The Pope, “Here is the way to holiness for everyone”

https://www.lastampa.it/vaticaninsider/eng

ANDREA TORNIELLI

VATICAN CITY

papa formatori

In the first chapter, the Pope invites us not to think only of saints “already beatified and canonized” and recalls that “ We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people”. That is why no one is saved alone, as an isolated individual…”. (6) “ I like to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God’s people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile… Very often it is a holiness found in our next-door neighbours, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them “the middle class of holiness” (7).

The Lord calls everybody

Francis invites us not to be discouraged in the face of “models of holiness that seem unattainable”, because we must follow “the unique and specific way that the Lord has in store for us”. (11). The Pope explains that there are also “feminine styles of holiness” (12) and reiterates that to be holy “it is not necessary to be bishops, priests, religious or religious. Many times we are tempted to think that holiness is reserved for those who have the possibility of keeping a distance from ordinary occupations, to devote much time to prayer. That is not the case. We are all called to be saints by living with love and offering each one our own witness in our daily occupations. (14)

The holiness of small gestures

The Pope recalls that holiness “will grow through small gestures.

Here is an example: a woman goes shopping, she meets a neighbour and they begin to speak, and the gossip starts. But she says in her heart: “No, I will not speak

badly of anyone”. This is a step forward in holiness. Later, at home, one of her

children wants to talk to her about his hopes and dreams, and even though she is tired, she sits down and listens with patience and love. That is another sacrifice

that brings holiness…”. (16) “May you come to realize what that word is, the message of Jesus that God wants to speak to the world by your life”. (24)

Commitment in the world is no “distractionˮ

The Pope writes that “It is not healthy to love silence while fleeing interaction with others, to want peace and quiet while avoiding activity, to seek prayer while disdaining service” (26). Sometimes “we are tempted to relegate pastoral engagement or commitment in the world to second place, as if these were “distractions” along the path to growth in holiness and interior peace” (27). This does not mean “ignoring the need for moments of quiet, solitude and silence before God. Quite the contrary.” “The presence of constantly new gadgets, the

excitement of travel and an endless array of consumer goods at times leave no room for God’s voice to be heard.” (29). The invitation is to “not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy.” (32).

Two subtle enemies of holiness

In the second chapter, Francis warns against two “subtle enemies”, Gnosticism and Pelagianism: “two forms of doctrinal or disciplinary security that give rise “to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyses and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying” (35). “Here we have to be careful: this attitude, the Pope warns, It can be present within the Church. Gnostics think that their explanations can make the entirety of the faith and the Gospel perfectly comprehensible. They absolutize their own theories and force others to submit to their way of thinking” (39).

The false prophets

“When somebody has an answer for every question- the Pope writes – it is a sign that they are not on the right road. They may well be false prophets… God

infinitely transcends us; he is full of surprises. We are not the ones to determine

when and how we will encounter him; the exact times and places of that encounter are not up to us. Someone who wants everything to be clear and sure presumes to control God’s transcendence.” (41). Francis recalls that “ It is not easy to grasp the truth that we have received from the Lord. And it is

even more difficult to express it. So we cannot claim that our way of understanding this truth authorizes us to exercise a strict supervision over others’ lives.” (43). The doctrine, or better, our understanding and expression of it, “is not a closed system, devoid of the dynamic capacity to pose questions, doubts, inquiries…” (44).

Relying on one’s own strengths

Those who yield to this “pelagian or semi-pelagian mindset, even though they

speak warmly of God’s grace, “ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently

faithful to a particular Catholic style.” “They fail to realize that “not everyone

can do everything”,47 and that in this life human weaknesses are not healed

completely and once for all by grace” (49). “Grace – recalls Francis – because it builds on nature, does not make us superhuman all at once” (50).

Egocentric attitudes

“ The saints avoided putting trust in their own works” (54), the Pope writes. “ We must first belong to God, offering ourselves to him who was there first, and entrusting to him our abilities, our efforts, our struggle against evil and our creativity, so that his free gift may grow and develop within us” (56). But there are Still, some Christians insist on taking another path, that of justification by their own efforts”. The result is a self-centred and elitist complacency, bereft of true love” and this finds expression in a variety of apparently unconnected ways “of thinking and acting: an obsession with the law, an absorption with social and political advantages, a punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige, a vanity about the ability to manage practical matters “ (57). “Not infrequently, contrary to the promptings of the Spirit, the life of the Church can become a museum piece or the possession of a select few. This can occur when some groups of Christians give excessive importance to certain rules, customs or ways of acting” (58).

Charity at the core

“We do well to keep reminding ourselves – the Pope concludes – that there is a hierarchy of virtues that bids us seek what is essential” (60). In other words: “ In other words, amid the thicket of precepts and prescriptions, Jesus clears a way to seeing two faces, that of the Father and that of our brother” (61).

Today’s Beatitudes

In chapter three, Francis presents the evangelical beatitudes as “the Christian’s identity card”. And he reads them again, updating them.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”

“On the contrary, Wealth ensures nothing. Indeed, once we think we are rich, we can become so self-satisfied that we leave no room for God’s word, for the love of our brothers and sisters, or for the enjoyment of the most important things in life” (68).

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth”

“ These are strong words in a world that from the beginning has been a place of

conflict, disputes and enmity on all sides, where we constantly pigeonhole others on the basis of their ideas, their customs and even their way of speaking or dressing” (71). The Pope recalls that “Even when we defend our faith and convictions, we are to do so “with meekness”, and even “our enemies too are to be treated “with meekness”. “In the Church we have often erred by not embracing this demand of God’s word”. (73).

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted”

“ A person who sees things as they truly are and sympathizes with pain and

sorrow is capable of touching life’s depths and finding authentic happiness “ (76).

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled”

“Jesus offers a justice other than that of the world, so often marred by petty

interests and manipulated in various ways. Experience shows how easy it is to

become mired in corruption, ensnared in the daily politics of quid pro quo, where

everything becomes business” (78). “ This has nothing to do with the hunger and thirst for justice that Jesus praises”.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy”

“ In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you”. The Catechism reminds us that this law is to be applied “in every case” (80). Jesus, recalls the Pope, does not say, “Blessed are those who plot revenge”. He calls “blessed” those who forgive and do so “seventy times seven” (82).

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”

“ The world of gossip, inhabited by negative and destructive people, does not bring peace”, Francis writes (87). While Peacemakers truly “make” peace; they build peace and friendship in society.” (88). Although, he recognizes, “It is not easy to “make” this evangelical peace, which excludes no one but

embraces even those who are a bit odd, troublesome or difficult, demanding,

different “ (89).

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the

kingdom of heaven”

“ Unless we wish to sink into an obscure Mediocrity – the Pope warns – let us not long for an easy life, for “whoever would save his life will lose it” (90). “ In living the Gospel, we cannot expect that everything will be easy “ (91). But Francis also explains that “ The saints are not odd and aloof, unbearable because of their vanity, negativity and bitterness. The Apostles of Christ were not like that”. The apostles enjoyed favour “with all the people” (93). As ”Persecutions are not a reality of the past, for today too we experience them, whether by the shedding of blood, as is the case with so many contemporary martyrs, or by more subtle means, by slander and lies” (94).

The Great criterion which we will be judged on

Francis recalls Jesus’ words about feeding the hungry and welcoming foreigners, presenting them as “a rule of behavior by which we will be judged. “ If I encounter a person sleeping outdoors on a cold night, I can view him or her as an annoyance, an idler, an obstacle in my path a troubling sight, a problem for politicians to sort out… Or I can respond with faith and charity, and see in this person a human being with a dignity identical to my own, a creature infinitely loved by the Father, an image of God, a brother or sister redeemed by Jesus Christ. That is what it is to be a Christian! (98).

The NGO risk and distrust of social engagement

Unfortunately, Francis writes, “ideologies lead us at times to two harmful errors”. On the one hand, there is the error of those Christians who separate these Gospel demands from their personal relationship with the Lord, from their interior union with him, from openness to his grace. Christianity thus becomes a sort of NGO, stripped of the “ luminous mysticism” (100). “The other harmful ideological error is found in those who find suspect the social engagement of others, seeing it as superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist” (101).

Defend Life… All of it

“Our defence of the innocent unborn, for example – writes the Pope – needs to

be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is

always sacred… Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection… We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in a world” (101).

Migrants (and bioethics)

The Pope inserts here a fine-tuning on migrants. “ We often hear it said that, with respect to relativism and the flaws of our

present world, the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue. Some

Catholics consider it a secondary issue compared to the “grave” bioethical questions. That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian… Can we not realize that this is exactly what Jesus demands of us, when he tells us that in welcoming the stranger we welcome him? (102). Therefore, Francis clarifies “ This is not a notion invented by some Pope, or a momentary fad.” (103).

Not only worship, prayer and ethical norms

“ We may think – Francis points out – that we give glory to God only by our worship and prayer, or simply by following certain ethical norms”, and “forget that the ultimate criterion on which our lives will be judged is what we have done for others” (104). “ Those who really wish to give glory to God by their lives, who truly long to grow in holiness, are called to be single-minded and tenacious in their practice of the works of mercy “ (107).

The Risks of consumerism

“ Hedonism and consumerism – Francis warns can prove our downfall, for when we are obsessed with our own pleasure, we end up being all too concerned about ourselves and our rights, and we feel a desperate need for free time to enjoy ourselves… Similarly, when we allow ourselves to be caught up in superficial information, instant communication and virtual reality, we can waste precious time and become indifferent to the suffering flesh of our brothers and sisters” (108).

The saint, the risks of the web and the Catholic media

In chapter four, Francis presents a “few signs or spiritual attitudes” that are “necessary” for the saint’s lifestyle. It begins with endurance, patience and meekness. “Christians too- the Pope writes referring to the sphere of blogs and sites – can be caught up in networks of verbal violence through the

internet and the various forums of digital communication… Even in Catholic media, limits can be overstepped, defamation and slander can become commonplace, and all ethical standards and respect for the good name of others can be abandoned”. “ It is striking that at times, in claiming to uphold the other commandments, they completely ignore the eighth, which forbids bearing false witness or lying, and ruthlessly vilify others “ (115). The saints, recalls Francis, “ do not waste energy complaining about the failings of others, they can hold their tongue before the faults of their brothers and sisters, and avoid the verbal violence that demeans and mistreats others “ (116). “It is not good when we look down on others like heartless judges, lording it over them and always trying to teach them lessons. That is itself a subtle form of violence” (117).

The necessary humiliations

“Humility – explains Pope Bergoglio – can only take root in the heart through humiliations. Without them, there is no humility or holiness “ (118). Francis is not speaking “about stark situations of martyrdom, but about the daily humiliations of those who keep silent to save their families, who prefer to

praise others rather than boast about themselves, or who choose the less welcome tasks, at times even choosing to bear an injustice so as to offer it to the Lord “ (119).

Joy and good humor

The Pope emphasizes that what has been said so far “ being timid, morose, acerbic or melancholy, or putting on a dreary face. the saints are joyful and full of good humour. Though completely realistic, they radiate a positive and hopeful spirit “ (122). Thus “Ill humour is no sign of holiness “ (126). Francis intends to refer to “a joy lived in communion, which shares and is shared “ (128).

Boldness and Passion

Bergoglio summarizes these elements in a word: “ Boldness, enthusiasm, the freedom to speak out, apostolic fervour, all these are included in the word parrhesí “ (129). “ Look at Jesus. His deep compassion reached out to others. It did not make him hesitant, timid or self-conscious, as often happens with us. Quite the opposite. His compassion made him go out actively to preach and to send others on a mission of healing and liberation” (131). Therefore, we must overcome the temptation “ to flee to a safe haven: It can have many names: individualism, spiritualism, living in a little world, addiction, intransigence, the rejection of new ideas and approaches, dogmatism, nostalgia, pessimism, hiding behind rules and regulations (134).

God is eternal newness

“God is eternal newness – Francis writes – He impels us constantly to set out anew, to pass beyond what is familiar to the fringes and beyond… we will find him there; indeed, he is already there (135). The Pope recalls that the example of many priests, religious and laity “ who devote themselves to proclamation and to serving others with great fidelity, often at the risk of their lives and certainly at the cost of their comfort… Their testimony reminds us that, more than bureaucrats and functionaries, the Church

needs passionate missionaries, enthusiastic about sharing true life. The saints

surprise us, they confound us, because by their lives they urge us to abandon a dull

and dreary mediocrity” (138). And Francis also recalls how difficult it is “to fight against concupiscence, the snares and temptations of the devil and the selfishness of the world.” (140). It is therefore important “The common life, whether in the family, the parish, the religious community or any other, is made up of small everyday things “ (143): It was also true of the life that Jesus shared with his disciples and with ordinary people. Let us not forget that Jesus asked his disciples to pay attention to details.

Prayer and Adoration

“ Finally, though it may seem obvious – Francis points out – we should remember that holiness consists in a habitual openness to the transcendent, expressed in prayer and adoration “ (147). The Pope asks: “Are there moments when you place yourself quietly in the Lord’s presence, when you calmly spend time with him, when you bask in his gaze? (151). But this prayerful silence is not “ a form of escape and rejection of the world around us “ (152).

Fighting the Devil

The fifth chapter warns that the path to holiness is also “ constant struggle against the devil, the prince of evil.” (159). The “evil” mentioned in the Our Fatherwould be “the evil one”. It indicates a personal being who assails us.” (160) Hence, we should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea. This mistake would lead us to let down our guard to grow careless and end up more vulnerable. The devil does not need to possess us. He poisons us with the venom of hatred, desolation, envy and vice.” (161). And it can lead to “spiritual corruption”, which “ is worse than the fall of a sinner, for it is a comfortable and self-satisfied form of blindness. For everything then appears acceptable” (165).

The way of discernment

“ How can we know if something comes from the Holy Spirit or if it stems from

the spirit of the world or the spirit of the devil? The only way – Francis recalls – is is through discernment, which calls for something more than intelligence or common sense. It is a gift which we must implore.” (166). “Nowadays – continues the Pope The gift of discernment has become all the more necessary… All of us, but especially the young, are immersed in a culture of zapping. Without the wisdom of discernment, we can easily become prey to every passing trend.” (167). This discernment “is necessary not only at extraordinary times, when we need to resolve grave problems and make crucial decisions”. “ It is a means of spiritual

combat for helping us to follow the Lord more faithfully Often discernment is exercised in small and apparently irrelevant things, since greatness of spirit is manifested in simple everyday realities”. Therefore the Pope asks “all Christians not to omit, in dialogue with the Lord, a sincere daily “examination of conscience” (169).

Listen to and renounce to your own mental schemes

Only “if we are prepared to listen -concludes Francis – do we have the freedom to set aside our own partial or insufficient ideas, our usual habits and ways of seeing things. In this way, we become truly open to accepting a call that can shatter our security, but lead us to a better life.” (172). This attitude “ this attitude of listening entails obedience to the Gospel as the ultimate standard, but also to the Magisterium that guards it, as we seek to find in the treasury of the Church whatever is most fruitful for the “today” of salvation. It is not a matter of applying rules or repeating what was done in the past”, because “same solutions are not valid in all circumstances and what was useful in one context may not prove so in another. The discernment of spirits liberates us from rigidity, which has no place before the perennial “today” of the risen Lord” (173).

 

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The challenges in the leadership of Religious life today in view of ministry both “ad intra” and “ad extra”

Fernando Millán Romeral, O.Carm.

Prior General

Documents

ORIGINAL TEXT IN SPANISH

Leadership-Due-Diligence

We have been asked to talk about the problems we faced in our service and animation in our Institutes. I would like to begin this chat but saying that after more than nine years as Prior General of the Order of Carmelites, personally I do not feel “burned out”, exhausted or discouraged.

There are certainly moments of tiredness and even discouragement, but this also occurs in other ministries. Therefore, I warn you that the issues I will address shouldn’t be considered as “problems” in the strong meaning of the English word, but rather as difficulties, challenges, situations that demand our attention, reflection, and effort. I also don’t want to give the wrong impression that these issues are suffocating, blocking and preventing us from continuing to journey with hope and gratitude

*****

Looking back in time, among the possible topics I can consider as problematic in our ministry at the service of the Order I have chosen the following three:

1. Back in 1980, when I entered religious life, ongoing formation was a fundamental element of our life. The provinces prepared courses, developed programs, and materials; gatherings were organized even at international level, etc. Without using an overly journalists jargon, I would say it was a true “boom.” This interest in ongoing formation has slowly decreased. On one side, the lack of personnel in some provinces makes it difficult to organize these gatherings, as well as “freeing” people so that they can dedicate some time to formation is starting to be considered almost as a “luxury.”

On the other, we also witness in some areas a certain tendency towards an idolized formation. One calls just that specific professor who is “very good” and “well prepared” and who essentially is going to say (somewhat parodying the situation) what we want to hear.

The lack of ongoing formation is leading us in some cases to rather negative situations. For example, poor quality in our pastoral offering, lack of inner reflection in the Institute, routine, meaning doing things simply because we have always done them this way, without any ability to discern and assess ourselves with serious criteria. I would even dare to ascribe to the negative consequences poor enthusiasm in vocation, attraction, the atrophy of certain intellectual, spiritual and charismatic faculties…

Other adverse outcomes are shallowness in our talks and reflections. It is not a matter of always commenting the Grundkurs des Glaubens by Karl Rahner, or position oneself in Saint Theresa’s seventh and innermost mansion, but at least being profound men and women with a rich interiority who have something to say.  Paraphrasing the Spanish poet, I would say that today more than ever we need men and women capable of “telling voices from the echoes..”

No contribution can be given precisely by what we call “computer addiction.” I warn you beforehand that I am not a reactionary troglodyte against these media.  There is no need here to highlight the advantages that digital media provide to man today and consequently to the Church. A few years ago, in this same venue, Father Antonio Spadaro addressed this topic in a passionate way.  It goes without saying the Church must be present in the media, with conviction, enthusiasm, and generosity.

However, besides all this, we cannot deny that digital media (or better its improper usage) produce in more than a few cases superficial and hasty opinions, a headline culture, short of any in-depth analysis. Information and formation do not always coincide. It is usually accompanied by the culture of tension, of small ecclesial and theological battles (that have nothing to do with a healthy debate) and thoughts, rather than weak, anorexic..

For all of the above, I have strongly stressed the need for an ongoing formation that is not (or not only) an Academic or intellectual exercise. Formation is a human and spiritual attitude. It is a way of being in the world, open to the signs of the time, to the new issues, a serious, thorough, honest reflection that leads us to discern over our presence in today’s world. Even more (and allow me the Carmelite flavored note) I would say that ongoing formation is the typical contemplative attitude, mindful of the small signs of God’s presence in the world. I think that raising this ongoing formation approach is the rewarding challenge in today’s religious life.

2. The second issue I would like to share with you is the balanced and pondered promotion of the “Carmelite Family”. Practically all religious Orders and Congregations have tried to create what is called a “Charismatic family”, that is, a structure or at least the awareness that the charism is not limited just to religious men, but also shared by religious women, such as cloistered nuns and laity. Certainly, according to the type of Congregation, this evolution has been entirely different. In the mendicant orders, for example, they are also known as “third orders” with several centuries of existence and even a canonical identity.

Inspired by Vatican II ecclesiology, religious orders have tried to spur this idea of family, where we share a charism, spirituality, and even a mission, experienced in a different way according to each one’s vocation: a religious, a nun, a religious woman with an active life, a layman.. In our case, the ”Carmelite Family” is already mentioned in a number of the Constitutions of 1971. It was a rather general and perhaps too broad one, but with an important option for it and for this way of living the charism.

During this process, there were times when clerical resistance, misunderstandings, and difficulties had to be overcome. For some, it has been difficult to accept (and, let alone understand) that we are not the owners of the charism, that it is a gift to be shared and not private property. That it is not so much a matter of forming the lay but rather being formed and growing with the lay…Some other times we also had to overcome the “gender” resistance, that continues thinking that the only thing that the “little nuns” should do is follow our directives.

Among other things, these reluctant positions produce an impoverishment of the charismatic existence and reflection, because usually these groups (nuns, religious women, laity, youngsters) provide different views, focuses, discover new interlocutors and enrich, ultimately, the presence of a charism in the world where we live.

Many different experiences emerge from the notion of charismatic family in the 70s and 80s. In various parts of the world new ways of interaction between laity and religious surface, new forms of “affiliation” in the various Institutes, lay communities with varying degrees of inclusion, etc. It has been, and I say this bluntly, a real blessing for consecrated life. So where is the problem? I would highlight three.

First of all one sees an inevitable loss of “momentum” (enthusiasm, creativity, dedication) in this sense. Without wanting to mention shallow themes, in some areas, some think that the experience time is over and it is better to get back to the usual. However, religious life cannot give up its claim of novelty (in its most serious, beautiful and respectable meaning). We cannot stop exploring new possibilities so that the charism, the gift we received from the Holy Spirit – overcoming routines, comforts and shortsightedness- can be shared and include the highest number of people, and by so doing enriching the entire the Church.

Secondly, I also consider it necessary that those experiences that emerged in the 70s have the wisdom and humility (forgive the tautology) to make an honest and courageous exercise of evaluation and discernment (“verifica” is the word in Italian). The youth of the 70s are no longer young, and some of their experiences have become “mature.” Therefore, with gratitude, enjoyment, humility, it would be useful to review and open up new possibilities and continue to connect to the new generations (the actual youth) to avoid becoming “old rockers” stuck with the music and aesthetics of our grandparents.

The third risk has surfaced due to ”excess.” Sometimes (with the best intentions in the world) these experiences have led to a certain confusion and to blur the traits of each group (religious men, religious women, laity…) It is not a matter of establishing canonical limits, but to preserve its features and therefore, the prophetical power of different vocations or using a more classical language of the various phases of life. The layman must be secular and not an imitator of friars. He must live the joy of secularism. The religious must be religious and radically live their specific vocation.

Sometimes, to trigger a reflection on this theme I used (in a similar and perhaps a bit pedantic way) the image of the Council of Chalcedon to speak about the ontological constitution of Christ: “two natures, without confusion, without division, without separation.” Within a religious family there must be a complete union and communion among the laity, religious men, and women who participate in a unique charism, but at the same time, there must be no confusion (either canonical, spiritual or theological) among these groups.

3. The third and final problem refers to a subject that seemed somewhat forgotten in our reflections in recent years and that Pope Francis has once again put into circulation: the inculturation of charisms. Allow me to remind you of our meeting with the Pope in November 2013, when the Holy Father stressed “charism is not a bottle of distilled water,” but must be inculturated or risks losing its strength and its significance. I will not stretch on and dwell upon the deep theological foundation of this concept (the first inculturation was the incarnation) or on the nuances that today are often made on this issue (for example, today we tend to talk more about “transculturation”, “interculturation “etc.)

It is quite challenging in a relevant part of religious life to abandon the “Eurocentrism” tendency. When I talk about the vocational crisis and religious aging, I’m referring, both consciously and unconsciously, to the situation in Europe or the Western world.  I sincerely do not believe this is done with bad intentions or that there is a neocolonial bias or something of the sort. We must, however, be careful because this can prevent our reflection on other parts of the world. The first time I visited Flower Island in Indonesia, I had a well-prepared speech on the “worrisome vocational crisis.” I addressed fifty young Carmelites who looked at me surprised in trying to understand what I was talking about.

A first step to avoid this risk is acknowledging that the demography of our Congregation is changing, and in more than a few cases, in a couple of years, Europe will no longer be the most relevant part of the Order or Congregation. We cannot ignore this reality and not accept it “a malincuore” (reluctantly) but with joy and gratitude. Undoubtedly in some Orders and Congregations, this charism reflection process, done in different cultural molds and other cultural categories is already providing mature fruits.  These cultures are already developing charism reflection, discovering new possibilities, new messages, a new abundance.. But fair is to recognize, this issue faces resistance, difficulties, and shortcomings.

I tend to compare inculturation with translation. I am convinced that translating is not just a job (a noble one) but also a ministry, a service with a very beautiful spirituality. In order to translate well, one must know well and even love the language into which you are translating. One must also be deeply respectful to the message that is being translated.  With inculturation something similar occurs: we must know well the culture where we work and who we address, aware that that same culture already encloses part of the message and that from there we can enrich ourselves. The translation not only reproduces but also enhances the message and gives it new possibilities and unsuspected beauty.

When a religious family is unable to translate its charism and life into other languages, when it is unable to “think” in different molds, when inculturation is limited to external aspects (wear a colored stole or translate some songs), then something is wrong. It is a process that always entails risks and even excesses (the Pope warned us about it during our encounter in 2013). We must move prudently and wisely, but this cannot prevent us from carrying out this task because it is inescapable.

The inculturation task presses on. It is part of the announcement. Even more so some even talk about “insubculturation” that is, the insertion of the charism not only in culture but also in subcultures (youth, marginalization, urban tribes). The Word, the Good News, charisms and gifts of the Holy Spirit cannot be enclosed in the molds of a single culture despite its richness. The “fruitfulness of our prophecy” is at stake. (The theme addressed in this assembly)

*****

There are other issues (problems, difficulties, challenges) that focus our attention and call for our effort. I tend to be a bit naive in not seeing them as signs of decadence, nor as an unsolvable group of difficulties, but as opportunities for growth, purification, deep renovation, grateful and joyful of our life and mission.

USG: Assembly November, 2016 – ROME

Education and Climate Change

 

Education is a critical agent in addressing the issue of climate change. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) assigns responsibility to Parties of the Convention to undertake educational and public awareness campaigns on climate change, and to ensure public participation in programmes and information access on the issue.

Education can encourage people to change their attitudes and behavior; it also helps them to make informed decisions. In the classroom, young people can be taught the impact of global warming and learn how to adapt to climate change. Education empowers all people, but especially motivates the young to take action. Knowing the facts helps eliminate the fear of an issue which is frequently colored by doom and gloom in the public arena. In this context, UNICEF has tapped into the minds and imaginations of children around the world to capture what it means to be a child growing up in the age of rapid climate change.

Through its Climate Change Education for Sustainable Development programme, UNESCO aims to “help people understand the impact of global warming today and increase “climate literacy” among young people.” This programme and other innovative educational initiatives, including the Global Action Programme (GAP)Action for Climate Empowerment and the ZOOM campaign, were presented and discussed at the COP 22.

The World Metrological Organization (WMO) works closely with weather presenters who are committed to education and outreach on climate change and who have formed a new network Climate without Borders, which has a daily reach of approximately 375,000,000 people, and aims to “educate, motivate and activate” weather presenters to reach out to their audiences armed with useful information.

Partnering with Climate Central, WMO has also produced a series of videos called “summer in the cities” which provide a glance into future effects of global warming on weather in cities around the world. This follows on from a video series “Weather in 2050” in which TV weather presenters reported a typical weather forecast, based on scientific scenarios, for the year 2050.

 

 

https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/education-key-climate-change.shtml

Millennial and monastic: It doesn’t get more counter-cultural than that

Monastic NUns
Elizabeth Scalia | Sep 17, 2017
Dominican nuns from three monasteries share what they have sought within their enclosure, and what they have found without their phones.
When compared to the giddy heights of the Catholic vocational heyday that was the mid-20th century, current numbers of priests and religious will always pale in comparison, Any honest discussion of these numbers, however, must acknowledge that the heights were an anomaly that perhaps owed as much to the effect of a fairly sympathetic and increasingly available press — and the heroic portrayals of priests and religious in books and movies — as anything else.
In the case of Catholic women, education and unprecedented career opportunities for young women worked as something of a one-two punch to the solar plexus of religious vocations. Some years ago, a Capuchin involved in a research project confided to me that the projected numbers for women religious looked so dire that “we may not have any monastics left by 2020.”

Fortunately, after decades of gasping, the seminarian numbers are beginning to climb, and religious vocations appear to be regaining their wind and rising from the mat, although not without problems. “We’re missing a generation of vocations,” says Mother John Mary, superior of an enclosed Passionist community in Kentucky. That brings a measure of complication; some communities who are enjoying strong growth find that their experienced, professed sisters are outnumbered by those still in formation. “There are not many sisters to whom I can delegate,” Mother John Mary says.
Still, it is noteworthy that millennial women — most of them gifted, well-educated, and able to consider a broad array of career and lifestyle paths — are making the very ancient choice to spend their lives in prayerful enclosure.

Perhaps nothing better clarifies the solemn, powerful, and unique value of entering into such a vocation as the words pronounced over a Dominican nun (a moniales in the Order of Preachers) at the time of her first profession when she takes on the black veil, signifying that she has become “recognized as a house of prayer…and a temple of intercession for all people.”

Father Aquinas Guilbeau recently had the opportunity to talk to three such enclosed moniales — all “millennial” women — who are living out their lives within growing contemplative communities in New York, Virginia, and Alabama. Their conversations focused on their vows, and how the governance of monastic family brings its own kinds of freedom and challenges, and these young sisters had a lot to say.

Millennials without smartphones and apps
But asking millennials about specific concepts associated with their generation was an irresistible place to begin, as Fr. Guilbeau did. How do these young religious, raised with smartphones and exposed to the social media trends that give ersatz “meaning” to so many, deal with the absence of all that, he wondered?
For a nun of St. Jude’s Monastery, in Marbury Alabama, it’s not even an issue. “Many cloistered communities today use technology and media to different degrees depending on their particular way of life,” she responded thoughtfully, “[but] this question brings up a significant insight. In the cloister, we live very close to ourselves, each other, and God. We spend no time building an online ‘persona.’ Thus our lives acquire meaning in the freedom of our utter dependence on God.”
For a contemplative, then, electronic fasting is a way of life. But what, she was asked, do the fruits of that fast promise to those still ‘plugged in’?”
“The interior life,” she answered simply. “Interior silence is the first step to living an interior life. I came into the monastery from a very internet-saturated lifestyle … God was certainly drawing me, but I didn’t have much interior ‘space’ to hear Him, to be present to Him. The stillness and ’emptiness’ of life in the cloister was a big change for me, and very striking.” She noted a line from Georges Bernanos, quoted in Cardinal Sarah’s book God or Nothing: “We understand absolutely nothing about modern civilization if we do not admit first of all that it is a universal conspiracy against any type of interior life.”
Millennials and marriage, a different concept
The number of U.S. millennials who enter into marriage is steadily decreasing, and very little millennial thought is spent pondering deeply on the point and purpose of virginity. Father Guilbeau brought that up to a nun from St. Dominic’s Monastery, in Linden, Virginia, wondering. “How is the ‘nuptial mystery’ of human life lived out in the cloister? How are you, as a woman, a ‘bride’ and ‘mother’?”
“I am a bride in the sense that I have been wholly given over to Christ through my religious profession of vows. A real and unbreakable bond has been forged between us, so much so that the Church does not hesitate to acknowledge this as a kind of nuptial covenant.”
“Like any bride,” the sister continued, “I desire to give my Spouse children — but on the supernatural level.”
This maternity, she acknowledges, is purely a product of grace. “I believe that God indeed uses my life for the good of souls. It was revealed to St. Teresa of Avila that more souls were saved through her hidden life of prayer and penance than were saved through the apostolic efforts of St. Francis Xavier (who reportedly baptized tens of thousands of souls!). I simply believe in faith that he who has made me a special kind of bride also makes me a special kind of mother.”
Forsaking a natural marriage and family life for a supernatural one means genuine sacrifice. “No husband, no children,” she notes with wry humor. “No cozy hearth and home, no family vacations, no hope of grandchildren, no experiences of physical affection with spouse or offspring … Yikes! That can sound pretty dismal. After hearing that who would say, ‘Sign me up!’? Yet people do [and have been] ‘signing up’ for nearly two millennia!
“Evangelical chastity witnesses, first, to the fact that [the pearl of great price] EXISTS and, second, that it’s worth selling everything in order to possess it. In addition, the world need not see me nor hear me in order to receive that witness. The monastery itself stands as witness. It says: God is worth it. Yes, I can say without flinching: God is worth it.”
Millennials not losing their religion
Mindful of studies suggesting that millennials call themselves “spiritual” while distrusting religion, a nun from the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary, in Buffalo, New York, says, “True spirituality is inseparable from true religion,” and shared what she has discovered about religion that might reassure members of her generation.
“Think about it this way: Outward conformity to a litany of commands doesn’t make people happy. It is transformation of our spirit that we desire—harmony within ourselves, harmony with each other, harmony with God.” How is that done? How, she puts forward, can we achieve lasting peace with our neighbors, much less friendship with One who is so totally “other”? “The answer is simple: We can’t! God, however, can, and that is what He does, sending His Son and His Spirit to draw us to Himself.
“Religion is thus not a burden but a gift,” the young nun insists, “[it is] the Jacob’s ladder, as it were, by which God comes down to us and leads us back to Him. As a contemplative nun, I experience this gift with special intensity. Just imagine living with 10 or 20 very different women, cloistered for life. Impossible! — were Christ not present at the heart of our home, guiding us, teaching us, loving us, forgiving us.
“The grace of His word and of His sacraments is real,” she concludes, “and it is powerful indeed!”
Millennials seeking joy, freedom, and actualization
Power, however has nothing to do with why any of these women entered monastic life. Rather, they were attracted by joy, and by a promise of freedom, albeit a paradoxical one, that the world cannot give.
“I was over in Krakow in 2008, studying Catholic social teaching with the Polish Dominican friars,” shared the Buffalo sister. “I’d been quietly discerning a vocation for several years, but somehow hadn’t known that the cloistered life was still alive and vibrant in the family of St. Dominic. Yet here we were, young people of the third millennium, peering through an iron grille at women clad in a medieval habit, and … they weren’t so different from ourselves. One young nun spoke English and served as our interpreter, though the laughter of the evening needed no translation. The nuns were happy! It was then that the little seed of my cloistered vocation stirred to life. Behind that grille was a foreign land, a mystery of faith. But the glimpse I’d had told me that theirs was a beautiful life, hidden with Christ in God.”
“The cloister was nowhere on my radar,” said the nun at Linden, who, as a nursing student, had envisioned herself married, with a family. A religious conference inspired her to dare God to “ruin my life,” and then it seemed all she wanted was the freedom to make her life with him. “That’s what initially drew me to the monastery. I simply wanted to be with God.”
In the outside world she found herself unable to do that. “Let’s face it: we live and breathe in a culture that is largely anti-God. I found myself fighting a constant uphill battle. Surely, I thought, there must be an easier way! A monastery is like a little oasis of the sacred in the midst of our secular world. It frees us from the noise and distractions which turn our attention away from ‘the one thing necessary.’ Here I am free to simply be with God.”
“’Growing up’ would capture it, I think,” answers the sister at Marbury. “My mother had us spend half an hour every day reading the Bible. Over time, I clearly heard in Scripture the call God extends to every human person: the invitation to quench our thirst at the fount of living water. … I wanted to respond to this call by living totally for God.”
The cloistered contemplative vocation did challenge her, though. “I always wanted to be a teacher. In fact, I taught 5th and 6th grade that next year while applying to enter the monastery.” Still, “In the words of one of our sisters who died right before her 90th birthday, after 70 years in the monastery: ‘It’s been the best life.’”
Millennial and monastic: It doesn’t get more counter-cultural than that

Why Would a Millennial Become a Priest or a Nun?

Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

It’s the question that haunts everyone starting a career: What’s my calling? Some refer to it as a vocation; others might call it a life purpose. If you’re a mid-career professional charged with giving advice to terrified twentysomethings, you might resort to that dreaded graduation speech touchstone, “passion.”

There are a few hundred young people across the country who have interpreted “calling” in perhaps the most literal way possible: By devoting their lives to the Church. The decision seems radical in the context of common stereotypes about millennials, a generation often accused of lack of discipline, skepticism bordering on snark, preference for a hook-up culture, and only the vaguest spiritual impulses. These millennials defy those clichés, taking lifelong vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to God — and to the Catholic Church, which, especially in their lifetimes, has been regularly plagued by scandal.

Taking these vows in the Roman Catholic Church can mean many things. Women can choose what’s called contemplative life, living in a monastery and, often, remaining cloistered from the world. Others pursue an “apostolic” life, doing work outside of the convent in fields like education and health care and returning home to community life. Men can join a religious order like the Benedictines or the Franciscans, or they can become diocesan priests and lead local churches.

Sister Colleen Gibson, a 27-year-old in the second year of her formal training with the Sisters of St. Joseph in Philadelphia, took the quiz on a website during college to determine what the best path might be for her. “It’s like Match.com, but for religious communities,” she explained. After identifying some of the aspects of religious life that appealed to her, she clicked a box to send her answers to various orders that might be a fit. “The next morning when I woke up and opened up my inbox, there were 40 emails — it scared me to death. It’s like throwing red meat into a lion’s den.”

That’s because the number of young people entering religious life in the United States is on a steep decline. Mark Gray, a researcher at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), explained that the number of men who start out at seminary and continue on to get ordained as priests has decreased dramatically over the last 45 years. Gray described this process — deciding to enter religious life, going through seminary, and, finally, getting ordained — as a sharp funnel that’s getting sharper all the time. It’s worth noting that some men remain part of formal religious life for their entire lives without getting ordained; these men are typically called “brothers” instead of “fathers.”

But the new pope in the Vatican may give the priesthood a much-needed public relations bump. Although he was only elected in March, his work has already been surrounded with buzz: This summer, he made headlines by offering indulgences to those who followed his Twitter activity on World Youth Day and saying that it’s not his place to judge “a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord.” Some say that Francis is more human and easier to identify with than some of his predecessors.

“The majority of my family on my father’s side are not Catholic,” said 22-year-old Matt Ippel, who will join an all-male religious order, the Jesuits, later this month. “Sharing my upcoming plans, they’ve all been very excited and shown an immense amount of support, but they’ve also talked a lot about Pope Francis — the way [he] has conducted himself in his conversations, his addresses, his homilies.”

Danny Gustafson, a 24-year-old about to enter his third year of formal training with the Jesuits, has found it particularly meaningful that Francis is also Jesuit — the first to ever become Pope, in fact. “It’s been a great feeling of connection with the hierarchy, if for no other reason than because there’s a shared formation that Pope Francis has that I’m going through right now. Knowing that the same spirituality that speaks to me speaks to the Pope — I find [it] very humbling, but also very encouraging,” Gustafson said.

“Who can predict what will happen?” said Father John O’Malley, a Jesuit who teaches at Georgetown and studies the history of the Church, when asked how Pope Francis might affect the number of young men entering religious life. “I must say, however, that I am a little optimistic.”

And perhaps there’s reason for Catholic clergy to be optimistic — many Catholic millennials at least think about entering religious life. In a survey of non-married Catholics over the age of 14, researchers at CARA found that 12 percent of men and 10 percent of women respondents thought about becoming a priest, nun, or religious brother or sister “at least a little seriously.” Millennials were also more likely to have considered joining religious life than people born between 1961 and 1981, who researchers called the “post Vatican II” generation.

Although it’s harder to tell how many young women are entering religious life each year than it is to measure the number of young men pursuing priesthood, it’s worth noting that the women joining more traditional orders are, in fact, young women.. Most of the religious orders of women in the U.S. belong to one of two umbrella organizations: The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which accounts for about 80 percent of orders, and the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR), which accounts for the other twenty percent. The LCWR is generally considered to be the less traditional of the two — for example, they have experienced tension with the Vatican over their silence on the issue of abortion. Women in CMSWR organizations are also much more likely to wear traditional habits, whereas most women in LCWR organizations wear street clothes.

But perhaps counter-intuitively, according to a CARA survey from 2009, 78 percent of women who join CMSWR organizations are under 30, compared to just 35 percent of those who join LCWR organizations.

“I will wear a habit — that’s my choice,” said Toni Garrett, who, at 31, is about to start her formal training with the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Most recently, Garrett worked as a vice president at Bank of America in Dallas, and for the past year, she has been working from home — the convent. “[The habit] is attractive to me because I think that I need it. We have sisters who entered convent at 14, at 18, and have been sisters for 40, 50, 60 years. I’ve lived a pretty good portion of my life not in this way. For me, a habit is like a healthy reminder of who I’ve chosen to be.”

No matter how traditional their lives become, however, these millennials still have millennial problems. For example, aspiring priests, nuns, and religious brothers and sisters increasingly face one of the great worries of their generation: student loans. In a 2012 survey, a third of religious orders and institutes reported that at least some people who had seriously considered joining their ranks decided not to apply because of educational debt. A fifth of those organizations reported financial strain from the debt of current or prospective members, and most shockingly, 70 percent of the organizations reported that they had turned away serious applicants because of their student loans.

Millennials who enter religious life are like their peers in another interesting way, too: They’re more racially diverse. According to the 2009 CARA survey, 94 percent of the older women and men who have “finished” the process of joining a religious community by taking final vows were white, compared to just 58 percent of those in early stages. The next largest groups were Hispanic (21 percent) and Asian or Pacific Islander (14 percent).

Young religious “recruits” also fit into the mainstream image of millennial culture. Brother Jim Siwicki, a 59-year-old working with people who are considering joining the Jesuits, sees something distinctive about the new generation of novices. “There’s a strong desire for a sense of community, both local and global,” he said. But “the thing that’s difficult that I see with millennials is that they want to keep all options open. It’s not a lack of interest — it’s that fear of making a commitment.”

Siwicki also noted that this generation is much more digitally inclined than some of the older Jesuits. “Sometimes I have to figure out who it is who’s texting me,” he admitted.

“I am a millennial, through and through,” said Gibson, the young sister whose inbox was flooded when she expressed interest in becoming a nun. “There’s a hunger within people for intentional living and intentional community… that crosses bounds. I don’t see myself as turning my back on my generation. In bringing faith back to my generation and sharing it with people… It’s trying to be in the culture, but not necessarily of the culture.”

22-year-old Ryan Muldoon, who is about to enter seminary for the Archdiocese of New York, explained his choice in terms of discernment, a reflective process for understanding one’s vocation, or purpose. “This isn’t really a decision that anybody makes of their own volition. This really does stem from a deeper calling — a call by God and a response by an individual,” he said.

But the process isn’t so different from any big decision twentysomethings have to make.

“Like an onion, there are various layers of discernment [and] what that word or process means to different people,” Muldoon said. “The word ‘discernment’ does a great job of capturing what everybody, and young people especially in making big life decisions, is called to engage in.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/08/why-would-a-millennial-become-a-priest-or-a-nun/278741/

 

 

MEETING “THE PROTECTION OF MINORS IN THE CHURCH” [Vatican’s New Synod Hall, 21-24 February 2019] ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS AT THE END OF THE EUCHARISTIC CONCELEBRATION

http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2019/february/documents/papa-francesco_20190224_incontro-protezioneminori-chiusura.html

 

MEETING “THE PROTECTION OF MINORS IN THE CHURCH”
[Vatican’s New Synod Hall, 21-24 February 2019]

ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS
AT THE END OF THE EUCHARISTIC CONCELEBRATION

Sala Regia
Sunday, 24 February 2019

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As I thank the Lord who has accompanied us during these days, I would like to thank all of you for the ecclesial spirit and concrete commitment that you have so generously demonstrated.

Our work has made us realize once again that the gravity of the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors is, and historically has been, a widespread phenomenon in all cultures and societies. Only in relatively recent times has it become the subject of systematic research, thanks to changes in public opinion regarding a problem that was previously considered taboo; everyone knew of its presence yet no one spoke of it. I am reminded too of the cruel religious practice, once widespread in certain cultures, of sacrificing human beings – frequently children – in pagan rites. Yet even today, the statistics available on the sexual abuse of minors drawn up by various national and international organizations and agencies (the WHO, UNICEF, INTERPOL, EUROPOL and others) do not represent the real extent of the phenomenon, which is often underestimated, mainly because many cases of the sexual abuse of minors go unreported,[1] particularly the great number committed within families.

Rarely, in fact, do victims speak out and seek help.[2] Behind this reluctance there can be shame, confusion, fear of reprisal, various forms of guilt, distrust of institutions, forms of cultural and social conditioning, but also lack of information about services and facilities that can help. Anguish tragically leads to bitterness, even suicide, or at times to seek revenge by doing the same thing. The one thing certain is that millions of children in the world are victims of exploitation and of sexual abuse.

It would be important here to cite the overall data – in my opinion still partial – on the global level,[3] then from Europe, Asia, the Americas, Africa and Oceania, in order to give an idea of the gravity and the extent of this plague in our societies.[4] To avoid needless quibbling, I would point out from the start that the mention of specific countries is purely for the sake of citing the statistical data provided by the aforementioned reports.

The first truth that emerges from the data at hand is that those who perpetrate abuse, that is acts of physical, sexual or emotional violence, are primarily parents, relatives, husbands of child brides, coaches and teachers. Furthermore, according to the UNICEF data of 2017 regarding 28 countries throughout the world, 9 out of every 10 girls who have had forced sexual relations reveal that they were victims of someone they knew or who was close to their family.

According to official data of the American government, in the United States over 700,000 children each year are victims of acts of violence and mistreatment. According to the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC), 1 out of every 10 children experiences sexual abuse. In Europe, 18 million children are victims of sexual abuse.[5]

If we take Italy as an example, the 2016 Telefono Azzurro Report states that 68.9% of abuses take place within the home of the minor.[6]

Acts of violence take place not only in the home, but also in neighbourhoods, schools, athletic facilities[7] and, sadly, also in church settings.

Research conducted in recent years on the phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors also shows that the development of the web and of the communications media have contributed to a significant increase in cases of abuse and acts of violence perpetrated online. Pornography is rapidly spreading worldwide through the net. The scourge of pornography has expanded to an alarming degree, causing psychological harm and damaging relations between men and women, and between adults and children. It is a phenomenon in constant growth. Tragically, a considerable part of pornographic production has to do with minors, who are thus gravely violated in their dignity. The studies in this field – it is sad -document that it is happening in ever more horrible and violent ways, even to the point of acts of abuse against minors being commissioned and viewed live over the net.[8]

Here I would mention the World Congress held in Rome on the theme of child dignity in the digital era, as well as the first Forum of the Interfaith Alliance for Safer Communities held on the same theme in Abu Dhabi last November.

Another scourge is sexual tourism. According to 2017 data provided by the World Tourism Organization, each year 3 million people throughout the world travel in order to have sexual relations with a minor.[9] Significantly, the perpetrators of these crimes in most cases do not even realize that they are committing a criminal offence.

We are thus facing a universal problem, tragically present almost everywhere and affecting everyone. Yet we need to be clear, that while gravely affecting our societies as a whole,[10] this evil is in no way less monstrous when it takes place within the Church.

The brutality of this worldwide phenomenon becomes all the more grave and scandalous in the Church, for it is utterly incompatible with her moral authority and ethical credibility. Consecrated persons, chosen by God to guide souls to salvation, let themselves be dominated by their human frailty or sickness and thus become tools of Satan. In abuse, we see the hand of the evil that does not spare even the innocence of children. No explanations suffice for these abuses involving children. We need to recognize with humility and courage that we stand face to face with the mystery of evil, which strikes most violently against the most vulnerable, for they are an image of Jesus. For this reason, the Church has now become increasingly aware of the need not only to curb the gravest cases of abuse by disciplinary measures and civil and canonical processes, but also to decisively confront the phenomenon both inside and outside the Church. She feels called to combat this evil that strikes at the very heart of her mission, which is to preach the Gospel to the little ones and to protect them from ravenous wolves.

Here again I would state clearly: if in the Church there should emerge even a single case of abuse – which already in itself represents an atrocity – that case will be faced with the utmost seriousness. Brothers and Sisters: in people’s justified anger, the Church sees the reflection of the wrath of God, betrayed and insulted by these deceitful consecrated persons. The echo of the silent cry of the little ones who, instead of finding in them fathers and spiritual guides encountered tormentors, will shake hearts dulled by hypocrisy and by power. It is our duty to pay close heed to this silent, choked cry.

It is difficult to grasp the phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors without considering power, since it is always the result of an abuse of power, an exploitation of the inferiority and vulnerability of the abused, which makes possible the manipulation of their conscience and of their psychological and physical weakness. The abuse of power is likewise present in the other forms of abuse affecting almost 85,000,000 children, forgotten by everyone: child soldiers, child prostitutes, starving children, children kidnapped and often victimized by the horrid commerce of human organs or enslaved, child victims of war, refugee children, aborted children and so many others.

Before all this cruelty, all this idolatrous sacrifice of children to the god of power, money, pride and arrogance, empirical explanations alone are not sufficient. They fail to make us grasp the breadth and depth of this tragedy. Here once again we see the limitations of a purely positivistic approach. It can provide us with a true explanation helpful for taking necessary measures, but it is incapable of giving us a meaning. Today we need both explanation and meaning. Explanation will help us greatly in the operative sphere, but will take us only halfway.

So what would be the existential “meaning” of this criminal phenomenon? In the light of its human breadth and depth, it is none other than the present-day manifestation of the spirit of evil. If we fail to take account of this dimension, we will remain far from the truth and lack real solutions.

Brothers and sisters, today we find ourselves before a manifestation of brazen, aggressive and destructive evil. Behind and within, there is the spirit of evil, which in its pride and in its arrogance considers itself the Lord of the world[11] and thinks that it has triumphed. I would like to say this to you with the authority of a brother and a father, certainly a small one and a sinner, but who is the pastor of the Church that presides in charity: in these painful cases, I see the hand of evil that does not spare even the innocence of the little ones. And this leads me to think of the example of Herod who, driven by fear of losing his power, ordered the slaughter of all the children of Bethlehem.[12] Behind this there is satan.

Just as we must take every practical measure that common sense, the sciences and society offer us, neither must we lose sight of this reality; we need to take up the spiritual means that the Lord himself teaches us: humiliation, self-accusation, prayer and penance. This is the only way to overcome the spirit of evil. It is how Jesus himself overcame it.[13]

The Church’s aim will thus be to hear, watch over, protect and care for abused, exploited and forgotten children, wherever they are. To achieve that goal, the Church must rise above the ideological disputes and journalistic practices that often exploit, for various interests, the very tragedy experienced by the little ones.

The time has come, then, to work together to eradicate this evil from the body of our humanity by adopting every necessary measure already in force on the international level and ecclesial levels. The time has come to find a correct equilibrium of all values in play and to provide uniform directives for the Church, avoiding the two extremes of a “justicialism” provoked by guilt for past errors and media pressure, and a defensiveness that fails to confront the causes and effects of these grave crimes.

In this context, I would mention the “best practices” formulated under the guidance of the World Health Organization[14] by a group of ten international bodies that developed and approved a packet of measures called INSPIRE: Seven Strategies for Ending Violence against Children.[15]

With the help of these guidelines, the work carried out in recent years by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and the contributions made by this Meeting, the Church, in developing her legislation, will concentrate on the following aspects:

1. The protection of children. The primary goal of every measure must be to protect the little ones and prevent them from falling victim to any form of psychological and physical abuse. Consequently, a change of mentality is needed to combat a defensive and reactive approach to protecting the institution and to pursue, wholeheartedly and decisively, the good of the community by giving priority to the victims of abuse in every sense. We must keep ever before us the innocent faces of the little ones, remembering the words of the Master: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of scandals! For it is necessary that scandals come, but woe to the man by whom the scandal comes! (Mt 18:6-7).

2. Impeccable seriousness. Here I would reaffirm that “the Church will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justicewhosoever has committed such crimes. The Church will never seek to hush up or not take seriously any case” (Address to the Roman Curia, 21 December 2018). She is convinced that “the sins and crimes of consecrated persons are further tainted by infidelity and shame; they disfigure the countenance of the Church and undermine her credibility. The Church herself, with her faithful children, is also a victim of these acts of infidelity and these real sins of “peculation” (ibid.).

3. Genuine purification. Notwithstanding the measures already taken and the progress made in the area of preventing abuse, there is need for a constantly renewed commitment to the holiness of pastors, whose conformity to Christ the Good Shepherd is a right of the People of God. The Church thus restates “her firm resolve to pursue unstintingly a path of purification, questioning how best to protect children, to avoid these tragedies, to bring healing and restoration to the victims, and to improve the training imparted in seminaries… An effort will be made to make past mistakes opportunities for eliminating this scourge, not only from the body of the Church but also from that of society” (ibid.). The holy fear of God leads us to accuse ourselves – as individuals and as an institution – and to make up for our failures. Self-accusation is the beginning of wisdom and bound to the holy fear of God: learning how to accuse ourselves, as individuals, as institutions, as a society. For we must not fall into the trap of blaming others, which is a step towards the “alibi” that separates us from reality.

4. Formation. In other words, requiring criteria for the selection and training of candidates to the priesthood that are not simply negative, concerned above all with excluding problematic personalities, but also positive, providing a balanced process of formation for suitable candidates, fostering holiness and the virtue of chastity. Saint Paul VI, in his encyclical Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, wrote that “the life of the celibate priest, which engages the whole man so totally and so sensitively, excludes those of insufficient physical, psychic and moral qualifications. Nor should anyone pretend that grace supplies for the defects of nature in such a man” (No. 64).

5. Strengthening and reviewing guidelines by Episcopal Conferences. In other words, reaffirming the need for bishops to be united in the application of parameters that serve as rules and not simply indications. Rules, not simply indications. No abuse should ever be covered up (as was often the case in the past) or not taken sufficiently seriously, since the covering up of abuses favours the spread of evil and adds a further level of scandal. Also and in particular, developing new and effective approaches for prevention in all institutions and in every sphere of ecclesial activity.

6. Accompaniment of those who have been abused. The evil that they have experienced leaves them with indelible wounds that also manifest themselves in resentment and a tendency to self-destruction. The Church thus has the duty to provide them with all the support they need, by availing herself of experts in this field. Listening, let me even put it this way: “wasting time” in listening. Listening heals the hurting person, and likewise heals us of our egoism, aloofness and lack of concern, of the attitude shown by the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

7. The digital world. The protection of minors must take into account the new forms of sexual abuse and abuse of all kinds that threaten minors in the settings in which they live and through the new devices that they use. Seminarians, priests, men and women religious, pastoral agents, indeed everyone, must be aware that the digital world and the use of its devices often has a deeper effect than we may think. Here there is a need to encourage countries and authorities to apply every measure needed to contain those websites that threaten human dignity, the dignity of women and particularly that of children. Brothers and Sisters: crime does not enjoy the right to freedom. There is an absolute need to combat these abominations with utter determination, to be vigilant and to make every effort to keep the development of young people from being troubled or disrupted by an uncontrolled access to pornography, which will leave deep scars on their minds and hearts. We must ensure that young men and women, particularly seminarians and clergy, are not enslaved to addictions based on the exploitation and criminal abuse of the innocent and their pictures, and contempt for the dignity of women and of the human person. Here mention should be made of the new norms on graviora delicta approved by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, which included as a new species of crime “the acquisition, possession or distribution by a cleric of pornographic images of minors… by whatever means or using whatever technology”. The text speaks of minors “under the age of fourteen”. We now consider that this age limit should be raised in order to expand the protection of minors and to bring out the gravity of these deeds.

8. Sexual tourism. The conduct, the way of looking at others, the very heart of Jesus’ disciples and servants must always acknowledge the image of God in each human creature, beginning with the most innocent. It is only by drawing from this radical respect for the dignity of others that we will be able to defend them from the pervasive power of violence, exploitation, abuse and corruption, and serve them in a credible way in their integral human and spiritual growth, in the encounter with others and with God. Combatting sexual tourism demands that it be outlawed, but also that the victims of this criminal phenomenon be given support and helped to be reinserted in society. The ecclesial communities are called to strengthen their pastoral care of persons exploited by sexual tourism. Among these, those who are most vulnerable and in need of particular help are certainly women, minors and children; these last however need special forms of protection and attention. Government authorities should make this a priority and act with urgency to combat the trafficking and economic exploitation of children. To this end it is important to coordinate the efforts being made at every level of society and to cooperate closely with international organizations so as to achieve a juridical framework capable of protecting children from sexual exploitation in tourism and of ensuring the legal prosecution of offenders.[16]

Allow me now to offer a heartfelt word of thanks to all those priests and consecrated persons who serve the Lord faithfully and totally, and who feel themselves dishonoured and discredited by the shameful conduct of some of their confreres. All of us – the Church, consecrated persons, the People of God, and even God himself – bear the effects of their infidelity. In the name of the whole Church, I thank the vast majority of priests who are not only faithful to their celibacy, but spend themselves in a ministry today made even more difficult by the scandals of few (but always too many) of their confreres. I also thank the faithful who are well aware of the goodness of their pastors and who continue to pray for them and to support them.

Finally, I would like to stress the important need to turn this evil into an opportunity for purification. Let us look to the example of Edith Stein – Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross – with the certainty that “in the darkest night, the greatest prophets and saints rise up. Still, the life-giving stream of the mystical life remains invisible. Surely, the decisive events of history of the world have been essentially influenced by souls about whom the history books remain silent. And those souls that we must thank for the decisive events in our personal lives is something that we will know only on that day when all that which is hidden will be brought to light”. The holy, faithful People of God, in its daily silence, in many forms and ways continues to demonstrate and attest with “stubborn” hope that the Lord never abandons but sustains the constant and, in so many cases, painful devotion of his children. The holy and patient, faithful People of God, borne up and enlivened by the Holy Spirit, is the best face of the prophetic Church which puts her Lord at the centre in daily giving of herself. It will be precisely this holy People of God to liberate us from the plague of clericalism, which is the fertile ground for all these disgraces.

The best results and the most effective resolution that we can offer to the victims, to the People of Holy Mother Church and to the entire world, are the commitment to personal and collective conversion, the humility of learning, listening, assisting and protecting the most vulnerable.

I make a heartfelt appeal for an all-out battle against the abuse of minors both sexually and in other areas, on the part of all authorities and individuals, for we are dealing with abominable crimes that must be erased from the face of the earth: this is demanded by all the many victims hidden in families and in the various settings of our societies.

 
[1] Cf. MARIA ISABEL MARTÍNEZ PÉREZ, Abusos sexuales en niños y adolescentes, ed. Criminología y Justicia, 2012, according to which only 2% of cases are reported, especially when the abuse has taken place in the home. She sets the number of victims of paedophilia in our society at between 15% and 20%. Only 50% of children reveal the abuses they have suffered, and of these cases only 15% are actually reported. Only 5% end up going to trial.

[2] One out of three mentions the fact to no one (2017 data compiled by the non-profit organization THORN).

[3] On the global level: in 2017 the World Health Organization estimated that up to 1 billion minors between 2 and 17 years of age have experienced acts of violence or physical, emotional or sexual neglect. Sexual abuse (ranging from groping to rape), according to some 2014 UNICEF estimates, would affect 120 million girls, who are the greatest number of victims. In 2017, UNICEF reported that in 38 of the world’s low to middle income countries, almost 17 million adult women admitted having had a forced sexual relation in childhood.

Europe: in 2013, the World Health Organization estimated over 18 million abuses. Of these, 13.4% were girls, while 5.7% were boys. According to UNICEF, in 28 European countries, about 2.5 million young women reported having experienced sexual abuse with or without physical contact prior to 15 years of age (data released in 2017). In addition, 44 million (equivalent to 22.9%) were victims of physical violence, while 55 million (29.6%) were victims of psychological violence. Not only this: in 2017, the INTERPOL Report on the sexual exploitation of minors led to the identification of 14,289 victims in 54 European countries. With regard to Italy, in 2017 CESVI estimated that 6 million children experienced mistreatment. Furthermore, according to data provided by Telefono Azzurro, in the calendar year 2017, 98 cases of sexual abuse and pedophilia were handled by the Servizio 114 Emergenza Infanzia, equivalent to about 7.5% of the total cases handled by that service. 65% of the minors seeking help were female victims and over 40% were under 11 years of age.

Asia: in India, in the decade 2001-2011, the Asian Centre for Human Rights reported a total of 48,338 cases of the rape of minors, with an increase equivalent to 336% over that period: the 2,113 cases in 2001 rose to 7,112 cases in 2011.

The Americas: in the United States, official government data state that more than 700,000 children each year are victims of violence and mistreatment. According to the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC), 1 out of every 10 children experiences sexual abuse.

Africa: in South Africa, the results of a study conducted by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention of the University of Cape Town showed in 2016 that 1 out of 3 South African young people, male or female, risks being sexually abused before the age of 17. According to the study, the first of its kind on a national scale in South Africa, 784,967 young people between 15 and 17 years of age have already experienced sexual abuse. The victims in this case are for the most part male youths. Not even a third of them reported the violence to the authorities. In other African countries, cases of sexual abuse of minors are part of the wider context of acts of violence linked to the conflicts affecting the continent and are thus difficult to quantify. The phenomenon is also closely linked to the widespread practice of underage marriages in various African nations, as elsewhere.

Oceania: in Australia, according to data issued by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) in February 2018 and covering the years 2015-2017, one out of six women (16%, i.e., 1.5 million) reported experiencing physical and/or sexual abuse prior to 15 years of age, and one out of nine men (11%, i.e., 992,000) reported having experienced this abuse when they were children. Also, in 2015-2016, around 450,000 children were the object of child protection measures, and 55,600 minors were removed from their homes in order to remedy abuses they had suffered and to prevent others. Finally, one must not forget the risks to which native minors are exposed: again, according to AIHW, in 2015-2016 indigenous children had a seven times greater probability of being abused or abandoned as compared with their non-indigenous contemporaries (cf. http://www.pbc2019.org/protection-of-minors/child-abuse-on-the-global-level).

[4] The data provided refer to sample counties selected on the basis of the reliability of available sources. The studies released by UNICEF on 30 countries confirm this fact: a small percentage of victims stated that they had asked for help.

[5] Cf.https://www.repubblica.it/salute/prevenzione/2016/05/12/news/maltrattamenti_sui_minori_tutti_gli_abusi-139630223.

[6] Specifically, those allegedly responsible for the difficulties experienced by a minor are, in 73.7% of the cases a parent (the mother in 44.2% and the father in 29.5%), a relative (3.3%), a friend (3.2%), an acquaintance (3%), a teacher (2.5%). The data show that only in a small percentage of cases (2.2%) is the person responsible an adult stranger. Cf. ibid.

[7] A 2011 English study carried out by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) found that 29% of those interviewed reported that they had experienced sexual molestation (physical and verbal) in sports centres.

[8] According to the 2017 data of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), every 7 minutes a web page sends pictures of sexually abused children. In 2017, 78,589 URLs were found to contain images of sexual abuse concentrated particularly in the Low Countries, followed by the United States, Canada, France and Russia. 55% of the victims were under 10 years of age, 86% were girls, 7% boys and 5% both.

[9] The most frequented destinations are Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, as well as Thailand and Cambodia. These have recently been joined by some countries of Africa and Eastern Europe. On the other hand, the six countries from which the perpetrators of abuse mostly come are France, Germany, the United Kingdom, China, Japan and Italy. Not to be overlooked is the growing number of women who travel to developing countries in search of paid sex with minors: in total, they represent 10% of sexual tourists worldwide. Furthermore, according to a study by ECPAT (End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism) International, between 2015 and 2016, 35% of paedophile sexual tourists were regular clients, while 65% were occasional clients (cf. https://www.osservatoriodiritti.it/2018/03/27/turismo-sessuale-minorile-nel-mondo-italia-ecpat).

[10] “For if this grave tragedy has involved some consecrated ministers, we may ask how deeply rooted it may be in our societies and in our families” (Address to the Roman Curia, 21 December 2018).

[11] Cf. R.H. BENSON, The Lord of the World, Dodd, Mead and Company, London, 1907.

[12] “Quare times, Herodes, quia audis Regem natum? Non venit ille ut te excludat, sed ut diabolum vincat. Sed tu haec non intelligens turbaris et saevis; et ut perdas unum quem quaeris, per tot infantium mortes efficeris crudelis… Necas parvulos corpore quia te necat timor in corde (SAINT QUODVULTDEUS, Sermo 2 de Symbolo: PL 40, 655).

[13] “Quemadmodum enim ille, effuso in scientiae lignum veneno suo, naturam gusto corruperat, sic et ipse dominicam carnem vorandam praesumens, deitatis in ea virtute corruptus interituque sublatus est” (SAINT MAXIMUS THE CONFESSOR, Centuria 1, 8-3: PG 90, 1182-1186).

[14] (CDC: United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; CRC: Convention on the Rights of the Child; End Violence Against Children: The Global Partnership; PAHO: Pan American Health Organization; PEPFAR: President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief; TfG: Together for Girls; UNICEF: United Nations Children’s Fund; UNODC: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime; USAID: United States Agency for International Development; WHO: World Health Organization).

[15] Each letter of the word INSPIRE represents one of the strategies, and for the most part has shown to be preventively effectual against various types of violence, in addition to having benefits in areas such as mental health, education and the reduction of crime. The seven strategies are the following: Implementation and Enforcement of Laws (for example, avoiding violent discipline and limiting access to alcohol and firearms); Norms and Values that need changing (for example, those that condone sexual abuse against girls or aggressive behaviour among boys); Safe Environments (for example, identifying neighbourhood violence “hotspots” and dealing with local causes through policies that resolve problems and through other interventions); Parent and Caregiver Support(for example, by providing formation to parents for their children, and to new parents); Income and Economic Strengthening (such as microcredit and formation concerning equity in general); Response and Support Services (for example, ensuring that children exposed to violence can have access to effective emergency care and can receive adequate psychosocial support); Education and Life Skills (for example, ensuring that children attend school and equipping them with social skills).

[16] Cf. Final Document of the VI World Congress on the Pastoral Care of Tourism, 27 July 2004.

 

THREE P’S OF CONSECRATED LIFE


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