LCWR leaders call Vatican meetings 'rich,' conversational

Leaders of the main representative group of U.S. Catholic sisters said their recent annual trip to Rome to visit Vatican offices was productive and resulted in "very rich" conversations about problems facing the church and society globally.

Two of the elected representatives of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious spoke to NCR about the trip in an interview Sunday.

The leaders spoke under the condition that they would not talk about last week's joint conclusion with the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the doctrinal assessment of LCWR, which saw Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain act as the group's archbishop delegate for three years.

St. Joseph Srs. Marcia Allen and Carol Zinn, LCWR's president-elect and past-president, respectively, said in the interview that their conversations with Vatican officials had especially given them a sense of the universality of the church.

Speaking to different Vatican offices throughout their visit, Allen and Zinn said there were many common themes that the conversations focused on, such as problems of migration around the world and to the plight of victims of human trafficking.

The offices, Allen said, "seemed to appreciate, 'What does this look like from the U.S. point of view, from our point of view?' "

"I was impressed just at the universality of their concern as well as some of the things that they were focused on," she said.

LCWR represents about 80 percent of the approximately 57,000 Catholic sisters in the United States. Headquartered in Silver Spring, Md., it traces its beginnings to the papacy of Pope Pius XII and first formally organized as a conference in 1956. Its members are the leaders of the various orders of women religious around the country.

LCWR leaders have made an annual visit to Rome for decades, normally alongside their counterpart U.S. men's group, the Council of Major Superiors of Men.

The women religious were making the visit this year when news broke of the end of the doctrinal mandate, which was launched in 2012 and saw Sartain appointed with a five-year mandate to oversee revisions of the sisters' group.

Announcing the end of that process April 16, the Vatican said in a press release that the goal of the oversight "has been accomplished."

LCWR leaders, including Zinn and Allen, also met with Pope Francis that day in what may have been the first such meeting between their group's leaders and a pope.

Zinn said the meeting was an "unbelievable experience" because of Francis' ability to connect with those with whom he is meeting. Comparing their sit-down with the pope to images of him making connections with the crowds in St. Peter's Square, she said: "It's real."

Allen said, "I think you're aware of his universalist perception but he is individually attentive."

"He's very attentive to the moment, and yet when he talks, he talks from a wide, wide perspective," she said.

Allen and Zinn said the pope spoke mostly regarding topics from his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium ("The Joy of the Gospel"), particularly about what he has termed the global "economy of exclusion."

"You can tell that at a feeling level, that he is heartbroken about the suffering in the world," Zinn said. "Truly, truly heartbroken. He suffers. You can just feel that."

The two leaders said their yearly visits to Rome are mostly about having conversations with Vatican officials.

"It's about dialogue," Zinn said. "That's what we do every year when we come here. So in some respects, I guess the story is that the work of the Gospel is to dialogue, to listen. And the call of Vatican II is to listen, to read the signs of the times."

"I would say this entire week [the meetings] have been collaborative . . . and respectful," she said.

Allen said their conversations are "mutually influential."

"That's nice," she said. "That means you got what you came for."

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is jmcelwee@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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