The future of the church and religious life is in our hands
The Year of Consecrated Life has officially ended, having been celebrated in great diversity throughout of the world. The year gave me time to reflect on my own joy of being a sister and all the changes I have experienced. One funny memory surfaced as I looked back. It was when I was a postulant, new to all the rituals. It was the procession to the dining room after Mass, when I was dressed in my ugly black shoes and ankle-length dress, white collared cape and veil, standing behind my chair waiting for the superior to ring the little bell that signaled us to pray and then sit to eat. As I stood there a thought hit me, "I will be doing this for the rest of my life." I must say, it gave me a shock to think of such strict routine. However, that reality did not last long. Shortly after, Vatican II changed everything for us. We reclaimed our original Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary community spirit and Nano Nagle's intention to be truly apostolic in lifestyle and ministry. These changes were not without pain, but the sisters eventually took it on as a mission.
I thought about the dramatic changes of Vatican II when I heard about the congress for young religious, held last September in Rome, and wondered how these young women would change religious life in their contexts. What a magnificent idea for young religious to experience personally the diversity of religious life throughout the world. Most, I imagine, would not even dream of such an opportunity and yet they are the ones that will most likely live into even more dramatic changes than I have.
Hearing and reading about the meeting was interesting but I wanted to hear about it from individuals, so I sent out "fishing lines" hoping some of the participants would be willing to share their experiences. This blog brings together a few personal stories of sisters from Fiji Islands, Samoa, Mali, India, Pakistan, India and Zambia. Each sister shared a variety of responses to the program themes: The Call; In the Heart of Fraternity; Humanity's Anguishes and Hopes and Within the Church Communion.
Sr. Sereana Naqarase, a Sister of Our Lady of Nazareth from Fiji, spoke about the challenges of having a call to consecrated life. "It takes a lot of humility to think of it as a gift and then share the fruits of that gift with others," she said. The four program themes captured her imagination. They "strengthened me to keep on in my journey despite the hardships and difficulties I experience in my way. It also gives me hope to relook at my own call as a consecrated person . . . so renewing oneself is one of the main aspects in this very practical experience of faith. . . . I went with my heart full of unanswered questions, doubts that sometimes uproot the tree of my faith when I come into contact with unexpected events and circumstances and as well as my inner fears. . . . But little did I know that on the first vigil, even just the atmosphere and presence of my other consecrated sisters and brothers in Christ from all over the world somehow warmed my inner fears, even strengthened my faith and comforted my longing soul."
Sr. Matalena Tovio, also a Sister of Our Lady of Nazareth, is from a remote region of Samoa where Internet is most often lacking. She shared a quote from Mother Theresa of Calcutta that came alive for her during the meeting: "God made the world for the delight of human beings — if we could see His goodness everywhere His concern for us, His awareness of our needs: the phone call we've waited for, the ride we are offered, the letter in the mail, just the little things He does for us throughout the day. As we remember and notice His love, we just begin to fall in love again with him because He is so busy with us." She added that the significant learning for her was that "communion and love are the most important elements of our lives . . . building community is based on love . . . to build that bond of unity we have to have Faith, putting God's love at the center." Matalena expressed gratitude to the donors who made possible her participation one of enthusiasm, curiosity and joy.
Sr. Beatrice Sawadago, a Religious of Mary Immaculate from Beleko, Mali, shared that the internationality of the experience touched her deeply along with Pope Francis' words encouraging the young religious to live a life of adoration and prayer that fosters love for God's people. I had asked each one what touched them most profoundly. Beatrice said it was the theme on community life because it is a gift and it is through the love experienced there that we experience the mystery of the "Transcendent."
Of course the basis of this is "loving my consecration to Christ with passion." She noted, too, that she experienced this passion in the church's religious family that reflected the different universal charisms. Beatrice's dream is that she could share with her sisters in Mali and beyond the importance of fostering hope and perseverance in loving and following Christ unconditionally. This is what brings profound joy in consecrated life.
Sr. Yvette Soundja, a Religious of Mary Immaculate from Bamako, Mali, was captured by the call to "Wake up the World" but also to ask where she herself is asleep. She was awakened to the great urgency for the world to wake up to the love and passion of Christ. The congress called her to reflect on the joy of consecrated life that comes from intimacy with God in prayer, Scripture and community living. And it takes everyone together to make this happen. Christ needs to be at the center and this demands faith, believing that Christ is truly present there.
Being with 6,000 young religious committed to Christ was one of the most touching experiences for Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Sr. Mbololwa Linanga from Zambia. Pope Francis encouraged the youth to radiate the joy and happiness they experience in their relationships with Jesus. But, she said, "We all need to wake up ourselves to our call to follow Christ before we can wake up the world. . . . Do we bring healing, joy, peace and harmony or do we create a spirit of distraction, create war and walls of division?" Because Mbololwa is a maternity nurse, the words of Pope Francis really resonated for her: "We are called to be the maternity hospital of the world and the Church, giving birth to new life."
Sr. Nargis Saleem, sister of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary from Pakistan, affirmed that the greatest impact of the days were the challenges the talks presented, especially that they strengthened her sense of call: "It has made me to realize the importance of the gift of my consecrated life . . . and made me more aware of the needs that arise around me [the need] to be prophetic and willing to do something about it." If she were to share one message with others it would be to realize that "the future of the Church and our congregations is in our hands so we need to be committed, dedicated, responsible and accountable stewards who are willing to help and stand with our people."
Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Sr. Helen Praveen from India said her challenge was listening to the temptations religious face such as wanting too much comfort, an unwillingness to forgive, to gossip, to be lukewarm in following Christ, rather than "to really witness prophecy, memory, closeness, a burning heart for Christ and apostolic zeal. . . . The three words that kept ringing all through the program were encounter, witness and joy . . . and I want to inscribe these words in my heart. . . . As young people, the pope challenged us to have the same creative capacity, the boldness and enterprise of our founders . . . to understand contemporary society and work together to provide adequate responses. . . ."
I was very happy to receive the sisters' responses and thank each of them for their courage in sharing their hearts with a stranger. I was inspired by their ideas and words that make me hopeful for the future of religious life around the world. Hearing from such global perspectives confirmed the importance of my own resolution to be attentive and encouraging to young religious as well as keeping them in my prayers. So often we long for large numbers, but as these few sisters revealed, even a few can Wake up the World to the presence of the loving, merciful and passionate God.
[Joyce Meyer, PBVM, is international liaison to women religious outside of the United States for Global Sisters Report.]