Pope Francis.
My reflection is “he is bothering me, he is pushing for conversion”, that’s what is important as a question, and it’s not to have a filter right away to try to spot points that seem to be out of line with what his predecessors were. By the way, I don’t know if I’m allowed to advertise, but I’m reading a book by Yves Chiron, who is a Catholic historian, which is called “François phobias” or “François bashing”. It’s very interesting because it has the vision of the historian and takes up all the great moments of François’ pontificate and it’s very factual, and you can also see how the media sometimes, or journalists, there I’m addressing a journalist a little through you because you know the little discussions we’ve had on the subject. And in fact, unfortunately, sometimes we take an answer, we go out of the context and in fact afterwards it creates a buzz, is transcribed and finally we make the Pope say what he didn’t say. There are a lot of very exciting points in this book on this subject.
LE: So you’re inviting us not to get discouraged if sometimes we’re confused, to dig deeper and try to understand more.
MB: I think above all that it’s still a call to conversion.