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Issue Date:  December 10, 2004

Religious urged to be 'prophetic'


Consecrated men and women should daringly pursue “new, audacious and prophetic” initiatives that “excite the imagination,” according to a Nov. 23-27 congress in Rome of 850 women and men religious, representing more than a million members of Catholic religious institutes from every corner of the globe.

The future of consecrated life, according to participants, will be found through “inculturation, interreligious and interconfessional dialogue, the option for the least and the excluded, new forms of communication,” all reflecting “the mission and option for the poor.”

The affirmations came in a concluding document from the congress called “Convictions and Perspectives.”

That document listed seven virtues for consecrated life today:

  • Depth of evangelical discernment, authenticity
  • Hospitality and gratitude
  • Nonviolence
  • Liberty of spirit
  • Audacity and creative capacity
  • Tolerance and dialogue
  • Simplicity: Finding value in the poor and the least

Franciscan Sr. Vilma Speranza Quintanilla Morán, a Salvadoran and president of the Confederation of Latin American Religious (representing both women and men), summed up the challenge in a Nov. 24 interview with NCR, saying that consecrated life must be “mystically prophetic and prophetically mystic.”

Of the 850 participants in the World Congress on Consecrated Life, titled “Passion for Christ, Passion for Humanity,” 91 were from Africa, 248 from the Americas, 95 from Asia, 17 from Oceania and 399 from Europe. Women’s congregations were represented by 323 superiors general, the men’s congregations by 160. One hundred thirteen delegates represented the Conferences of Religious; there were 17 directors of publications on the consecrated life, and 60 religious representing “young people.” There were also 114 theologians.

Marianist Fr. Josemaria Arnaiz, secretary general of the Union of Superiors General, the main umbrella group for men’s institutes, said the congress conveyed a desire that consecrated life better express the “spiritual motives” for its various activities. Religious men and women must be “more witnesses and less professionals,” Arnaiz said.

Aside from the particular conclusions reached, many participants told NCR the very act of bringing together men and women religious for the first time in such a global gathering had value.

“Because of the international nature of the meeting, you get a more global view of world, the church, and the place of religious life,” said Benedictine Sr. Christine Vladimiroff, prioress of Mount St. Benedict Monastery in Erie, Pa.

Mercedarian Sr. Filo Hirota, coordinator for her order in Japan, said the mix of women and men was interesting. “We do things in such a different way,” she said. “If only the men were here, the meeting would not have dance, symbols, stuff like that. We’re different, and there’s richness in our diversity.”

Dominican Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, the former master general of the Dominican order, told participants that in the post-Sept. 11 world, religious men and women are challenged “to make our home with the strangers in our own congregations and our church.”

“All this requires of us a creative imagination,” Radcliffe said. “We need to let the Holy Spirit break down the little ideological discourses, whether of the left or the right, in which we find security. We need to find the words that open us to the vastness of God, and not shrink God into the pettiness of our hearts and minds.”

Immaculate Heart Sr. Sandra Schneiders, an American, told the religious that their mission is nothing less than the creation of an alternative world.

“Jesus did not come to establish a new religion with new boundaries, new litmus tests, a new caste system based on gender, power or wealth,” Schneiders said. “He came to inaugurate a new world, to give the power to become children of God to all those who believe in him regardless of human origin, social status, gender or any of the other markers humans have created to divide humanity into the dominant and the oppressed.

“By perpetual vows of consecrated celibacy, evangelical poverty and prophetic obedience, religious establish an alternate world which they live into being on a 24-hour-a-day basis, witnessing against the Prince of this World’s version of a hopelessly divided human race,” Schneiders said.

Vladimiroff told NCR that she’s an optimist about the state of religious life today. “What I see across the United States as I travel with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious is great vigor and energy,” she said. “You find congregations engaged in new ministries, not ones that require buildings and structures, but where the people are.”

“Most communities are not acting out of a survival or maintenance mode,” Vladimiroff said. “They are acting out of mission, doing the work of God and the kingdom.”

John L. Allen Jr. is NCR Rome correspondent. His e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, December 10, 2004

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