What is the future of religious life in the vocation crisis?

Seán D. Sammon, F.M.S., is a scholar-in-residence at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

 

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Lack of imagination and fear of innovation on the part of the church as a whole are two elements obstructing the renewal of contemporary religious life, for every baptized Catholic has a role to play in the task of reimagining this way of living. In declaring 2015 a year dedicated to consecrated life and challenging men and women religious to “wake up the world,” Pope Francis was speaking to the church’s hierarchy and its lay men and women as well.

Faced with fewer vocations and an aging membership, many believers appear to have forgotten the history of consecrated life and the Holy Spirit’s role in the work of its renewal. Religious life has passed through far more difficult days than the present. During the years just after the French Revolution, for instance, not only was its future in question; so too was the church’s.

Just before the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church resembled a pyramid, with the clergy, men and women religious and the laity occupying the structure’s top, middle and bottom tiers respectively. The council’s unequivocal statement that all Christians, clergy and laity alike, are baptized into the one mission of proclaiming the kingdom of God and its imminence put an end to that view of the church.

This shift in understanding moved religious life from being within the hierarchical church to its rightful place within the charismatic church, helping to clarify its nature and purpose. Never intended to be an ecclesiastical workforce, sisters, religious priests and brothers are meant to be the church’s living memory of what it can be, longs to be and must be. Their job is to continually remind the larger body about its true nature.

Crises Past and Present

Tempted to wring our hands about the current state of religious life, it is helpful to remember that religious congregations experience crises at each stage in their development. During their early years most groups face three: in leadership, direction and legitimacy. As they swell in numbers and spread out geographically they confront another: maintaining unity in the midst of rapid growth.

By the time territorial expansion slows down, the congregation usually has moved into a stable phase. Success marks its undertakings; members are held in high esteem. Having accumulated considerable human and financial resources, the group as a whole often begins to forget the reasons for which it came into existence; members behave as if everything depended upon their efforts alone.

At the onset of the council, many religious congregations found themselves in just such a place. Boasting more members than at any other time in their history and applicants aplenty, the vast majority of men and women religious believed that renewal meant ever increasing numbers, bigger and better institutions, and greater respect and prestige.

Instead, a period of surprising change ensued. Membership began to decrease through departures and the lack of new recruits; familiar ways of living and interacting were put aside; long-standing institutional commitments were abandoned. The groups’ service to the church became haphazard.

As congregations grew smaller in size and older in age, with fewer candidates entering and their place and purpose in the church less clear, a number of groups began to wonder if their way of life was dying. It may come as a surprise to some to hear it said that this is exactly where religious life should be today in the process of renewal. Like it or not, breakdown and disintegration appear to be the means God uses to prepare congregations and their members for deep and thorough transformation.

As they began to renew their congregations, were men and women religious naïve about the cost of change? Probably. To begin with, many believed that if change were necessary and explained clearly, everything would proceed in an orderly manner. But planned change can be as disruptive as unplanned change. It unsettles our lives and often leaves us feeling disoriented. Also, many men and women religious failed to realize that change would take place on several levels: the level of consecrated life itself, the level of individual congregations and the level of the individual within each congregation.

So, we must ask: Is there reason to be optimistic today about the future of religious life? To answer that question, we must admit that it is foolhardy to believe that all the church’s various forms of consecrated life will renew themselves in the same manner or arrive at the same outcome. The members of its monastic, mendicant and apostolic expressions trace their origins back to specific times in history that were fraught with unique challenges. They also hold fast to different understandings about community life and mission.

Religious congregations today face three possible outcomes as they labor to renew themselves: extinction, minimal survival and renewal. Some congregations have served their purpose in the church and will cease to exist. Others will continue but with a significantly reduced membership.

Still others will renew themselves. To do so, they must first be courageous in responding to the real challenges facing our world and church today; second, have a membership willing to allow itself the experience of personal and congregational conversion; and third, rediscover the spirit of their founding charism.

Signs of Renewal

In recent years, a number of lay men and women have claimed as their own the charism of one or another religious congregation. Neither pseudo-religious nor substitutes hired to cover a shortfall of vowed members in congregational ministries, they are sharers in the group’s charism and co-responsible for its ministry. As such, these lay partners have an essential role to play in redefining consecrated life for the 21st century.

Today many lay partners are bound to a particular congregation through the group’s works. Serving alongside men and women religious, they too struggle to identify those characteristic features that distinguish their efforts from those of other congregations. A parish or university founded in the Franciscan tradition should be able to distinguish itself from one established by Jesuits, Marists or Dominicans. Over time, lay partners, along with the members of the founding congregation, become a living endowment for the institutions in which they minister, ensuring that the institutional identity is clear and the founding values respected.

How can the members of a congregation judge that they have turned a corner in the process of renewal? When a significant portion of them admit that their present life and the group’s structures are neither personally satisfying nor appropriately responsive to the major needs of today’s church and world.

At the same time, there must also be willingness on the part of those involved to change their current ways of living and acting and to develop new and renewed means of service. The individualism that plagues a number of groups at the moment must be confronted. Members must also grow in interdependence and show willingness to alter personal plans for the sake of the common good.

Groups will also know that they have turned a corner when they are able to assess the congregation’s works honestly. Many of the ministries for which men and women religious continue to take responsibility no longer need their presence. They must be willing to put aside their concern with these institutions and ask themselves: To what absolute human needs would our founder respond were he or she to arrive in this country today? Where would we find him or her, what groups would he or she choose to serve, what means would he or she use to evangelize? Men and women religious were meant to be on the margins, in those places where the church is not.

Today congregations must take steps to ground themselves again in the biblical roots of religious life and to use this foundation to rebuild community life. This will require new models suitable for adults who have come together to share life around the Gospel. For genuine renewal to take place, transformation also must move beyond the personal. The networking of like-minded members is essential for any process of renewal to take root and flourish.

As they address these tasks, individual men and women religious and their congregations will develop a new sense of personal and corporate identity and purpose. For personal identity to be clear, a sister, brother or religious priest must be in love with Jesus Christ and have grown over time to resemble a living portrait of his or her founder.

Organizational identity, though similar to personal identity, has some distinct characteristics of its own. Groups with a strong organizational identity stand for something; they have a backbone. They claim a mission that is unique or, if similar to the mission of other groups, different from them in some unique way. Finally, these groups have a set of values that have stood the test of time.

Examples of congregations that are moving into a new phase of renewal are not easily labeled. Included among their number are groups that have developed a more profound understanding about their foundational spirituality and have spent time addressing important issues of community life. No longer defining the latter as a family, they have reaffirmed that life together is for the purpose of mission, centered around faith and spirituality and marked by the members’ genuine interest in one another, as well as a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Reclaiming Charisms

Our world and church today are facing challenges far more profound than the superficial problems often reported by the media. The church, in particular, needs to remain aware of them as it helps religious congregations re-evaluate their mission and chart their future.

For example, the Catholic Church has during the last century witnessed the single greatest demographic shift in its 2,000-year history. At the outset of the 20th century, almost 70 percent of its members were found in Europe and North America; today more than two thirds of Roman Catholics live in the Southern Hemisphere. That number is projected to continue to grow during the years just ahead. The church in the Northern Hemisphere also once focused its attention on the young; today it is dealing with the fastest growing aging population in human history.

The growing influence of Islam worldwide, the rise of Pentecostalism, our failure as a church to effectively evangelize emerging generations of young Catholics, a set of social teachings that were formed for a world dominated by the Industrial Revolution and the transforming influence of information technology are other important developments that need to be considered as well.

There are groups working to respond to the human and spiritual needs of today’s world. My own Marist institute, for example, in response to Pope John Paul II’s call for a greater Christian presence on the continent of Asia, decided to mission an additional 150 brothers to that region. Our initial appeal for volunteers brought numbers far in excess of what we had hoped for.

John C. Haughey, S.J., once remarked that attempting to define charism is a bit like trying to capture the wind in a bottle. For charism is a free gift of the Spirit given for the good of the church and the use of all.

Pope Paul VI, who defined the charism of religious life as the fruit of the Holy Spirit, who is always at work within the church, identified these signs of its presence: bold initiatives, constancy in the giving of oneself, humility in bearing with adversities, fidelity to the Lord, a courageous response to the pressing needs of the day and willingness to be part of the church.

What, then, does reclaiming charism mean for the members of religious congregations and their lay partners today? Something quite simple: believing that the Spirit of God who was so active and alive in their founder longs to live and breathe in each of them today. Reclaiming charism means letting the Spirit lead, taking a chance that God’s ideas might, on occasion, be better than our own and asking those questions that are on everyone’s mind and in everyone’s heart, but on the lips of only a few. This approach translates into daring, even unexpected action, ministries that respond to today’s absolute human needs, centeredness in Jesus Christ and his Gospel.

We are falling short in the work of renewal because our designs for the future are not daring enough; fear and routine cause us to bicker over accidentals rather than embrace what is essential to this way of life; our resistance to change makes us reluctant to become involved with the Holy Spirit.

Consequently, those of us in our church with an interest in renewing religious congregations for today’s world must develop a disposition of will by which we separate ourselves from everything and everyone that might hinder our ability to hear the Word of God. As a result of grace and through ascetical practice, what God wants for us will become eventually what we want; God’s will becomes our will.

Such a spirituality does not come cheaply. It demands a habit of prayer that helps us come to know who Jesus is and how he acts and decides. So, too, contemplation of Jesus in the Gospels is the essential discipline that makes this type of decision-making possible. For contemplation of this nature schools our hearts and guides us to decisions that bring us closer to God.

Making a spirituality of decision-making our own will allow us to rise above the culture wars that have plagued our church for too many years now. It will allow us to work together to envision a religious life, in all its different forms, that is suitable for the 21st century and worth the price asked of those called to consecrated life: the gift of their life, a religious life that will, once again, truly “wake up our world.”

This article also appeared in print, under the headline “Religious Life Reimagined,” in the September 14, 2015 issue

 

ST. IGNATIUS PARISH, EL PASO, TEXAS, USA: Servants of Mary at the service of the Immigrants

At the beginning of this year President Trump signed three executive orders stating that  that he will order the construction of a Mexican border wall, the first in a series of actions to crack down on immigrants, which will include slashing the number of refugees who can resettle in the United States, and blocking Syrians and others from what are called “terror-prone nations” from entering, at least temporarily.

 

Everyone has been talking about it, both inside the US and at the wider global sphere. Fear overshadows the whole community atmosphere. There are reports that families are keeping children out of school and workers are staying off the job out of fear that enforcement teams could swoop in at any minute. Pope Francis expressed that these measures, which mean the rejection of the stranger, the rejection of the person in need, the rejection of those who suffer, are manifestly un-Christian and utterly contrary to the Gospel. He said, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the Gospel.”

Houses of worship have historically provided refuge to those facing deportation. The climate created by the Trump administration’s rhetoric is forcing churches to do more. They are now providing sanctuary of all kinds to hundreds of people: spiritual, moral, legal, financial, and physical support as the need arises.  Different churches have been  working together to organize rapid response teams, connected by email and phone chains, or even encrypted messaging. Their goal: to respond to raids, offer assistance and even organize protests.

The Catholic parishes around the country, play a vital role in the global refugee crisis by welcoming newcomers.  The number of churches that are actively offering sanctuary — and where immigrants are taking them up on it — is unclear. But since Trump was elected in November last year, the number of churches in the United States expressing willingness to offer sanctuary has increased in numbers. Offering sanctuary at a church can involve providing food and shelter for an immigrant, as well as staffing volunteers to stay with that person around the clock. It offered a concrete way for people to respond and show support and solidarity with undocumented people. Undocumented immigrants fearing imminent deportation feel somewhat safer there.

One of the many church-run facilities in the US such as the St. Ignatius parish run by the Order of Servants of Mary of the Mexican Province  serve as a sanctuary for undocumented  immigrants. Fr. Tobias Macias, OSM has been the parish priest for four years now. He has assisted undocumented immigrants who would arrive by bus travelling for months without food, water and use of  hygienic facilities. He said that when these displaced persons arrive they are ushered to a reception room finding a welcoming and homely atmosphere. The rooms of  second floor of the former school have been converted to bedrooms, reception hall or a storage room for personal items such as hygienic products, clothes, shoes, etc. The center serves as a half-way facility while the persons await for preparation of necessary documents and money to be sent by their relatives for transport fare in view of family reunification. Fr. Tobias said the “Stewardship and co-responsibility is doing what you have to do by serving those who are  most in need. When the love of God touches your heart, you are able help those who are most in need.”

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‘The Word is a gift. Other persons are a gift’ Pope’s Message for Lent 2017

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Lent is a new beginning, a path leading to the certain goal of Easter, Christ’s victory over death. This season urgently calls us to conversion. Christians are asked to return to God “with all their hearts” (Joel 2:12), to refuse to settle for mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord. Jesus is the faithful friend who never abandons us. Even when we sin, he patiently awaits our return; by that patient expectation, he shows us his readiness to forgive (cf. Homily, 8 January 2016).

Lent is a favorable season for deepening our spiritual life through the means of sanctification offered us by the Church: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. At the basis of everything is the word of God, which during this season we are invited to hear and ponder more deeply. I would now like to consider the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (cf. Lk 16:19-31). Let us find inspiration in this meaningful story, for it provides a key to understanding what we need to do in order to attain true happiness and eternal life. It exhorts us to sincere conversion.

1. The other person is a gift

The parable begins by presenting its two main characters. The poor man is described in greater detail: he is wretched and lacks the strength even to stand. Lying before the door of the rich man, he fed on the crumbs falling from his table. His body is full of sores and dogs come to lick his wounds (cf. vv. 20-21). The picture is one of great misery; it portrays a man disgraced and pitiful.

The scene is even more dramatic if we consider that the poor man is called Lazarus: a name full of promise, which literally means “God helps”. This character is not anonymous. His features are clearly delineated and he appears as an individual with his own story. While practically invisible to the rich man, we see and know him as someone familiar. He becomes a face, and as such, a gift, a priceless treasure, a human being whom God loves and cares for, despite his concrete condition as an outcast (cf. Homily, 8 January 2016).

Lazarus teaches us that other persons are a gift. A right relationship with people consists in gratefully recognizing their value. Even the poor person at the door of the rich is not a nuisance, but a summons to conversion and to change. The parable first invites us to open the doors of our heart to others because each person is a gift, whether it be our neighbor or an anonymous pauper. Lent is a favorable season for opening the doors to all those in need and recognizing in them the face of Christ. Each of us meets people like this every day. Each life that we encounter is a gift deserving acceptance, respect and love. The word of God helps us to open our eyes to welcome and love life, especially when it is weak and vulnerable. But in order to do this, we have to take seriously what the Gospel tells us about the rich man.

2. Sin blinds us

The parable is unsparing in its description of the contradictions associated with the rich man (cf. v. 19). Unlike poor Lazarus, he does not have a name; he is simply called “a rich man”. His opulence was seen in his extravagant and expensive robes. Purple cloth was even more precious than silver and gold, and was thus reserved to divinities (cf. Jer 10:9) and kings (cf. Jg 8:26), while fine linen gave one an almost sacred character. The man was clearly ostentatious about his wealth, and in the habit of displaying it daily: “He feasted sumptuously every day” (v. 19). In him we can catch a dramatic glimpse of the corruption of sin, which progresses in three successive stages: love of money, vanity and pride (cf. Homily, 20 September 2013).

The Apostle Paul tells us that “the love of money is the root of all evils” (1 Tim 6:10). It is the main cause of corruption and a source of envy, strife and suspicion. Money can come to dominate us, even to the point of becoming a tyrannical idol (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 55). Instead of being an instrument at our service for doing good and showing solidarity towards others, money can chain us and the entire world to a selfish logic that leaves no room for love and hinders peace.

The parable then shows that the rich man’s greed makes him vain. His personality finds expression in appearances, in showing others what he can do. But his appearance masks an interior emptiness. His life is a prisoner to outward appearances, to the most superficial and fleeting aspects of existence (cf. ibid., 62).

The lowest rung of this moral degradation is pride. The rich man dresses like a king and acts like a god, forgetting that he is merely mortal. For those corrupted by love of riches, nothing exists beyond their own ego. Those around them do not come into their line of sight. The result of attachment to money is a sort of blindness. The rich man does not see the poor man who is starving, hurting, lying at his door.

Looking at this character, we can understand why the Gospel so bluntly condemns the love of money: “No one can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or be attached to the first and despise the second. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money” (Mt 6:24).

3. The Word is a gift

The Gospel of the rich man and Lazarus helps us to make a good preparation for the approach of Easter. The liturgy of Ash Wednesday invites us to an experience quite similar to that of the rich man. When the priest imposes the ashes on our heads, he repeats the words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. As it turned out, the rich man and the poor man both died, and the greater part of the parable takes place in the afterlife. The two characters suddenly discover that “we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it” (1 Tim 6:7).

We too see what happens in the afterlife. There the rich man speaks at length with Abraham, whom he calls “father” (Lk 16:24.27), as a sign that he belongs to God’s people. This detail makes his life appear all the more contradictory, for until this moment there had been no mention of his relation to God. In fact, there was no place for God in his life. His only god was himself.

The rich man recognizes Lazarus only amid the torments of the afterlife. He wants the poor man to alleviate his suffering with a drop of water. What he asks of Lazarus is similar to what he could have done but never did. Abraham tells him: “During your life you had your fill of good things, just as Lazarus had his fill of bad. Now he is being comforted here while you are in agony” (v. 25). In the afterlife, a kind of fairness is restored and life’s evils are balanced by good.

The parable goes on to offer a message for all Christians. The rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers, who are still alive. But Abraham answers: “They have Moses and the prophets, let them listen to them” (v. 29). Countering the rich man’s objections, he adds: “If they will not listen either to Moses or to the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead” (v. 31).

The rich man’s real problem thus comes to the fore. At the root of all his ills was the failure to heed God’s word. As a result, he no longer loved God and grew to despise his neighbor. The word of God is alive and powerful, capable of converting hearts and leading them back to God. When we close our heart to the gift of God’s word, we end up closing our heart to the gift of our brothers and sisters.

Dear friends, Lent is the favorable season for renewing our encounter with Christ, living in his word, in the sacraments and in our neighbor. The Lord, who overcame the deceptions of the Tempter during the forty days in the desert, shows us the path we must take. May the Holy Spirit lead us on a true journey of conversion, so that we can rediscover the gift of God’s word, be purified of the sin that blinds us, and serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need. I encourage all the faithful to express this spiritual renewal also by sharing in the Lenten Campaigns promoted by many Church organizations in different parts of the world, and thus to favor the culture of encounter in our one human family. Let us pray for one another so that, by sharing in the victory of Christ, we may open our doors to the weak and poor. Then we will be able to experience and share to the full the joy of Easter.

From the Vatican, 18 October 2016,
Feast of Saint Luke the Evangelist

FRANCIS

Original text: English]

© Copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

FESTA DELLA PRESENTAZIONE DEL SIGNORE XXI GIORNATA MONDIALE DELLA VITA CONSACRATA

papa formatori

OMELIA DEL SANTO PADRE FRANCESCO

Basilica Vaticana
Giovedì, 2 febbraio 2017

Quando i genitori di Gesù portarono il Bambino per adempiere le prescrizioni della legge, Simeone, «mosso dallo Spirito» (Lc 2,27), prende in braccio il Bambino e comincia un canto di benedizione e di lode: «Perché i miei occhi hanno visto la tua salvezza, preparata da te davanti a tutti i popoli: luce per rivelarti alle genti e gloria del tuo popolo, Israele» (Lc 2,30-32). Simeone non solo ha potuto vedere, ma ha avuto anche il privilegio di abbracciare la speranza sospirata, e questo lo fa esultare di gioia. Il suo cuore gioisce perché Dio abita in mezzo al suo popolo; lo sente carne della sua carne.

La liturgia di oggi ci dice che con quel rito, quaranta giorni dopo la nascita, «il Signore si assoggettava alle prescrizioni della legge antica, ma in realtà veniva incontro al suo popolo che l’attendeva nella fede» (Messale Romano, 2 febbraio, Monizione alla processione di ingresso). L’incontro di Dio col suo popolo suscita la gioia e rinnova la speranza.

Il canto di Simeone è il canto dell’uomo credente che, alla fine dei suoi giorni, può affermare: è vero, la speranza in Dio non delude mai (cfr Rm 5,5), Egli non inganna. Simeone e Anna, nella vecchiaia, sono capaci di una nuova fecondità, e lo testimoniano cantando: la vita merita di essere vissuta con speranza perché il Signore mantiene la sua promessa; e in seguito sarà lo stesso Gesù a spiegare questa promessa nella sinagoga di Nazaret: i malati, i carcerati, quelli che sono soli, i poveri, gli anziani, i peccatori sono anch’essi invitati a intonare lo stesso canto di speranza. Gesù è con loro, è con noi (cfr Lc 4,18-19).

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PASTORAL CIRCLE PROCESS

Social Analysis – Linking Faith and Justice, Joesph Holland and Peter Henriot, Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1980

What leads people to apply their faith to social issues? First, they need to be connected—they need to be personally impacted by the issue, or at least feel how it effects others. Second, they need to understand the issue well enough to believe that their response will make a difference. Third, they need a sense of direction and hope, a sense that as large as a problem may be, it can be whittled down to size when people of faith work on it together. The four-step process developed by Peter Henriot and Joseph Holland offers a framework for helping families apply their faith to social issues. The process begins with insertion—our experience with an issue/injustice, moves to social analysis and theological reflection on the issue/injustice, and culminates in action—working for social change and serving those in need.

Insertion

The first step in the process—and the basis for any action—is Insertion. Through Insertion we identify our experience of social issues in our family, community, and world. We try to feel and understand how the social issues affect our family and touch the lives of others who are affected. Getting in touch with what people are feeling, what they are undergoing, and how they are responding to the situations they find themselves in—these are some of the experiences that constitute Insertion. The entry point for analyzing and acting on an issue may be 1) an event—an experience of injustice; 2) an issue—hunger, poverty, environment, the arms race; 3) a set of problems—economic deterioration of a neighborhood, pollution; or 4) a question—why does poverty persist in the richest country in the world? Sometimes we begin naturally with the experience of the family on a particular issue, providing them with the opportunity to express their feelings and thoughts about their experience. In other cases we will need to provide activities that connect families with the issue to be explored. This will mean simulating the experience of injustice, helping families “feel” the issue being analyzed, or expose families to what is happening in the local community, helping them to “hear” and “think” from a broader perspective. Once families are connected with an issue, they are ready to move to analysis, to ask the” why” questions from a first-hand perspective.

Questions to help people surface their experience:

What is our personal experience of this issue or concern? Have any of our family or friends experienced it? What was the experience like? How did it impact how they felt about themselves? How did it impact how they felt about others?
If we haven’t personally experienced this need, where do our information and feelings come
from? Can you point to any specific article, story, song or video about the issue that struck you? What do we know, as a group, about this issue? What questions do we have?

What feelings do we connect with the issue? Why do people experience this injustice or
issue? Could it happen to you? Why or why not? What does it do to people? How does it make them feel? How does it make us feel?

What are we doing personally to change this situation? Are there ways we are already
involved around this issue? How? Where?

How do we see the issue being dealt with in our local community? Does the issue touch us
at all? How? Where?

What are the thoughts and feelings of the people in our local community, state or nation
about this issue? How are these thoughts and feelings shared? Do they have any impact on what we think or feel? Why or why not?

What is being done in our local community, state, or country to change this situation? Is it
enough? Too much? Why?

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SETTIMANA DI PREGHIERA PER L’UNITÀ DEI CRISTIANI

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La Settimana di preghiera per l’unità dei cristiani è un’iniziativa ecumenica di preghiera nel quale tutte le confessioni cristiane pregano insieme per il raggiungimento della piena unità che è il volere di Cristo stesso. Questa iniziativa è nata in ambito protestante nel 1908 e nel 2008 ha festeggiato il centenario. Dal 1968 il tema e i testi per la preghiera sono elaborati congiuntamente dalla commissione Fede e Costituzione del Consiglio Ecumenico delle Chiese, per protestanti e ortodossi, e dal Pontificio Consiglio per la Promozione dell’Unità dei Cristiani, per i cattolici.

 

PERCHÉ SI CELEBRA DAL 18 AL 25 GENNAIO?

La data tradizionale nell’emisfero nord, va dal 18 al 25 gennaio, data proposta nel 1908 da padre Paul Wattson, perché compresa tra la festa della cattedra di san Pietro e quella della conversione di san Paolo; assume quindi un significato simbolico. Nell’emisfero sud, in cui gennaio è periodo di vacanza, le chiese celebrano la Settimana di preghiera in altre date, per esempio nel tempo di Pentecoste (come suggerito dal movimento Fede e Costituzione nel 1926), periodo altrettanto simbolico per l’unità della Chiesa.

 

QUANDO NASCE?

In realtà, la prima ipotesi di una preghiera per l’unità delle Chiese, antenata dell’odierna Settimana di preghiera, nasce in ambito protestante alla fine del XVIII secolo; e nella seconda metà dell’Ottocento comincia a diffondersi un’Unione di preghiera per l’unità sostenuta sia dalla prima Assemblea dei vescovi anglicani a Lambeth (1867) sia da papa Leone XIII (1894), che invita a inserirla nel contesto della festa di Pentecoste. Agli inizi del Novecento, poi, il Patriarca ecumenico di Costantinopoli Joachim III scrive l’enciclica patriarcale e sinodale Lettera irenica (1902), in cui invita a pregare per l’unione dei credenti in Cristo. Sarà infine il reverendo Paul Wattson a proporre definitivamente la celebrazione dell’Ottavario che lo celebra per la prima volta a Graymoor (New York), dal 18 al 25 gennaio, auspicando che divenga pratica comune.

Nel 1926 Il movimento Fede e Costituzione dà avvio alla pubblicazione dei Suggerimenti per l’Ottavario di preghiera per l’unità dei cristiani (Suggestions for an Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity), mentre nel 1935 l’abate Paul Couturier, in Francia, promuove la Settimana universale di preghiera per l’unità dei cristiani, basata sulla preghiera per «l’unità voluta da Cristo, con i mezzi voluti da lui». Nel 1958 Il Centre Oecuménique Unité Chrétienne di Lione (Francia) inizia la preparazione del materiale per la Settimana di preghiera in collaborazione con la commissione Fede e Costituzione del Consiglio Ecumenico delle Chiese.

Nel 2008 viene celebrato solennemente, in tutto il mondo, con vari eventi, il primo centenario della Settimana di preghiera, il cui tema «Pregate continuamente!» (1Ts 5,17) manifestava la gioia per i cento anni di comune preghiera e per i risultati raggiunti.

 


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