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Turn to Jesus (Article)

I hope that Christ fills us with love, enthusiasm and hope
A conversation with Fr. Eduardo Robles Gil, LC, the new general director of the Legionaries of Christ

Entrevista P. bENJAMÍN

By Fr. Benjamín Clariond, LC

After the General Chapter elected Fr. Eduardo Robles Gil general director of the Legion of Christ, as we waited for the confirmation of the Holy See, I had the opportunity to interview Fr. Eduardo in the Legion’s General Directorate. 

Fr. Benjamin: Fr. Eduardo, thank you for granting this interview.  Thank you, also, for accepting the General Chapter’s election of you as General Director.  Not everyone has had the opportunity to get to know you.  So, I would like to begin by asking you: Who is Fr. Eduardo Robles Gil?

Fr. Eduardo: First of all, I would like to thank LaRed and our websites for the chance to grant this first interview.  I would like to address the Legionaries of Christ and the members of the Movement, since we are all brothers and sisters.  I would like to give them a chance to get to know me.  With time, I hope I can get to know them as well.  I ask one and all for a prayer. 

Who am I?  I am a member of Regnum Christi.  I answer that way because, in some way, having met Christ in Regnum Christi has marked my whole life. 

I was born into a household where the Catholic faith was being lived.  My dad died when I was three-and-a-half years old.  So, my grandmother and one of my aunts came to live with us.  They were deeply religious.  My mother has a great faith that is down to earth and realistic.  All of that definitely marked my childhood. 

I went to school at the Cumbres Institute [Cumbres Lomas, Mexico City] and there got to know the Legion of Christ.  I had an uncle who was a Jesuit.  He was a very good and holy priest.  I also had an uncle who was a Marist.  But the place I met Jesus Christ was with the Legionaries of Christ, in Regnum Christi.  For this reason, when I define who I am, I say that I am a member of Regnum Christi who found his vocation in the Movement to consecrate himself completely to God and be a priest. 

Fr. Benjamin: You spent a large portion of your religious life when Fr. Maciel was the general director of the Legion.  What relationship did you have with him?

Fr. Eduardo: I studied in Rome from 1977 through 1983.  In those years, he would come visit us in Via Aurelia 677, but not that often.  During the time in which I studied in Rome, another Legionary brother and I were looking for properties to build the new residence.  We found the property that is now the Mater Ecclesiae [a seminary for diocesan priests run by the Legion in Rome].  At times, I would have meetings with the founder to keep him up to speed about this project.

Afterwards, I stopped working directly with him.  I went to Spain for two years after my priestly ordination, then to Brazil for four.  The next time I had to work with him was for two years as the territorial administrator in Mexico.  But you can’t say that we were very close.

Now, since what we Legionaries saw was his work as a formator and since we didn’t know about his hidden life, I felt a certain admiration for him.

Fr. Benjamin: In light of what we’ve come to learn, how has the figure of the founder changed for you?

Fr. Eduardo: When the first news came out in 1997, I asked myself the question: “What if it were true?  What would I do?”  In my heart, my conscience, I arrived at the following conclusion: God called me to the priesthood in the Legion.  If what they are saying about the founder turned out to be true, I would continue to be a Legionary priest.  But, at the time, it was only hypothetical for me. 

In 2006, when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith put out its communiqué about the founder, I sensed that what had been said about him was true.  Honestly, I could not believe that the Church would lightly put out a communiqué like that.  Nevertheless, I still had a hard time believing it, because it didn’t correspond with the experience I had had of the founder.

After the initial pain when the confirmation came that it was true, I lived out an inner process that made it easier for me to assimilate it all and, as a priest and minister of forgiveness, trust in God’s mercy.  Naturally, I also felt a deep grief, above all for the suffering caused.  God granted me the grace of forgiving and turning the page.  Since then, I have put myself to work.

Fr. Benjamin: You were part of the Outreach Commission formed by Cardinal De Paolis to attend the victims of Fr. Maciel.  What was that like? 

Fr. Eduardo: You have to understand persons who have been victims of abuse.  It leaves a painful mark on their lives, a mark that is not easy to remove.  In fact, for many, it never goes away.  For me it was painful and sad to see the consequences of all of this.  No one should take it lightly. 

The experience of dialoguing with, of getting to know, those who have suffered has helped me to understand them better and to try to grasp the grief of a person who suffers.  In the cases I dealt with, we spoke, we asked for forgiveness, and we began the journey towards reconciliation. 

Fr. Benjamin: How will the Legion continue to be committed to preventing abuse?

Fr. Eduardo: Of course.  Today, the Catholic Church is committed to make sure that abuses won’t take place anymore.  You can see it in the actions of the dicasteries [in the Vatican], as well as the recent discourses of the Pope.  The Legion of Christ is also working, and will continue to do so, in order to prevent all types of abuse, in the formation and selection of those who join the congregation, in creating safe environments.  And, of course, in prompt and serious responses to any allegation that comes to us.  In all of this we fully collaborate with civil and ecclesial authorities in the countries we work in, and we will continue to do so.  

Also, we have to remember that human beings are weak.  We have to assume that we cannot affirm that this task has been concluded, that there will never again be abuses in the Church.  This realism should always bring us to be watchful and to apply all the means at our disposal to prevent them.  We are working on prevention and attention, but there is always room to grow. 

Fr. Benjamin: You studied in Rome from 1977 to 1983.  It was a relatively quick formation period.  Have you noticed any weak area in your personal preparation for the priesthood? 

Fr. Eduardo: Everyone in the Legion has a personal process of formation.  For that reason, you can’t speak of a prototype, even though there are some shared guidelines.  In comparison with other Legionaries, my process was relatively short.  When I joined consecrated life [in Regnum Christi], I took many of the courses that you have in novitiate and humanities, though I didn’t put as much time into it, above all into humanities. 

I joined consecrated life when I had finished my degree in engineering at the Anauhac University.  As a consecrated man, I had two years of formation.  I arrived to Rome in 1977 to study philosophy.  Since I already had a degree, I was able to go straight into graduate level studies at the University. 

Afterwards I earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas.  Then, I did the studies corresponding to what used to be called the pastoral year in Spain according to a plan set out by the Legion’s general prefect of studies, but without enrolling in a university.

I would like to take the chance to thank the priests who have been my superiors and formators.  Some of the priests who welcomed me in Rome in 1977 were in the Mass of the Holy Spirit with which we began the General Chapter.  I am still moved that they remain firm and faithful 37 years later.

Fr. Benjamin: What passage of Sacred Scripture most inspires you or helps you?

Fr. Eduardo: I don’t like to single out things that I most like or that have helped me the most. But one that has always stood out to me is the passage from Jeremiah that I put on my ordination card: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” (Jeremiah 1:5)  This passage has marked my life.  I am here because God called me to be here. In addition, I am very fond of the passage in Gethsemane, in which Jesus Christ has to struggle with himself: “Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.” (Mark 14:36).

In fact, when the Cardinal asked me if I accepted, I did not respond “I accept” but “I obey.”  I was obeying God above all, represented by the supreme authority of the Legion, which is the General Chapter.  I do so trusting in God who, by means of the General Chapter, has called me to follow him.  

Fr. Benjamin: When you began to realize that you could end up being the one who got elected, what went through your mind?  

Fr. Eduardo: How do you answer that?  Before leaving Mexico, someone told me: “Make sure you come back!”  I took it as a joke.  Afterwards, some of the chapter fathers began to ask me if I would be willing to accept if I were elected.  That’s a good hint that someone is thinking of you.  Others would ask me how my health is.  I told them that I’m doing okay.  That also made me think that I was an option.  

The days of the chapter began to pass by and, as different topics came up, I realized that this really was a possibility.  So, I left it in the hands of Jesus Christ and of the Virgin Mary. 

Fr. Benjamin: Now that you mention the Blessed Virgin, what role has Mary played in your priesthood?  

Fr. Eduardo: She is always there.  I don’t have many devotions, but I do have a great faith in the presence of God and of the Virgin Mary in the life of a priest and in my own life.  I can say that the Blessed Virgin has shown me what unconditional love means and that I can trust fully in her intercession. 

The first time that I seriously considered the vocation in a mature way was in the old Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City (the new one didn’t exist yet).  There, while I was praying to the Blessed Virgin, I realized that God could be calling me to be a priest. 

Fr. Benjamin: Do you feel that, after the General Chapter, the issues raised by the Holy See after the apostolic visitation will be over and done with?  Or will there still be more to do? 

Fr. Eduardo: The Chapter marks both an ending and a new beginning.  This is what many of the chapter fathers feel and that’s how we have expressed it in the chapter hall.  But, so that it can truly be a new beginning, it is necessary to put the challenges of the past in their place.  This is why the Chapter decided to publish a communiqué for the Legionaries, the members of Regnum Christi and for all those who have been following our recent history.  We can’t erase the past.  We have to learn the lessons, mourn what occurred, trust in God’s mercy and, like St. Paul, run forward in pursuit of the goal of reaching Christ.

We have made progress in these years, but we cannot say that the task is completed.  The Pope has given us indications by means of the Pontifical Delegate.  We have to change progressively our way of thinking in certain areas.  This is a continuous conversion.  The Church is holy and at the same time always in need of reform.  We can never say that we are fully converted as persons, nor fully purified or renewed as an institution.  This is something that the new government will have to stress in the next few years: continued purification in which we all take part.  We want it to be a new beginning in which together we will passionately seek to do good to people and help them get to know the love of Christ and his mercy. 

Fr. Benjamin: You are the successor of Fr. Alvaro Corcuera and, in a way, of Fr. Syvester Heereman as well.  Do you have anything to say to them? 

Fr. Eduardo: I have a great friendship with Fr. Alvaro that has lasted many years.  We entered consecrated life in Regnum Christi together in 1975, but we had known each other even before that.  Together with that friendship, I would like to express respect and admiration and, for these past years, a sense of gratitude.  His example of goodness and warmth towards everyone moves me. 

I have had a lot of work related interaction with Fr. Sylvester in these last few months, especially since I began to be territorial director last August.  I admire his clarity of mind and his courage.  I hope that together in the central government we can serve the Legion in this time of renewal and simulate the apostolates for the good of the Church.  

Fr. Benjamin: You have worked in Spain, Brazil and Mexico.  What have you learned from these countries?

Fr. Eduardo: I’ve never really thought about what I learned in each country I’ve worked in. I try to be optimistic and content wherever I have to be in a given moment.

In Spain I lived my first two years of priestly ministry.  There I learned what it is to serve as a priest and a confessor.  It was very enriching to experience the mercy of God and be his instrument. 

In Brazil, I had to found [the Movement’s presence there].  There wasn’t anything when the first Legionaries got there.  There I realized how difficult it is to begin a Regnum Christi section and works of apostolate from scratch.  In 1989, only God knows how many hours I put into the groundwork to start our first school.  I never saw it materialize, but I did the paperwork.  I have very warm memories of Brazil.  Some of the fathers in Mexico would laugh at me since I talked about Brazil so frequently.  They ask me if I want to go back.  It’s a country with a vibrant Church, a very great faith.  As well, since it is the country with the most Catholics in the world, it is a place where the Legion has a role to play.  We have much to learn from the Brazilian spirit, a happy spirit with which they live the joy of the faith. 

I have lived in Italy.  Though I have not lived in other European countries, I have lived with Legionaries from many of these countries.  They greatly enrich our family.  I couldn’t leave out a mention of the United States and Canada, which have a very important part to play within the Church.  I hope to be able to get to know these places, from which we have so much to learn. 

Fr. Benjamin: How did you realize that God was calling you to be a Legionary priest?

Fr. Eduardo: It is complicated to identify precise moments.  In the Movement, little by little I found a personal relationship with Our Lord.  Little by little, he called me more and more.  At some point, I developed a sense that God was calling me to the Legion.  There were two years of inner struggle, of searching, of ups and downs.  In prayer, spiritual direction and contact with other Legionaries, among whom was the founder, I received the grace of saying “Yes” to God’s invitation. 

Fr. Benjamin: One of the principal points of the Legion is education.  You have directed several schools. What can you tell us about Regnum Christi’s apostolate in this field?

Fr. Eduardo: The Church has always been concerned with education.  Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the “emergency of education”.  Education is the cultivation of the mind, of the intelligence, of the spirit.  In Regnum Christi, at times, we have expressed the experience of Christ as knowing, loving and following Jesus Christ.  In a school you have a chance to offer the part of the teaching of the faith, the first experience of the faith outside the home, so that students can love Jesus Christ and so that God can be someone present in their lives.  

In the Catholic Church, we find religious persons who believe in God.  But it’s not always a God that has much to do with day to day life.  It’s not always a Christ who fills and gives meaning to life.  In a Catholic school, in a Regnum Christi school, you can really have this experience.  My own life is connected with Jesus Christ, whom I got to know not only in my family, but also in Regnum Christi institutions. 

Here I would like to say “thank you” for the work of so many Legionaries, consecrated men and women and lay people who dedícate themselves to educating young people, children, families.  There is much to be done, but it is beautiful to see what God has accomplished in people because of the efforts of these brothers and sisters of ours.  Your dedication moves me. 

Fr. Benjamin: In the past few years, there are priest and brothers in formation who have left the Legion.  What are your feelings towards them? 

Fr. Eduardo: I send a warm greeting to the priests and brothers who have left the Legion.  They have carried out a discernment, seen at a certain point that, in their conscience they could not continue in the Legion.  We have to respect the decision they have made.  I also believe that those of us who follow Christ in the Legion and those who follow him along a different path have much in common.  We should pray for each other. 

Many ex-Legionaries have passed through my life.  I have been the superior of some.  I have worked together with some.  Whenever someone leaves, you feel a certain sadness.  The truth is that I love them and continue to consider them my friends and brothers.  I send a greeting to all and ask them for a prayer. 

Fr. Benjamin: With everything that has happened in the Legion in the past few years, would you recommend to a young man who is discerning that he join the Legion?  

Fr. Eduardo: I believe that the Legion of Christ is going through a period of renewal, of purification.  It’s had an institutional crisis.  Being in an institution like this offers certain guarantees to one who joins.  Why?  We are not a congregation that is marked by success, but by the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and the cross of our own weakness.  Someone who wants to join will find a congregation that wants to live out the following of Jesus Christ, in fidelity to the Catholic Church.  I think that, in this sense, a young man could find this place satisfactory. 

Fr. Benjamin: Would you like to send a message to the Legionaries and Regnum Christi members?  What do you hope for from us in the next six years? 

Fr. Eduardo: I accepted the election as general director because I have a lot of trust.  I trust, not only in God and the Church, but I also trust people: Legionaries of Christ, consecrated men and women, the members of Regnum Christi.  They are giving themselves in the state of life to which God has called them.  If I had thought that I were alone, I would not have been able to accept.  

What do I hope for from the Legionaries?  I hope that they will continue working enthusiastically, collaborating, giving of themselves.  We are in this together.  I’ve been given the task of leading, along with the general council, but we are in this together.  We are all rowing together.  We are all working.  We are all loving Christ. 

Today, we have a stimulating challenge in front of us, the challenge of unity: internal unity within the Legion, unity and collaboration with the consecrated men and women of Regnum Christi in our shared mission and unity with all the members of the Movement.  In these years we can look forward to chances to exercise patience, fortitude and innovative charity.  It’s what Christ wants: “May they be one.”  Only in this way can we serve the Church and Regnum Christi well.  

What do I want?  What I learned when I joined Regnum Christi in 1972: that Christ may reign in the hearts of everyone.  What we want is that getting to know Christ will bring people fullness in their lives, that more people will meet the Lord and thus families, workplaces and society as a whole will begin to be transformed.  I hope that Christ fills us with love, enthusiasm and hope. 

Fr. Benjamin: Thank you very much for this interview.  



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