Felice Hopton and Philip Owens, from the Lay Provincial Council, attended the Assembly (12th to 17th August 2022). Felice shares her experience:
My abiding memory of the European Council Assembly was the enormous enthusiasm with which Philip and I were received by the Council members and other delegates. It became obvious that no representatives from the English Province had been over to the European Assembly for some years. It was also felt by the Council, that with the UK leaving the EU, there was a possibility that ties with the European Fraternities would be cut completely.
Philip and I could not have been made more welcome and the whole of our time at Vilnius was one of great pleasure. I believe that Philip and I made good representatives for the English Province as we are firmly convinced that ties with the European Fraternities are most important.
Luckily, most delegates spoke English and by the end of the 5 days I was trying out a bit of French. Some of the talks were not In English and we were given headphones with a delegate translating as the speaker talked. Very clever. It was amazing how quickly one became adept at using such technology.
The Lithuanians who hosted us at the Seminary were tremendous. They all put so much effort into making us feel welcome. Nothing was too much bother. They are a tremendous people. This was made obvious when we were taken on a sightseeing tour of Vilnius, capital of Lithuania. Our guide was very informative, and we learnt much. What was very hard to listen to were the descriptions of the dreadful treatment Lithuanians had received from the Russians when they were occupied by the Soviet Empire. There is a large park, they called it a National Park, acres of it where thousands of Lithuanians were buried after being tortured. Many just disappeared. Churches were closed by the regime; one became a museum of Atheism another a warehouse for alcohol. Lithuania is restoring some of the churches but it is costing much money so it is a case of slowly, slowly. The spirit of the nation has not died, and it was moving to be in a country where their faith means so much to them. After the tour, we went to the local church for mass which was packed. There were many Lithuanian Lay Dominicans there and after Vespers we were treated to a lovely buffet meal laid on by the Lay Dominicans. Soon the guitars came out. There was much music, talking and laughter. We were made so welcome it was overwhelming. The Lay Dominicans even made sure we arrived back at the seminary safely, taking us back in their cars.
Philip and I made good contacts with Damien McDonnell, one of the members of the European Council who is from Ireland and president of the Irish Lay Dominicans, and their Dominican promoter Father David McGovern. We learnt that previously there had been strong ties between the UK and Irish Lay Dominicans. We are hoping to re-establish these links. There is great enthusiasm on both sides to make this happen.
There were delegates from most European countries; Belarus, Poland, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Slovakia, France, The Netherlands, Lithuania, Spain and Portugal.
I volunteered Philip for saying the Rosary in the chapel; he had his own back by choosing the workshop I should attend; social media as a platform for preaching. I was very pleased that Philip pointed me to this workshop as it was very interesting and was something I had not thought about before and probably would not have attended except for Phillip’s encouragement.
It was so interesting chatting and socialising with the other delegates. Each fraternity is so differently set up. What came over, was the confidence of the Lay Dominicans in their vocation.
The European Lay Dominicans are not backward in coming forward to pick up the apostolate challenge. However, they are feeling the effect of the Dominican presence disappearing in some areas. They were very interested by the example of the Tamar Fraternity, which has managed to flourish in the middle of a Dominican desert.
I am sure we can learn much from each other. We must endeavour to strengthen our ties with the European Lay Dominicans.