A STORY TO TELL A FUTURE TO BE BUILT “TOGETHER AND BY ASSOCIATION”
The story of the Signum Fidei Fraternity begins in 1976, the year in which a group of twelve lay Lasallians made their first consecration to God but, in reality, we could say that their reason for being dates from the very origins of the Lasallian Institute.
The fire of faith and zeal that burned for more than three centuries in the lives of Saint John Baptist de La Salle and his first disciples continues to burn today in all the Brothers who consecrate their life to God and in all those young people and adults, men and women who, in education, pastoral ministry and social or other mission, are close to Saint John Baptist de La Salle and the work he started.
Already in 1959 that same idea was stated, saying that the epithet “Lasallian” left no doubt in anyone’s mind that it was a questionable new expression. For decades it was used more and more frequently: it referred perfectly – and even happily – to all those in history, in literature, pedagogy and spirituality, who are influenced by the person, writing, and the social work of the Founder of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, Saint John Baptist de La Salle (Introduction to Cahiers Lasalliens number 1).
But it was above all beginning with the 39th General Chapter, held in Rome in 1966, when some lay Lasallians expressed to Brother Charles Henry (Superior General) and to Brother José Pablo Basterrechea (Vicar General) their interest in participating not only in the work of the Brothers, but also of living the charism of the Institute in greater union with its members.
These are the exact words: “We would like to get closer to the Brothers, not only in their ministry, but above all in their spirit, we want a deeper Christian life, but with a Lasallian accent, we are willing to unite ourselves more and more to the Institute with some type of commitment that has a Christian and educational dimension.”
These echoes reached Rome in the form of an official proposition on April 24, 1974. Little by little a new way of belonging to and living out the Lasallian mission with a lay identity was being born. In November 1975 three Brothers, Paulus Adams, Manuel Olivé and Jaime Godoy, along with lay persons José Antonio Lózar, Jean Armand Machat, Jean Loos, Alfredo García Passigli, and Claudios Abdreoli, met in Valencia, Spain, as part of a Lasallian Confederation meeting. Together, Brothers and lay, they drafted the first Signum Fidei document, which was entitled: “The Style of Life and Statutes of the new Signum Fidei Fraternity.”
Those beginnings would be recalled in the words of Brother Manuel Olivé, the principal promoter, in these words:
“I remember the day and the hour as if it were yesterday. Brother Paulus Adams, a determined, happy, direct, and easy man to talk to, came to my office in the Generalate in Rome, and he said to me:”I have an assignment for you from Brother Vicar General (José Pablo Basterrechea).
It has to do with taking the necessary steps to create a lay Lasallian fraternity and he says that you are the one for this job. “Brother Paulus, all this seems to be a bit…rushed, as it were. Could you tell me a bit more of what is being asked of me? “It is quite simple. We want you to be the Secretary and the animator of these groups that are emerging. It has to do with getting to know this “Fraternity.” “And what are these groups going to be like? ”
“Those who are opting for this Fraternity want to live a life of faith and zeal as the Brothers do and, while still lay persons, they want to live a Style of Life that will enable them to draw near to the very spirit of the Institute.
“Well…this is not very clear to me. “Nor to me, but if we engage in this adventure it must be done seriously. The two of us can share the work even though it still seems a bit unclear… “What would the name of the Fraternity be? “It will be called ‘Signum Fidei’ and its shield will include the star of Faith itself and the crest of De La Salle. “What about vocations? ”
There are people in the Lasallian Confederation who are very committed. They will not make vows but they will make a binding CONSECRATION that will express their deep “dedication” to God, the Holy Trinity. This dedication will be spelled out by a “personal program” for each member of Signum Fidei and by a “community program” for each fraternity.
Their slogan will be “Indivisa Manent” and the consecration will give a total sense of belonging to the Signum Fidei members and of commitment to the Lasallian Mission.” That was how the Signum Fidei Fraternity got its start, with the enthusiastic and committed collaboration of these two Brothers and a small group of lay Lasallians.
At the conclusion of the 40th General Chapter six young Spanish Brothers were to make their perpetual profession. The Chapter agreed that at the same celebration the first members of the Signum Fidei Fraternity would also make their first consecration. On June 6, 1976, on the Feast of Pentecost and the anniversary of the first consecration of De La Salle and twelve of the principal Brothers, twelve lay Lasallians made their public consecration to God before the relics of Saint John Baptist de La Salle at the Generalate in Rome. They were:
José Antonio de Lózar (Spain)
Alfredo García Passigli and his wife Trinidad de García Passigli (Spain)
Jean Arman Machat (France)
Jean Loos–Beens and his wife OlgaChristianae Ausloos (Belgium)
Luciano Ugolini (Italy)
Claudio Abdreoli (Italy)
Strangely enough, that same day three other Lasallians, who were not able to travel to Rome, made their consecration in different areas of the world. They were:
Samuel Javier Baonza and his wife María Pilar Hijano (Spain)
M. Inocente García de Andrés (Spain)
Ive Compagnoni (Brazil)
In the afternoon of that same day the first meeting of the new Signum Fidei members and their advisers took place with Brother Superior General. Brother Charles Henry expressed his desire that all the Signum Fidei members be “faithful to the Spirit of God and of De La Salle.”
Brother Paulus returned to his native Belgium where he died soon afterwards. Brother Manuel Olivé took up the animation of the new Fraternity with great enthusiasm and total dedication. Between the years 1876 and 1985 there were International Confederation Conferences of Former Students and Signum Fidei Fraternities held – one in Malta – Mother Theresa of Calcutta was in attendance – and other conferences were held in Paris and in Mexico City.
At each of these conferences the Statutes and the Style of Life document were revised and new lay Lasallians made their consecration as Signum Fidei members. Little by little more and more Signum Fidei groups were created all over the Lasallian world.
Today, according to the most recent statistics, there are over one thousand members in the Fraternity and they are found in 30 countries, particularly in Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia. – On the American continent, Peru is the country with the greatest number of members. There are also communities in Mexico, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, the United States, and Canada. – In the Middle East, the Signum Fidei Fraternities have a significant presence in Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, and Egypt; in Asia they are present in Malaysia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. – In Europe there are Signum Fidei communities in Spain, Italy, Belgium, Malta, and France. – In Africa we are in Madagascar, Equatorial Guinea, Togo, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In the year 2000, the 43rd General Chapter put out an invitation to take a good look at the concept of “Association” and it proposed to interested Lasallians to awaken new forms of association adapted to their possibilities, identity and state. Among these forms, the Chapter said that “the Signum Fidei Fraternity constitutes a way of spirituality very much adapted to lay Lasallians who find inspiration in the life of Saint John Baptist de La Salle.
In 2006 a singular historical event in the 30 years of life of the Fraternity took place: The First Signum Fidei International Assembly. It was held from March 20 to April 1 and 25 delegates attended from all over the world. Previously, there had been local assemblies and continental assemblies. In a spirit of fraternity there was dialogue about the nature of the association, its future and about the need to update the “Style of Life” document. A preparatory commission made up of Ernesto Vallejo (Peru), Simeón Martín (Spain), Erica Stellini (Italy) and the world adviser Brother Victor Franco (Philippines) met in Rome to plan the Assembly.
One of the good results was no doubt the new version of the “Style of Life” which was approved “ad experimentum.” The birth of the Signum Fidei Fraternity was due primarily to a new vision of the Church and the ever-renewed vitality of the Lasallian charism. A vitality which had previously born fruit in the birth of a Lay Lasallian Institute and of two women’s religious congregations. They are: the Union of Catechists founded in 1917 in Italy, the Guadalupanas Sisters of De La Salle founded in 1948 in Mexico and Lasallian Sisters of Vietnam founded in 1966.
God made special use of Brother Paulus Adams, Brother Manuel Olivé and that first group of lay persons for the foundation of the Signum Fidei Fraternity. Brother Paulus, Assistant to the Superior General from 1966 to 1976, was an exceptional teacher and a renowned scholar of the Founder, with a very happy and open temperament, at the same time he was a man of God and of prayer, filled with the spirit of the Institute and he knew how to communicate. Brother Manuel Olivé at that time lived in Rome since he was in charge of the international federation of Lasallian former students. He was a man of God who loved his vocation, an indefatigable apostle, always enthusiastic and committed to the poor.
The groups and communities that make up the Signum Fidei Fraternity are, first and foremost, communities of faith that live the Lasallian charism and that find inspiration in the educational style and spirituality of Saint John Baptist de La Salle. The life and the commitment of each one of the members of the Signum Fidei Fraternity are a gift of inestimable value for the Lasallian mission and for the life of the Church. To know, remember, celebrate and recreate this founding story of the Signum Fidei Fraternity should encourage us to continue giving a good response today to the needs of children and the young, particularly the poor, as did Saint John Baptist de La Salle.