GC2024: On a Journey Together

Tags: GC2024

On a Journey Together

Getting to know the patrons, the pilot, the crew and the companions

Paul Sails for Rome (Acts 27: 1 – 12)

 When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us.

The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs. From there we put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us. When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea.

Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Day of Atonement.[a] So Paul warned them, 10 “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” 11 But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. 12 Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest.

The start of another journey:
St Paul sets sail for Rome (Acts 27: 1 – 12)

  • A lengthy prelude, marked by uncertainty, hesitation, confidence, differences of opinion about the most prudent course, initial difficulties.
  • Names and characters begin to emerge: Julius, the centurion who ‘treated Paul kindly’; Aristarchus, the Macedonian from Thessalonica, the pilot and the owner of the ship, etc.
  • Important questions: should we set sail? What course should we take?
  • Differences of opinion: Paul vs the pilot and the owner of the ship; the centurion taking the pilot’s advice in preference to Paul’s; factions and coalitions taking crucial decisions, putting self-interest over the common good.
  • Unequal status and leverage: Paul in chains; Julius representing Imperial authority; the pilot and owner representing commercial interests.


This account of the initial stages of Paul’s journey foretells and explains what happens during the storm, shipwreck and sojourn in Malta. It is a metaphor of the start of every journey undertaken by a group.


  • It says something about the emotions, sentiments, hopes and fears of those who journey.


  • It alerts us to the attitudes that can determine the fate of the group, for the good of all, or to the detriment of everyone.


  • It encourages us to know one another deeply, to recognize the diverse temperaments, interests, characters and attitudes.


  • It shows us that there are different sources of authority, a variety of experiences and expertise on which the group can draw to take decisions.


  • The entire story of Paul’s journey to Rome reminds us, vividly, of God’s saving power, working through the kindliness, wisdom, hospitality and capabilities of different people, so that salvation is eventually accomplished through the contribution of every person.


So let us take a few minutes to get to know all of those who are on the journey that is General Chapter 2024: the Patrons, the Pilot, the Crew and the Companions, all of us who will sail together for the next three weeks.

The Patrons

Mgr Joseph de Piro, Founder of the Missionary Society of St Paul. An open, affable face; almost never appearing alone in photos: a man who loved companionship, a man who built community wherever he was. The Missionary Society of St Paul is the brotherhood he gifted to the Church. St Agatha’s Mother House reflects his noble birth and his soaring vision; he built it close to the St Agatha’s burial complex, the oldest entirely Christian burial complex in the Maltese islands, a witness to the vigour of the Church from antiquity.


The Founder never places himself in the centre of our attention: rather, he directs us to two other Patrons: Mary, mother of Jesus, the model of discipleship; and Paul, the great missionary and theologian of the early Church.


Mary. The Gospels record only four instances of Mary’s speech. Her first words: ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’, then, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ (Lk 1: 34, 38). We next hear her hymn of praise and gratitude, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.’ (Lk 1: 46-48). Some thirty years later, there she is at the wedding feast of Cana, saying to Jesus, ‘They have no wine,’ and to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ (Jn 2: 3, 5).


Mary’s words resonate with the Founder’s life: his experience of frailty; his loving acceptance of God’s invitation; his intercession on behalf of the poor and vulnerable; and his encouragement of the brethren in the Missionary Society of St Paul. Mary’s words are addressed to us today, at the start of our journey: as with Joseph de Piro, she encourages us to acknowledge our frailty; to lovingly accept God’s invitation to the Society today; to renew, through this Chapter, our intercession on behalf of the poor and vulnerable; and to encourage one another to do whatever Christ tells us.


Paul, the missionary/theologian is the Society’s third patron. A man full of contradictions, a life full of paradox: passionate for the Law, then for Christ; a man thirsty for friendship, but quarrelsome with his companions; a builder of Christian communities plagued by enemies; a persecutor who became the persecuted; a man thoroughly at ease in cultures that others found incompatible; a man who experienced the greatest possible freedom when he was blinded on the road to Damascus, and when on the life-threatening journey to Rome.


The Founder’s life too was not without paradox and contradiction, but it was these very threads out of which his missionary zeal was woven.


Let us pause for a moment and gaze reverently at these three Patrons, who will accompany us at every stage of the General Chapter: may their presence inspire us, may their wisdom counsel us; may their intercession with Christ whom they love passionately sustain us in moments of difficulty or doubt.

The Pilot

On Pentecost Sunday we commemorate the coming of the Holy Spirit into the life of the Church. The Spirit is our advocate, our counsellor, the source of the gifts which will serve our discernment: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. Every day, let us invoke the Spirit’s guidance, so that the Chapter may arrive safely at its destination.

The Crew

The preparations for the General Chapter have been handled by an able crew: Fr Mark and his Council, the regional superiors. They have made every effort to ensure that our journey together will proceed smoothly, harmoniously, and that the experience itself will nourish each one of us in faith, in hope and in love, for the good of the Society and its co-workers, for the benefit of the Kingdom, and for the greater glory of God.


Let us offer a prayer of gratitude for their work. 

The Companions

The rest of us constitute the ‘working body’ of the Chapter: we have come from distant lands to discern what God is asking of the Missionary of Society of St Paul in the near future, to choose the Society’s leadership for another six-year term, and to orient the Society’s mission, its ministry and communities.


Let us pause for a few moments of silent reflection, starting with a look inwards at ourselves:


  • How am I feeling on the eve of the General Chapter? What is my attitude towards this commitment?


  • What concerns, insights, experiences, hopes, doubts and fears have accompanied me up to this point?


  • Which talents, gifts and traits of character can I offer for the success of the Chapter?


  • Which traits of my own character may prove harmful to our discernment?


We can now turn to our companions, gazing on them kindly:


  • Do I know what some of them are feeling on the eve of the General Chapter? How much do I know about their concerns, insights, experiences, hopes, doubts and fears at this point?


  • Which talents, gifts and traits of character do I appreciate in those whom I know best?


  • Am I aware of any incompatibility of temperament, or outlook that could hinder my working relationship with any one of these companions?


  • I will offer a prayer for all the companions on this journey.

Closing Prayer

For each step that we might take,
Be our guide, O Lord of life.
For each load that we might bear,
Be our strength, O Lord of life.
For each obstacle we might face,
Be our power, O Lord of life.
For each hazard that might impede,
Be our safety, O Lord of life.
For each place where we might rest,
Be our peace, O Lord of life.
For each sunrise and sunset,
Be our joy, O Lord of life.

God of the journey,
may you be both
traveling companion
and mountain guide
on this, our daily walk;
lest unprepared
or ill-equipped
our feet should stumble
on uneven ground,
or clouds obscure 
the destination
that we so long to see.

(Adapted from Journeying with Christ)

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