Is there a changing profile of those interested in religious life today? Brother Edmund Garvey reports on a recent conference in Auckland, New Zealand addressing the challenges that the Christian Brothers and Presentation Brothers networks face today.
Auckland, New Zealand was the venue during Easter week for an international conference on new vocations to the Congregations of Christian Brothers and Presentation Brothers. Conference members considered trends and planned for a new future in the regions of North America, Australasia and Europe.
Current trends indicate a renewed interest in Religious Life among young men in these areas of the world. While numbers actually joining the congregations are still low, increasing interest is expressed by men of postgraduate level and after some years of life and work experience. This was seen as a healthy development.
Called to a Deeper Journey was the title of the conference. Christian Brothers and Presentation Brothers as well as women and men from the Edmund Rice and Presentation Networks worldwide attended the six-day conference. The impact of the life, work and inspiration of Blessed Edmund Rice on young men and women was highlighted. Many spoke of this and one man from New Zealand, now training as a Christian Brother, spoke of how work in the Edmund Rice Network led him on a journey through his contacts with the poor to faith in Jesus and a newfound relationship with God.
Factors influencing religious faith and interest in religious life
At the conference, it was acknowledged that the huge economic, social and educational development that had taken place in the regions of the world represented had a major impact on religious faith and on interest in Religious Life, especially among young men. Life and career choices had become much more varied than in previous eras. It was also acknowledged that some of the negative aspects of Religious Life in the past, including scandals that affected the Church, had created doubt, confusion and some disillusionment.
Opportunities and challenges of today’s world
Delegates gathered at the conference agreed that the time had come to move on and to grasp the opportunities and challenges of today’s world that would make a difference in the creation of a new future. This would involve facing questions of meaning, the purpose of life and existence, the integrity of the planet and of all creation, as well as facing with compassion the enormous inequalities and injustices still experienced in the global family of humanity.
The developing world and mission areas
The Brothers of both congregations are attracting many new members in the countries of the developing world. They are also moving into new areas of mission as in the Philippines, Croatia and Bolivia. Much of their work and inspiration closely mirrors the work of Blessed Edmund Rice in early nineteenth century Ireland. In these countries, and in the fourteen countries of Africa, where the Brothers are also present, education at primary and post-primary levels is seen as the pathway to dignity, liberation and justice. In these countries, the Brothers, with the help of people in their Networks, are assisting in raising the social and economic conditions of the people. This is the pathway to a new and fuller experience of life and its meaning in God.
Challenges in the developed world
In the so-called first world, secularization trends are increasing almost in step with economic security and abundance. It became evident during the conference that a significant number of young people are raising new questions about meaning and are searching for a new awareness that is spiritually transforming and challenging. Religious Brothers are increasingly aware of the need to face similar questions and challenges and to enhance the experience of living as brothers in communities that are open to human and spiritual search. The younger men and women at the conference were very direct in speaking to their need for the presence and mission of a brotherhood that would facilitate them in their spiritual search and would engage them in the work of Edmund Rice to make a difference in the world today.
Collaboration with lay members
There are significant new challenges for vocations to religious life in the developed world. A community and collaborative effort of Brothers with the lay members of their Networks marked the conference in New Zealand. One young Irish teacher described her experience like this: “we love being part of the Brothers network. They are fantastic people with a great sense of mission in the world today. We want to see new Brothers so we’ve all got to take responsibility for encouraging vocations.”
There were sixty-six delegates, including eleven from Ireland and England, present at the conference. The conference facilitator was Sister Anne O’Leary, a Presentation Sister who is currently Professor of New Testament at St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, Texas. The keynote speaker was Sister Gemma Simmonds of the Congregation of Jesus and who lectures at Heythrop College, University of London. Mr. Kevin Molloy, a former pupil of St. Peter’s CBS College, Auckland, and who currently works in media and advertising consultancy, made a very significant contribution to the reflection and planning at the conference.