The Order of Saint Charbel is a Catholic Religious Order
A Religious OrderThis new religious Order for Holy Mother Church, founded in 1985 under the patronage of Saint Charbel of Lebanon, began as a free association of the faithful, priests and laypeople. In conformity with the 1983 Code of Canon Law, we established our first Communities in Australia in 1988. It is not a Society or Religious Congregation, but a new Order, which comes under the category of "new forms of consecrated life" provided for in Canon Law (Canon 605). It comprises four Branches and a Confraternity. The Order now has several hundred members living in over twenty-five Communities in various stages of formation, and in seven Countries. Some of these Communities are only in their initial development stage, while others are fairly well established with a basic infrastructure according to the Rule and Constitutions.
The doors have always been open to all good souls, clerical, religious or lay (married or single), who believe they they may have a vocation to religious life in an Order founded for the re-evangelisation of the world.
A "New Form of Consecrated Life"The Order identifies itself as a "new form of consecrated life", in which the Branch of Priests (First Branch), the Branch of Religious Brothers and Sisters (Second Branch), and the Branch of Families and Single Lay people (Third Branch), live in Community, sharing in a common life of prayer and work, in an endeavour to recapture that spirit of charity and mutual support characteristic of the earliest Christian Communities. The Order also embraces a Fourth Branch, which provides for lay members (married or single), who, though living in the world, wish to consecrate their lives to God. There is also a Confraternity which shares in the prayer life of the Order.
Objective of the OrderThe objective of the Order of Saint Charbel is no less than the unification of the Mystical Body of Christ and the re-evangelisation of the world, for which task, the Order must be a beacon of Truth, upholding the Deposit of Faith and authentic traditions of Holy Mother Church. Its members aim to become, by the Grace of God, one in mind and heart -- and its Communities -- a "shining light" in a world of darkness. In this way the world may learn of the Infinite Love of Jesus Christ Our Lord and Saviour, and of the Love of His Most Blessed Mother, Mary the Immaculate.
The Life of the OrderThe members, both religious and lay, are to live the spirit of the Gospel -- in its fullness -- to fulfil Our Lord's Command to "... love one another as I have loved you ..." (John 13:34). All are called to strive for perfection through the Evangelical Counsels of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience -- in a life devoted to prayer and apostolic works approved by the Order. To realise this objective, the Order gives its highest priority to the personal sanctification of its members. Then, in unity and gathering strength through the Holy Sacraments -- especially Confession and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (the Source and Summit of the Christian life) -- the Communities are strengthened enabling the Order to reach out to a world in need. Through preaching, teaching and nurturing the Christian life -- the Order embraces the whole spectrum of the spiritual and corporal works of Mercy. Thus the Order of Saint Charbel can become more and more the "sign" for the Church and world that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity -- has died on the Cross for its Redemption. Our Lord's words can be realised: "... By your love for one another the world will know that you are My disciples ..." (John 13:34).
The DocumentationThe documentation of the Order (including its initial Rule and Constitution) were hand delivered to the two relevant Congregations of the Holy See (Vatican) in early October 1988. According to the norms of Canon 605, the approval and authentication of all new forms of Consecrated Life are reserved to the Holy See.
CANON 605: The approval of new forms of consecrated life is reserved to the Apostolic See. Diocesan Bishops, however, are to endeavour to discern new gifts of consecrated life which the Holy Spirit entrusts to the Church. They are also to assist promoters to express their purposes in the best possible way, and to protect these purposes with suitable statutes, especially by the application of the general norms contained in this part of the Code.
To this date, there has been no judgment by the competent authorities regarding the authenticity of the charism given to Mr. William Kamm, the Founder. There are several essential and constitutive elements of the basic identity of the Order of Saint Charbel which identify it as a "new form". It is precisely upon this basis that Mr. Kamm has repeatedly requested the local Diocesan Bishop of Wollongong for suitable statutes and guidance in how to proceed toward the development of its aims and objectives.
In September 1998, the Local Ordinary formally opened an ecclesiastical investigation into the Order and its Founder. A year later, Bishop Philip Wilson issued a personal Decree against Mr. Kamm and requiring the closure of the Order. The Decree was unlawful on many grounds -- especially for its defects of natural justice. Mr. Kamm immediately entered a canonical appeal to the Pope for a retraction of the Decree based upon many errors of law and fact. Within the meaning of Canon 1638 the Decree is suspended pending the outcome of the Appeal.
In view of the above, it still remains true -- the two main pillars upon which the Order rests are: true unity with and under the Vicar of Christ and his Magisterium; and true devotion to the Triune God and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The latest edition of the Rule and Constitutions (1996) have codified these principles in written form (see the Rule Page ) to embody all of the wonderful norms and ideals for the members.
The Charism of the FounderThe Holy Spirit has always inspired new forms of Consecrated Life in the history of the Catholic Church. They were raised up by God to address God's Plan for that generation. This was especially the case during periods of great need in the Church and world. In the Preface to the 1996 edition of the Rule, the Founder -- Mr. William Kamm (also known as the 'Little Pebble') wrote:
"In each episode of God's Divine Plan, the situation which existed within the Church warranted such action. As we slowly come to the end of the twentieth century, God is once again calling for a rekindling of Divine Love in one's heart, by a life of total dedication to God's Love. The Order of Saint Charbel is such a lifestyle, established to fill the needs of the Church; to renew the religious life which has diminished; to replace the vocations which have been lost; to provide the conditions which enable the family to flourish. The Order is to be a beacon for a world plagued with division and confusion -- one which has no sense of direction or stability". (Preface to the 1996 Edition of the Rule and Constitutions).
The Church's history is full of examples of Religious Orders whose aim was the sanctification of its members and the flourishing of a new evangelisation and catechetical missionary spirit which could embrace not only a region or province but even reaching around the world. The 1983 Code of Canon Law expresses this fundamental call of the Gospel in simple terms:
CANON 573 § 1 Life consecrated through profession of the evangelical counsels is a stable form of living, in which the faithful follow Christ more closely under the action of the Holy Spirit, and are totally dedicated to God, who is supremely loved. By a new and special title they are dedicated to seek the perfection of charity in the service of God's Kingdom, for the honour of God, the building up of the Church and the salvation of the world. They are a splendid sign in the Church, as they foretell the heavenly glory. § 2 Christ's faithful freely assume this manner of life in institutes of consecrated life which are canonically established by the competent ecclesiastical authority. By vows or by other sacred bonds, in accordance with the laws of their own institutes, they profess the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience. Because of the charity to which these counsels lead, they are linked in a special way to the Church and its mystery.
The particular element of the charism that distinguishes the Order of Saint Charbel from the many other forms of Consecrated Life concerns several elements:
The Government of the OrderThe Rule of the Order of Saint Charbel acknowledges the Vicar of Christ (the Pope) as its Supreme Head, and all members offer obedience and loyalty to the Pope and His Successors, as well as those whom he appoints in authority. The government is structured in form -- similar but not exactly -- as a "personal Prelature" already dealt with in the 1983 Code of Canon Law. This similarity is because the Order will have its own Bishops as Major Superiors of Countries, Regions and Provinces in the world. However, this has not yet been approved by the Holy See. For the present we confidently await the canonical establishment of the Rule and Constitutions. The members trust in God, and especially in the intercession of the Mother of God. Finally the Founder relies upon the fundamental rights enjoyed by Catholics -- guaranteed by Canon Law -- particularly Canon 221.
The following extract from Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata goes a long way to show that the Holy Ghost is actively raising up many "new forms of consecrated life" in the world. A commission has been mandated by His Holiness for the purpose of studying these new charisms.
'The Consecrated Life'
Given in Rome, on 25th March, 1996
62. The Spirit, who at different times has inspired numerous forms of consecrated life, does not cease to assist the Church, whether by fostering in already existing Institutes a commitment to renewed faithfulness to the founding charism, or by giving new charisms to men and women of our own day so that they can start institutions responding to the challenges of our times. A sign of this divine intervention is to be found in the so-called new Foundations, which display new characteristics compared to those of traditional Foundations.
The originality of the new communities often consists in the fact that they are composed of mixed groups of men and women, of clerics and lay persons, of married couples and celibates, all of whom pursue a particular style of life. These communities are sometimes inspired by one or other traditional form adapted to the needs of modern society. Their commitment to the evangelical life also takes on different forms, while, as a general rule, they are all characterized by an intense aspiration to community life, poverty and prayer. Both clerics and lay persons share in the duties of governing according to the responsibilities assigned to them, and the apostolate focuses on the demands of the new evangelisation.
If, on one hand, there is reason to rejoice at the Holy Spirit's action, there is, on the other, a need for discernment regarding these charisms. A fundamental principle, when speaking of the consecrated life, is that the specific features of the new communities and their styles of life must be founded on the essential theological and canonical elements proper to the consecrated life. (cf. Canon 573) This discernment is necessary at both the local and universal level, in order to manifest a common obedience to the one Spirit. In dioceses, Bishops should examine the witness of life and the orthodoxy of the founders of such communities, their spirituality, the ecclesial awareness shown in carrying out their mission, the methods of formation and the manner of incorporation into the community. They should wisely evaluate possible weaknesses, watching patiently for the sign of results (cf. Mt 7:16), so that they may acknowledge the authenticity of the charism. In a special way, Bishops are required to determine, according to clearly established criteria, the suitability of any members of these communities who wish to receive Holy Orders.
Worthy of praise are those forms of commitment which some Christian married couples assume in certain associations and movements. They confirm by means of a vow the obligation of chastity proper to the married state and, without neglecting their duties towards their children, profess poverty and obedience. They do so with the intention of bringing to the perfection of charity their love, already "consecrated" in the Sacrament of Matrimony. (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 48) However, by reason of the above-mentioned principle of discernment, these forms of commitment cannot be included in the specific category of the consecrated life. This necessary clarification regarding the nature of such experiences in no way intends to underestimate this particular path of holiness, from which the action of the Holy Spirit, infinitely rich in gifts and inspirations, is certainly not absent.
In view of such a wealth of gifts and creative energies, it seems appropriate to set up a Commission to deal with questions relating to new forms of consecrated life. The purpose of this Commission will be to determine criteria of authenticity which will help discernment and decision-making. Among its other tasks, this Commission will evaluate, in the light of the experience of recent decades, which new forms of consecration can, with pastoral prudence and to the advantage of all, be officially approved by Church authority, in order to be proposed to the faithful who are seeking a more perfect Christian life.
New associations of evangelical life are not alternatives to already existing Institutions, which continue to hold the pre-eminent place assigned to them by tradition. Nonetheless, the new forms are also a gift of the Spirit, enabling the Church to follow her Lord in a constant outpouring of generosity, attentive to God's invitations revealed through the signs of the times. Thus the Church appears before the world with many forms of holiness and service, as "a kind of instrument or sign of intimate union with God, and of the unity of mankind". (cf. Lumen Gentium, 1) The older Institutes, many of which have been tested by the severest of hardships, which they have accepted courageously down the centuries, can be enriched through dialogue and an exchange of gifts with the Foundations appearing in our own day.
In this way the vigour of the different forms of consecrated life, from the oldest to the most recent, as well as the vitality of the new communities, will renew faithfulness to the Holy Spirit, who is the source of communion and unceasing newness of life.
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