By Sarah Mac Donald - 30 November, 2013
Pope Francis unexpectedly announced on Friday that 2015 will be a year dedicated to consecrated life.
News of the Pope’s intention was made at the close of a meeting between the Pontiff and 120 superior generals of male religious orders.
The meeting lasted three hours and at the end, Pope Francis thanked them, “for what you do and for your spirit of faith and your quest for service. Thanks for your testimony, and also for the humiliations you have to endure,” he told them.
The Union of Superiors General held its 82nd general assembly in the Salesianum in Rome between 27 to 29 November. The USG president is Jesuit, Fr Adolfo Nicolas.
The meeting on Friday was conducted as a “colloquial and fraternal discussion” in which Pope Francis responded to questions related to the identity and mission of consecrated life.
He told the USG leaders that Religious are called upon to follow the Lord in a special way. “They are men and woman who can awaken the world. Consecrated life is prophecy. God asks us to fly the nest and to be sent to the frontiers of the world, avoiding the temptation to ‘domesticate’ them. This is the most concrete way of imitating the Lord.”
In response to a question on vocations, the Pope referred to the young Churches which are bearing new fruit.
He said this gives rise to a re-evaluation of the inculturation of charism. The Church, he suggested, must follow the example of Matteo Ricci in asking forgiveness for and looking with shame upon apostolic failures caused by misunderstandings in this field.
Intercultural dialogue must press for the introduction of persons of various cultures, expressing different ways of living the charism, in the governance of religious institutes, Pope Francis said.
He also emphasised the importance of formation, which he said must be founded upon four fundamental pillars: spiritual, intellectual, communitarian and apostolic.
The Pontiff described formation as “an artisanal craft, not a form of policing” and said “its aim is to form religious persons with a tender heart, not acid, not like vinegar.”
The Pope underlined that while we’re all sinners, religious orders should not tolerate corruption. “We accept sinners, but not the corrupt,” he said.
Other questions were asked regarding the relationships between Religious and the particular Churches to which they belong. The Pope responded saying, “We bishops must understand that consecrated persons are not helpers, but rather charisms which enrich dioceses.”
The final questions related to mission frontiers of those in consecrated life. Situations of exclusion remain the first priority, the Pope suggested.
Alongside these challenges, he also mentioned the cultural and educational mission in schools and universities.
For the Pope, the pillars of education are “transmitting knowledge, transmitting methods, transmitting values. By these means, faith is communicated.”
The educator must measure up to those he educates, he said, and must give careful thought to how to proclaim Jesus Christ to a changing generation.