La Prima Giornata Mondiale dei Poveri e i Servi di Maria

  1. La Prima Giornata Mondiale dei Poveri

 Giornata dei poveri 2

La Giornata mondiale dei poveri, che si è celebrato per la prima volta il 19 novembre, è stata istituita da Papa Francesco al termine del Giubileo della misericordia, nella lettera apostolica “Misericordia et misera”. “Alla luce del Giubileo delle persone socialmente escluse, mentre in tutte le cattedrali e nei santuari del mondo si chiudevano le Porte della Misericordia, ho intuito che, come ulteriore segno concreto di questo Anno Santo straordinario, si debba celebrare in tutta la Chiesa, nella ricorrenza della XXXIII Domenica del Tempo Ordinario, la Giornata mondiale dei poveri”, scrive Francesco a conclusione della lettera apostolica. È lui stesso, così, a rivelare la genesi della sua iniziativa, pensata in uno dei momenti più inediti, commoventi ed eloquenti del Giubileo, in una piazza San Pietro popolata da migliaia di senza tetto, poveri ed emarginati per la giornata dell’Anno della Misericordia a loro dedicata.

L’indizione della Giornata mondiale dei poveri, che si aggiunge alle altre giornate mondiali indette dai Pontefici su svariate tematiche sociali, come la pace, le immigrazioni, ecc., ha la particolarità questa volta di non trattare una tematica. In primo luogo al centro della giornata , con il richiamo alla concretezza: «Figlioli, non amiamo a parole né con la lingua, ma con i fatti e nella verità» (1 Gv 3,18) Non è la Giornata mondiale della povertà , ma la Giornata dei poveri , cioè di persone concrete; è la giornata dell’invito a incontrare il povero, a condividere con lui anzitutto il tempo dell’accoglienza e dell’ascolto, la mensa e i suoi bisogni. Papa Francesco per primo ci ha indirizzato a viverla in questo senso pranzando in quel giorno con 1.500 poveri in sala Paolo VI.

Chi sono è poveri?

L’elenco dei “mille volti” della povertà è al centro del Messaggio per la Giornata mondiale dei poveri: dolore, emarginazione, sopruso, violenza, torture, prigionia e guerra, privazione della libertà e della dignità, ignoranza e analfabetismo, emergenza sanitaria e mancanza di lavoro, tratta e schiavitù, esilio e miseria. Verso di loro, spesso alziamo muri e recinti, pur di non vederli e non toccarli, dall’altro della nostra “ricchezza sfacciata”. Sono i poveri gli invitati in piazza San Pietro, insieme a tutti noi, chiamati da Papa Francesco alla “condivisione” per non amare a parole ma con i fatti, come Francesco d’Assisi con il lebbroso. I poveri, ammonisce il Papa nel Messaggio, non sono i semplici destinatari di una buona pratica di volontariato. Non si può restare indifferenti “alla povertà che inibisce lo spirito di iniziativa di tanti giovani, impedendo loro di trovare un lavoro; alla povertà che anestetizza il senso di responsabilità inducendo a preferire la delega e la ricerca di favoritismi; alla povertà che avvelena i pozzi della partecipazione e restringe gli spazi della professionalità umiliando così il merito di chi lavora e produce; a tutto questo occorre rispondere con una nuova visione della vita e della società”. L’invito alla prima Giornata mondiale dei poveri è rivolto a tutti, indipendentemente dall’appartenenza religiosa.

  Continue reading ‘La Prima Giornata Mondiale dei Poveri e i Servi di Maria’

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WORLD DAY OF THE POOR

By Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis will celebrate the Catholic Church’s first World Day of the Poor Nov. 19 by celebrating a morning Mass with people in need and those who assist them. After Mass, he will offer lunch to 500 people in the Vatican audience hall.

As the Year of Mercy was ending in November 2016, Pope Francis told people he wanted to set one day aside each year to underline everyone’s responsibility “to care for the true riches, which are the poor.”

The result was the World Day of the Poor, which is to be marked annually on the 33rd Sunday of ordinary time on the church’s liturgical calendar.

An admonition from St. John Chrysostom “remains ever timely,” Pope Francis said in a message for the 2017 celebration. He quoted the fifth-century theologian: “If you want to honor the body of Christ, do not scorn it when it is naked; do not honor the eucharistic Christ with silk vestments and then, leaving the church, neglect the other Christ suffering from cold and nakedness.”

The pope chose “Love not in word, but in deed” as the theme for 2017.

The Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization is coordinating the celebration and issued a resource book — available online at www.pcpne.va — that includes Scripture meditations, sample prayer services and suggestions for parishes and dioceses.

An obvious starting place, the council said, is to reach out “to places such as soup kitchens, shelters, prisons, hospitals, nursing homes, treatment centers, etc., so that the words of the pope could arrive to everyone at the same time on this day.”

Every parish and Catholic group, it said, should organize at least one practical initiative, such as “taking groceries to a needy family, offering a meal for the poor, purchasing equipment for elderly persons who are not self-sufficient, donating a vehicle to a family, or making a contribution to the Caritas fund for families.”

One of the primary goals of the day, the council said, is to help Catholics answer the question, “Who are ‘the poor’ today, and where are they around me, in the area in which I live?” and then to find ways to share and create relationships with them.

The resource book also offered 18 “saints and blesseds of charity of the 20th and 21st centuries” as examples. The list is led by St. Teresa of Kolkata, but also includes Blessed Oscar Romero of San Salvador and U.S. St. Katharine Drexel and Blessed Stanley Rother.

 

INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE

Peter L. Laurence

 

What is Dialogue?

The historic encounters between religious, political, racial and ethnic groups have often been violent, as one group seeks to impose its will on another.  Even in societies where two or more groups seem to co-exist, the majority population will tend to exert its power over the minorities, and members of minority groups live in a perpetual state of discrimination.  In such struggles, the “other” is usually depicted by each of the groups through stereotypes, where certain characteristics (almost always negative) are exaggerated and generalized as if all members of that group were stamped from the same mold.  These intergroup relationships are characterized by a hierarchy of power, and intergroup communication takes place in a competitive context, where the strongest is most likely to prevail.

Dialogue is a radically different way of communicating.  Its purpose is to better understand the “other” so that mutual respect and cooperation can become the bases for intergroup relations.  Mutual respect implies recognition of the value of diversity, where religious and cultural differences are accepted as part of a rich and varied human tapestry.  Dialogue is a conversation among equals, and power is not an acceptable aspect of the relationship.  For those who have been accustomed to prevailing through customary power relationships, this environment can be unsettling and uncomfortable.

Interreligious Dialogue

Applied to interreligious activity, dialogue offers an alternative to proselytization and conversion.  These formerly characteristic approaches stem from a sense that one’s own religious orientation is either the only correct view, or is at least the best among all others.  The contrast between attitudes toward interreligious relationships has been helpfully identified by British theologian Alan Race.  As recently described from a Christian point of view by John Hick, “Religious exclusivism, understood in terms of salvation, is the claim that only those who follow one particular path (one’s own, needless to say) can be saved.”1   Inclusivism, on the other hand, “is the claim that salvation consists in being accepted and forgiven by God because of the atoning death of Christ.  However the benefits of Christ’s death are not confined to Christians but are on the contrary available in principle to all human beings, of any or no religion.  Thus everyone who is saved is saved by Christ, whether they know it or not.  Salvation is exclusively Christian salvation, but non-Christians are included within the sphere of Christian salvation: hence the term ‘inclusivism’.”2

Hick admits that he has described the inclusivist position, in both its milder and its stronger forms, as still basically imperialist, with the implication that it is arbitrarily and unjustifiably so.  But of course it only looks this way to Christians who have encountered people of other faiths and have discovered through their own experience that those others are in general no less loving and compassionate and generous, no less truthful, no less honest and honourable, no less creative and interesting, no less unselfish and devoted to their own manifestation of the Ultimate, than are Christians in general.  If we have met people of other faiths to any considerable extent, and particularly if we have been fortunate enough to meet outstanding representatives of those other faiths, we have discovered that the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, compassion, generosity, and so on – are present (and also absent) to about the same extent, within the other great traditions as within our own.  Now if this is indeed the case, if this is the religious reality, why insist on describing this situation in exclusively Christian terms?  Why insist that in some completely incomprehensible way the salvific self-transcendence, was dependent upon the death of Jesus some five hundred years later?  Why is it necessary to make such an arbitrary and implausible claim?  Only, I suggest, because one cannot abandon the idea that one’s own religion must be uniquely superior to all others?  And yet by the test of its fruits, it is not.  So why not adjust our theology to fit the religious realities?

If you find this suggestion appealing you are moving out of inclusivism into pluralism.  Of course the word “pluralism” can simply mean the fact of religious plurality.  But it has come to be used to name a particular understanding of this plurality, namely that there are a number of different authentic contexts of salvation/liberation.3

While Hick has admirably articulated these concepts from a Christian perspective, you can see that attitudes of exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism can be held within the context of any religious tradition, and that salvation is not necessarily the only criterion by which others are judged.  In fact, it is important to note that each tradition itself is not inherently exclusive, inclusive, or pluralistic in its outlook, but rather these are attitudes toward other traditions that are adopted by individuals or sub-groups of adherents who interpret their tradition in one of these ways.

Naturally, dialogue can be seriously affected by the attitudes which participants bring to the table.  Some typical approaches might be described as follows:

1.  SEPARATE AND NOT EQUAL
“I am engaged with people from other religions so that I can know them better in order to more effectively convince them of the superiority of my own beliefs.”

2.  SEPARATE BUT EQUAL
“I tolerate people from other religions because we all share the same world and they have as much right to be here as I have.”

3.  TOGETHER
“People from other traditions, and also those who do not identify with any tradition, are all members of a single human family.  Differences in belief or non-belief do not change this basic truth.”

Proselytism

Proselytism can have both positive and negative aspects, depending on how it is defined and practiced.  While adherents of every faith tradition can be expected to speak willingly and enthusiastically about their beliefs, this enthusiasm, combined with some of the attitudes described above, can lead to demeaning other faiths, beliefs and individuals.  In 1984, the Arizona Regional Board of the National Conference of Christians and Jews issued the following statement in response to a particular problem it had encountered.

The NCCJ accepts without reservation the legal right of any religious group to engage in proselytizing activities.  We have little quarrel with the kind of low-key, highly personalized proselytizing programs engaged in daily by numerous religious groups.  In fact, we note that wherever such activities are prohibited by governments, tyranny results and a free society is lost.  We would not wish to live in a nation which imposes sanctions on religious activity of any kind.

We do question, however, those types of proselytizing activities which utilize fraud or deception, e.g., numerous instances have been reported to us of persons posing as Jews, in order to gain entrée in order to seek the conversion of Jews to Christianity.  We deplore such tactics.

Neither do we believe that it serves the best interest of community good will for any group to attach the central faith, beliefs, doctrines, or validity of any other religious group.  Religious belief is of vital importance to many Americans.  It must be recognized that very deep feelings and emotions are stirred when the most important concepts, traditions, personalities and institutions of any religious group are alleged to be based on falsehood.  Such frontal assaults promote community divisions and cause persons to be deeply hurt.

We recognize as a positive value the right of any religious group to assert their belief in the absolute truth of their own religious beliefs and practices.  However, this basic right also suggests the necessity for tolerance toward others who may hold similar views about their own particular beliefs and customs.

Another very useful statement of policy with regard to proselytism has been developed by the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, D.C.  Approved by the Executive Board of the Interfaith Conference in 1987, the statement reads as follows:

One of the founding principles of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington is the respect and legitimacy accorded to each of the faith communities that make up the Interfaith Conference (IFC).  Our ability to sit together, to dialogue and to cooperate in the enterprise of improving the quality of life for all in our area takes place even as we recognize that we adhere to different faith traditions.

Every faith tradition has a particular vision of the Divine Truth which it feels is unique.  Some faith communities feel that it is part of their mission to share that Truth with others, not of that tradition.  We do support the right of all religions to share their message in the spirit of good will.  It is inappropriate, however, for one faith group openly to demean or disparage the philosophies or practices of another faith group as part of its proselytizing.  Proselytism which does not respect human freedom is carefully to be avoided.  Proselytism must be done with a sense of humility and a respect for others.

It is not for the IFC to pass judgment on the legitimacy of groups who rally around a particular ideology or theology.  There are people who draw spiritual sustenance from religious groups that span the spectrum from radical humanism to the cult of personality.  We do, however, feel compelled to speak out when a religious group promotes or sanctions activities that are harmful to the spirit of interreligious respect and tolerance.  We condemn proselytizing efforts which delegitimize the faith tradition of the person whose conversion is being sought.  Such tactics go beyond the bounds of appropriate and ethically based religious outreach.

Examples of such practices are those that are common among groups that have adopted the label of Hebrew Christianity, Messianic Judaism or Jews for Jesus.  These groups specifically target Jews for conversion to their version of Christianity, making the claim that in accepting Jesus as the savior/messiah, a Jew “fulfills” his/her faith.  Furthermore, by celebrating Jewish festivals, worshipping on the Jewish Sabbath, appropriating Jewish symbols, rituals and prayers in their churches and, sometimes, even calling their leaders “Rabbi,” they seek to win over, often by deception, many Jews who are sincerely looking for a path back to their ancestral heritage.

Deceptive proselytizing efforts are practiced on the most vulnerable of populations – residents of hospitals and old age homes, confused youth, college students away from home.  These proselytizing techniques are tantamount to coerced conversions and should be condemned.

America has been largely free of the religious rivalries that scarred the life of Europe for centuries.  Consequently, we, the leaders of the Islamic, Jewish, Mormon, Protestant and Roman Catholic faith communities in the greater Washington area, under the aegis of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, urge all religious denominations and sects to respect the principles of religious pluralism as the foundation of a society that has the greatest chance of fostering intergroup understanding and cooperation.

Ground Rules for Dialogue

The following material has been adapted from what has become a classic set of guidelines for dialogue developed by Leonard Swidler:4

Dialogue is a conversation on a common subject between two or more persons with differing views, the primary purpose of which is for each participant to learn from the other so that he or she can change or grow.  The following are some basic ground rules or “commandments,” of interreligious dialogue that must be observed if dialogue is actually to take place.  These are not theoretical rules, or commandments given from “on high,” but ones that have been learned from hard experience.

FIRST COMMANDMENT:  The primary purpose of dialogue is to change and grow in the perception and understanding of reality and then to act accordingly.  Minimally, the very fact that I learn that my dialogue partner believes “this” rather than “that” proportionally changes my attitude toward her or him; and a change in my attitude is a significant change in me.  We enter into dialogue so that we can learn, change, and grow, not so we can force change on the other, as one hopes to do in debate – a hope realized in inverse proportion to the frequency and ferocity with which debate is entered into.  On the other hand, because in dialogue each partner comes with the intention of learning and changing her or himself, one’s partner in fact will also change.  Thus the goal of debate, and much more, is accomplished far more effectively by dialogue.

SECOND COMMANDMENT:  Interreligious dialogue must be a two-sided project – within each religious community and between religious communities.  Because of the “corporate” nature of interreligious dialogue, and since the primary goal of dialogue is that each partner learn and change her or himself, it is also necessary that each participant enter into dialogue not only with her or his partner across the faith line – the Lutheran with the Anglican, for example, but also with her or his coreligionists, with her or his fellow Lutherans, to share with them the fruits of the interreligious dialogue.  Only thus can the whole community eventually learn and change, moving toward an ever more perceptive insight into reality.

THIRD COMMANDMENT:  Each participant must come to the dialogue with complete honesty and sincerity.  It should be made clear in what direction the major and minor thrusts of the tradition move, what the future shifts might be, and, if necessary, where the participant has difficulties with her or his own tradition.  No false fronts have any place in dialogue.

Conversely – each participant must assume a similar complete honesty and sincerity in the other partners.  Not only will the absence of sincerity prevent dialogue from happening, but the absence of the assumption of the partner’s sincerity will do so as well.  In brief:  no trust, no dialogue.

FOURTH COMMANDMENT:  In interreligious dialogue we must not compare our ideals with our partner’s practice, but rather our ideals with our partner’s ideals, our practice with our partner’s practice.

FIFTH COMMANDMENT:  Each participant must define her or himself.  Only the Jew, for example, can define what it means to be a Jew.  The rest can only describe what it looks life from the outside.  Moreover, because dialogue is a dynamic medium, as each participant learns, s/he will change and hence continually deepen, expand, and modify her or his self-definition as a Jew – being careful to remain in constant dialogue with fellow Jews.  Thus it is mandatory that each dialogue partner define what it means to be an authentic member of her or his own tradition.

Conversely – the one interpreted must be able to recognize her or himself in the interpretation.  This is the golden rule of interreligious hermeneutics, as has been often reiterated by the “apostle of interreligious dialogue,” Raimundo Panikkar.  For the sake of understanding, each dialogue participant will naturally attempt to express for her or himself what s/he thinks is the meaning of the partner’s statement; the partner must be able to recognize her or himself in that expression.  The advocate of “a world theology,” Wilfred Cantwell Smith, would add that the expression must also be verifiable by critical observers who are not involved.

SIXTH COMMANDMENT:  Each participant must come to the dialogue with no hard-and-fast assumptions as to where the points of disagreement are.  Rather, each partner should not only listen to the other partner with openness and sympathy but also attempt to agree with the dialogue partner as far as is possible while still maintaining integrity with her or his own tradition; where s/he absolutely can agree no further without violating her or his own integrity, precisely there is the real point of disagreement – which most often turns out to be different from the point of disagreement that was falsely assumed ahead of time.

SEVENTH COMMANDMENT:  Dialogue can take place only between equals, or par cum pari as Vatican II put it.  Both must come to learn from each other.  Therefore, if, for example, the Muslim views Hinduism as inferior, or if the Hindu views Islam as inferior, there will be no dialogue.  If authentic interreligious dialogue between Muslims and Hindus is to occur, then both the Muslim and the Hindu must come mainly to learn from each other; only then will it be “equal with equal,” par cum pari.

EIGHTH COMMANDMENT:  Dialogue can take place only on the basis of mutual trust.  Although interreligious dialogue must occur with some kind of “corporate” dimension, that is, the participants must be involved as members of a religious community, it is also fundamentally true that it is only persons who can inter into dialogue.  But a dialogue among persons can be built only on personal trust.  Hence it is wise not to tackle the most difficult problems in the beginning, but rather to approach first those issues most likely to provide some common ground, thereby establishing the basis of human trust.  Then, gradually, as this personal trust deepens and expands, the more thorny matters can be undertaken.

Thus, as in learning we move from the known to the unknown, so in dialogue we proceed from commonly held matters – which, given our mutual ignorance resulting from centuries of hostility, will take us quite some time to discover fully – to discuss matters of disagreement.

NINTH COMMANDMENT:  Persons entering into interreligious dialogue must be at least minimally self-critical of both themselves and their own religious traditions.  A lack of such self-criticism implies that one’s own tradition already has all the correct answers.  Such an attitude makes dialogue not only unnecessary, but even impossible, since we enter into dialogue primarily so we can learn – which obviously is impossible if our tradition has never made a misstep, if it has all the right answers.  To be sure, in interreligious dialogue one must stand within a religious tradition with integrity and conviction, but such integrity and conviction must include, not exclude, a healthy self-criticism.  Without it there can be no dialogue – and, indeed, no integrity.

TENTH COMMANDMENT:  Each participant eventually must attempt to experience the partner’s religion “from within;” for a religion is not merely something of the head, but also of the spirit, heart, and “whole being,” individual and communal.  John Dunne here speaks of “passing over” into another’s religious experience and then coming back enlightened, broadened, and deepened.

Interreligious dialogue operates in three areas:  the practical, where we collaborate to help humanity; the depth or “spiritual” dimension where we attempt to experience the partner’s religion “from within;” and the cognitive, where we seek understanding and truth.  Interreligious dialogue also has three phases.  In the first phase we unlearn misinformation about each other and begin to know each other as we truly are.  In phase two we begin to discern values in the partner’s tradition and wish to appropriate them into our own tradition.  For example, in the Buddhist-Christian dialogue Christians might learn a greater appreciation of the meditative tradition, and Buddhists might learn a greater appreciation of the prophetic, social justice tradition – both values traditionally strongly, though not exclusively, associated with the other’s community.  If we are serious, persistent, and sensitive enough in the dialogue, we may at times enter into phase three.  Here we together begin to explore new areas of reality, of meaning, and of truth, of which neither of us had even been aware before.  We are brought face to face with this new, as-yet-unknown-to-us dimension of reality only because of questions, insight, probings produced in the dialogue.  We may thus dare to say that patiently pursued dialogue can become an instrument of new “re-velation,” a further “un-veiling” of reality – on which we must then act.

Planning for Dialogue

We spoke earlier of the historic problem of power relationships between majority and minority populations.  When representatives of different religious groups come to the table they bring these relationships with them.  As was stated before, power relationships are an obstacle to dialogue.  Most importantly, the way in which a dialogue is initially approached can either reinforce or overcome this obstacle.

It is often the majority religion that agrees to dialogue with the minority, sometimes as a response to stated grievances or concerns.  But in doing so the power relationship can become manifest through several symptoms:

A condescending attitude is displayed by majority representatives toward the minority.
The structure of the dialogue is planned by the majority and announced to the minority.
The agenda of the dialogue is planned by the majority and announced to the minority.
Numerical representation in the dialogue is skewed.
As a result of these inequities, members of the minority group may refuse to dialogue under such conditions, a response that can be puzzling to the majority.  Why do they refuse the hand of friendship that we’ve proffered?  There are several solutions:

No matter what political, social or economic inequalities may prevail, the partners in an interreligious dialogue must be viewed by all as equals.
Planning for the dialogue should include all groups that are expected to participate.
Representation should be as numerically equal as possible.
It might be better for a group other than the majority to host the dialogue.
Bi-lateral or Multi-lateral?

This is a very important question.  Bi-lateral dialogues are safer, since each group is faced with only one alternative set of perceptions.  Historic tensions between traditions are significant and must be addressed.  This can be extremely complex with more than two groups.  It is sometimes best to begin the dialogue process as a bi-lateral, or series of bi-lateral meetings.  When the participants feel comfortable with the prospect of three or more traditions being represented at the same time, a multi-lateral experience can be attempted.  One way to make the transition is the gradual expansion of an initial bi-lateral dialogue group.

The Process Over Time

When representatives of different religious traditions get together for the first time their strongest desire may be to have their concerns heard.  It is entirely possible that they have come only to speak, and not to listen.  They may have been waiting a long time for an opportunity to be heard.  Two or more groups engaging in such behavior during a meeting can create a chaotic atmosphere.  One colleague calls this “playing tapes at each other.”
Needless to say such behavior feels unproductive, but it is necessary to allow everyone a reasonable amount of time to have their say.  At that point an appeal can be made for mutual listening and openness.  The transition to a true desire to hear and understand the other marks the beginnings of trust and the possibility for broader and deeper discussion.

Trust is the essential ingredient, and it manifests itself as participants begin to see each other as human beings, as individuals, as “faces rather than positions.”  Some dialogue groups share a meal together before each dialogue session.  “First eat, then meet” is a good way to build personal relationships that carry over into the discussion.  True friendships emerge, and ancient religious barriers are often transcended.

Topic for discussion should be carefully chosen, again with full participation in the planning by all or a representative segment of the participants.  There are some topics that lend themselves to agreement, and these should be addressed early in the process.  Others clearly lead to disagreement, and should be tackled only when the group feels ready for the possibility of have to “agree to disagree” while remaining friends.

Policies, Good Works and Public Statements

The essential task of an interreligious dialogue group is to develop personal relationships and to explore concepts from the perspective of different religious traditions.  It is basically a personal and intellectual process.  Some members of the group may bring requests for advocacy on political issues that can destroy the group’s cohesiveness, since not all members will necessarily agree with the position taken.  It might be wise, particularly in the early stages of a dialogue group’s existence, to maintain a limited focus on discussion rather than advocacy or action.  There may be, however, a shared desire on the part of the group to develop some interfaith activities that benefit the surrounding community.  Such activities, if carefully planned and executed, can build even further trust and friendship among the participants.  In come communities, interfaith associations have made public statements to calm populations in the wake of potentially divisive events.  All such interventions should be carefully considered and approved in advance by the entire group.

Interfaith Worship or Celebration

Inevitably the possibility of different traditions worshipping together is suggested, and this process has been tried in many different ways.  In the United States, the holiday of Thanksgiving provides a particularly good opportunity for interfaith worship or celebration, since giving thanks in some way is a phenomenon common to all religious traditions.

There are some concerns, however, to be addressed when interfaith worship is approached.  Observances that dilute worship experiences down to the “lowest common denominator” are offensive to many people for whom tradition has strong meaning.  They are disturbed when an attempt is made to design worship that expresses none of the traditional expressions familiar to them.  A more successful approach to interfaith worship or celebration uses authentic traditional forms in a multi-faith setting.  Readings, chants, music, dance, visual arts, and other representations are combined to create an experience of the many forms of worship found in our religiously pluralistic culture.  Silence, too, is a unifying element in which each individual worshipper can utilize the moment to express devotions in her or his own way.

One cannot overestimate the desirability of authenticity in traditional forms, and the beauty that emanates when original languages, music and text are combined.  A caution is needed here, too.  Each tradition contains considerable diversity within itself, and the exercise of finding commonality in expression is one that has to be applied by the members of diverse bodies within traditions when planning an interfaith service of worship or celebration.

[1] John Hick, “The Pluralist Case: a Christian in the Midst of Eastern Faiths” in World Faiths Encounter, Number 6, November 1993. London, England.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Leonard Swidler, “The Dialogue Decalogue: Ground Rules for Interreligious, Interideological Dialogue” in Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 20:1, Winter 1983.

 

 

The Order of Servants of Mary in the Era of Globalization

 

CG06

Introduction

 

The events that have transpired in the last three decades have tremendously effected a radical change and influenced the flow of our human history. It is indeed a tapestry of evolving civilizations and conditions interwoven in unprecedented manner within the sphere of human experiences.

We are living in an era of globalization. It is a product of interaction and integration among the people, businesses, and governments of different nations, a process driven by international trade, free market and investment and aided by information technology. Many have been overtaken by surprise, fear and awe as this global phenomenon unfolds.

What are the impact and future implications of living in a globalized economic system? Why is there global inequality and is it getting worse? What is the role of the internet/communication/technology in globalization? How is globalization affecting the world? How is globalization affecting culture? What are the environmental impacts of globalization? Are we moving towards a more dehumanized society? Are there alternatives to Globalization? These are some of the frequently asked questions by the various sectors of society.

As Servants of Mary we echo the same concern and apprehension. We seek for illumination and ways of understanding this phenomenon. We search, reflect and study its implications on our life as consecrated persons and as lay members of the Servite family. This short article does not pretend to offer the whole picture of this evolving global process. Rather it aims to provide a source for further discussion and reflection in our communities and groups.

The World Arena

The forces of change brought about by globalization are unrelenting and continue to accelerate modern society toward an uncertain world where the latest marvels of human ingenuity will co-exist with previously unreached depths of depravity. It has ushered us into a more increasingly globalized humanity faced with climate change, dwindling resources, overpopulation, migration problem and technological upheaval.  It is important to understand this current phenomenon and eventually study its adverse effects in the lives of peoples and communities.

The first one is on food security. The obvious reason is that everybody needs food. But the complexity of delivering sufficient food to a national population and to the whole world’s population shows why food security is such a priority for all countries, whether developing or developed. In short, this is a global challenge because it’s not just about food and feeding people but also about practically all aspects of an economy and society.

Second is, Climate Change. We are already seeing and feeling the impacts of climate change with weather events such as droughts and storms becoming more frequent and intense, changing rainfall patterns, glaciers have shrunk, ice on rivers and lakes is breaking up earlier, plant and animal ranges have shifted and trees are flowering sooner. In his remarks to the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, Pope Francis blamed environmental degradation on “a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity” that causes untold suffering for the poor who “are cast off by society.” He further stated that, “The ecological crisis, and the large-scale destruction of biodiversity, can threaten the very existence of the human species.”

Third, the global financial crisis revealed significant weaknesses in the financial system and some of the vulnerabilities that can result from having such an interconnected global market. The Great Recession hit many developed economies in the wake of the financial crisis of 2007-2008. After a year the great recession was declared to come to its end, but many could still feel its ill-effects even up to this current time. In fact, several years after the crisis, the world economy is still struggling with slow growth, unconventional monetary policy in major economies, and constrained government budgets.

Fourth, there is massive forced migration. International migration has become a reality that touches almost every corner of the globe. The least expensive modern means of transport has made it easier and faster for people to move. A complex of factors such as civil conflicts, human rights abuse, extreme poverty, and misguided development schemes have produced in many countries around the world an unprecedented number of migrant workers and people looking for jobs beyond their national borders. Migration is changing the face of the world as the majority of the world’s population now lives in large conurbations that have created a pluralization of societies never before seen on such a scale. A collateral effect of migration is the proliferation of human trafficking. Human trafficking is a form of modern slavery—a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that denies freedom to 20.9 million people around the world.
Fifth, the push for economic growth in recent decades has led to substantial increases in wealth for large numbers of people across the globe. But despite huge gains in global economic output, there is evidence that our current social, political and economic systems are exacerbating inequalities, rather than reducing them. The erratic patterns of global capitalism are increasing patterns of inequality in many parts of the world.

Sixth, the communication technologies are changing the way we live, work, produce and consume. Some sectors are saying that we are entering the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a technological transformation driven by a ubiquitous and mobile internet.

The Perspective of the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church is no stranger to globalization in a certain sense. The Church’s mission from the beginning has been to spread the Good News to every corner of the earth. In the course of pursuing that mission for 2,000 years, she has time and again confronted challenges posed by transformations of culture as well as by cultural differences. These great transformations in the history of the Church are seen as evolving phases rather than culminations.

Globalization seems to be spreading a thin transnational culture that is not only resistant to ethical perspectives, but inimical to respect for the dignity of all members of the human family. The Catholic social tradition is one in which the faithful are obliged to be active in working for justice, freedom, respect for the dignity of the person, the common good, and peace. Pope John Paul II has counseled and modeled a cautiously hopeful view of globalization. Provided that the principle of common humanity is recognized, he said in his World Day of Peace Message in 2000, “this recognition can give the world as it is today — marked by the process of globalization — a soul, a meaning and a direction. Globalization, for all its risks, also offers exceptional and promising opportunities, precisely with a view to enabling humanity to become a single family, built on the values of justice, equity and solidarity.”

Pope Francis in his recent address to the Roman Roundtable of Global Foundation on January 14, 2017 called for a more fraternal and cooperative globalization as opposed to the globalization of indifference.  This means that we need to take a second look, trying to understand the concepts of human dignity and human rights and our responsibility to one another, and to find solutions that are constructive going forward.

As the global community, developed and envisioned the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals, Pope Francis reiterated the importance of respecting human dignity – the lack of concern for persons is a sign of regression and dehumanization in any political or economic system. The Church reminds the world of the globality of human nature and of the need for a universal solidarity between all peoples. Christian solidarity consists in making ourselves responsible for the welfare of others. It is more than compassion or sentiments, as it calls for a full reciprocity in human relationships.

The Challenges of Globalization to the Consecrated Life

Undoubtedly, the current world arena greatly influences the faith-life and witnessing of Christian faith. Globalization affects our daily lives in all aspects. Seemingly, the dynamics involved could not be fully understood, because it is developing and evolving, a process whose outcome is still unclear.

An important sector of the Church, the consecrated life has been affected positively and negatively  by this phenomenon, provoking  a critical situation that has been evident in the recent decades:   radical shifts in demographics, economic problems stemming from the global financial crisis, restructuring of presences, understanding the mission in the contemporary times, the weakening of fraternal and the spiritual life, issues of internationalization, the threats posed by relativism and a sense of isolation and social irrelevance, together with the preoccupation over an uncertain future among others. Are we living in a time of upheaval that will call forth new forms of consecrated life even as current institutes either radically reconstitute themselves or disappear altogether?

History would teach us that despite the challenges of the changing times, the religious institutes of men and women in the Catholic Church have often emerged at times of upheaval or profound social change. The eremitic and monastic movements of the fourth century began in Syria and Egypt in response to Christianity no longer a persecuted minority in the Roman Empire, but now the default religious position of the majority. Monasticism in the West both guarded a classical heritage and was the seedbed of a missionary movement that evangelized northern Europe and beyond. The rise of the mendicant orders in the thirteenth century was a response to the rebirth of the cities in medieval Europe and to new institutions such as the universities. The apostolic orders of the early modern period and then again at the time of the Industrial Revolution and the expansionist policies of imperial Europe in the nineteenth century, addressed social needs that had been exacerbated by urbanization, industrialization and colonialism.

 

From the many current studies and  researches  made on the consecrated life, one could conclude that the  present form—structures, organization, work methods, lifestyle—does not respond adequately to the needs and challenges of a society that is changed and is changing radically and is shaped by modern information and communication technologies. As consecrated men and women of our time, the change in an era is leading us to a new paradigm, shifting gears in order to seek for new way of being in the Church and in the world.

The Order of Servants of Mary:  A Paradigm Shift

In the last three decades, the Order developed and evolved in an unprecedented manner with new openings in Asia and Africa and at the same time attempts of re-foundation of the Order were made in the east European bloc. With the recent developments in the Order, the newer foundations are looking for expansions and collaboration with the older jurisdictions. The presence of multi-cultural communities is making itself more evident in these past years. Many vocations coming in from countries where we are not present, is a current phenomenon. Formation work is becoming more complex and demanding, from cross-cultural and inter-generational perspectives.

These new developments are challenging our common vocation as Servites in the aspects of evangelization, Servite spirituality, cross-cultural integration, community life, vocations, formation, witnessing and ministry in the present history. We have to discern and evaluate this new and emerging reality in order to respond to the needs of the times.

A Call to a Renewed Consecrated Life

Globalization demands of us new competencies that are able to face new complexities, but at the core, our mission is still the same: to proclaim Christ to the world and to reach out to those who find themselves at the margins and peripheries of life.

We have to go back at the core of our “sequela Christi”. We have to proclaim Jesus, the Incarnate Word especially in this crucial moment of our history. By His gratuitous act of love, our spiritual lives must bring us to be in touch intimately with our own humanity. We have to feel anew that love affair we had and still have with our Savior. As Christians and consecrated persons we must be passionate about Christ and transmit the same passion to everyone. The Gospel should not only be proclaimed to others, it should serve as our mirror as we continue to tread along the many and diverse crossroads in life.

Listening to His Word must lead us to respond to the plight of brothers and sisters. It is not enough to read it; it is not enough to meditate. Jesus asks us to implement it, to live his words. While globalization and technological developments have given us more and more control over the external world, they have given us little grasp of the inner world of the human person and the ultimate questions of human existence. It has somehow blinded us to see the suffering reality of our people.

We have to go back to the very core of our vocation and be able to read the signs of the times and creatively interpret our servite charism. The new call urges us to go to the existential peripheries of life where the marginalized, the hopeless, migrants, refugees, abandoned, sick and elderly, and desperate young people are waiting. Our life is above all a life of radical self-giving in service to others even in the midst of ingratitude, misunderstanding, and rejection and downright evil.

We may ask ourselves: am I anxious for God, anxious to proclaim him, to make him known? How passionate am I for Christ and for humanity? Do I have the same passion for our people; am I close to them to the point of sharing in their joys and sorrows, thus truly understanding their needs and helping to respond to them?

New Vocations

One important aspect of consecrated life is vocation. While there is abundance of vocations coming from the southern hemisphere of the world, the prospect of new vocations seems to be gloomy in the western jurisdictions of the Order. Despite this contrasting vocation reality, it is imperative that we continue to promote Servite vocation.  In order to develop effective vocation programs, every vocation director or directress, or every Servite in particular, must be familiar with the reality of the young people of today.

When we speak of the young people of today, we are dealing with the so-called Generation Y (the Millennial) and the Generation Z (also known as Post-Millennial, the iGeneration, Founders, Plurals, or the Homeland Generation).  The Generation Y is the generation of children born between 1982 and 2002, some 81 million children who have taken over K-12, have already entered college and the workforce. It is generally marked by an increased use and familiarity with communications, media, and digital technologies. On the other hand, the Generation Z is the demographic cohort following the Millennial. Demographers and researchers typically use starting birth years that range from the mid-1990s to early 2000. A significant aspect of this generation is the widespread usage of the Internet from a young age. They are typically thought of as being comfortable with technology, and interacting on social media websites for a significant portion of their socializing.

Both generations live in two parallel worlds. Their lives are interwoven both in the real and virtual world. The knowledge of reality passes almost exclusively through the mediation of social media. For many young people the virtual world is a place where you feel the security and the freedom to express themselves without fear of being judged.

Vocations today, in addition to the initiative of God, arise as a result of a new cultural mediation deeply that let glimpse the youth of today. This digital world, also called the sixth continent that favors the new anthropologies and ways of thinking.

Am I ready to go out from my comfort zone to be with the young people of today? How prepared am I to meet this generation in the digital world they call their new “home.”

Collaborative Ministry

Faced with the challenge of providing services to people, the enormous task of maintaining huge structures and with fewer members, many religious institutes find themselves in this desperate situation. Many are abandoning their ministries, closing communities and selling their properties.  Pope Francis reminds that we should open ourselves to a new religious life style that is inclusive – ad-intra e ad-extra, a kind of “networking” where communion and the encounter between different communities, institutes, charisms and vocation becomes a journey of hope. No one builds the future by isolating themselves. The present situation of every religious institute calls for communion that is always open to encounter, dialogue, listening, and mutual aid. In this endeavor we must not forget the important role of our lay groups who, with consecrated persons, share the same ideal, spirit, and mission.

Collaborative ministry is not new in the Order. We have had experience of collaborative effort in various aspects among the various members of the Servite Family. Even in the present times cooperation inside the family is visible in some regions of world. We have to encourage and foster this significant value in order to foster and deepen our fraternal spirit.

Do you find this “time” an opportune occasion for us to step out more courageously from the confines of our respective Institutes and to work together, at the local and global levels, on projects involving formation, evangelization, and social action? As a family, which area are we willing to collaborate and promote a common endeavor? What does lay active participation and involvement means to me?

The Challenge of the Multicultural and Extraterritorial Communities

In the early eighties, Italian congregations began their work of recruitment of new vocations from Asia and Africa. Many young people came to have their initial formation in Italy and eventually some of them stayed to do their mission work in Italy and other countries. With the end of communism in the Eastern Europe, a new wave of vocations was coming from this bloc and as a result there have been efforts of re-foundations and new openings among some religious institutes. One thing that is happening now is the fact that we are living through such a time of contraction as has happened at different times in the past, as religious institutes merge their provinces, and smaller institutes merge together into new entities.

 

In the recent years with decreasing number of vocations in Europe, North America and opening of new mission territories, there seems to be a trend of calling confreres and sisters from other jurisdictions to help out in continuing the congregation’s mission. Religious communities, which have become more multicultural from the point of view of ethnicity and culture, demand that superiors and all the members of these communities become sensitive to this new reality. Nevertheless, while this constitutes a challenge to religious life, it is good to affirm the fact that we are not dealing with something that is impossible. Those in leadership are constantly faced with a challenge of animating communities towards a socio-cultural, relational, ecclesial integration among its members. Another reality that is in parallel is the so-called extraterritorial communities (communities (friars/sisters) of the same ethnic group operating in a foreign jurisdiction/territory). There is an urgent need to address the current situation by creating venues for an open dialogue, community sessions, reflections and discussions of the past and present experiences. A periodic evaluation has to be conducted in order to monitor the problems, processes and progress of mutual integration and eventually develop manuals and guidelines to facilitate the creation and implementation of similar projects in the future.

 

Are we open, sensitive and willing to understand the richness and the values of culture, as well as respect the cultural characteristics of the brothers and sisters who form part of our communities? Are we ready to dialogue, confront and exchange our present experiences?

 

 

Conclusion and Recommendations

We are called to engage in dialogue and to seek resolutions and solutions in order to respond the challenging issues of the times. We are called to analyze these new experiences and ways of thinking in order to arrive at new ways of living and acting. Every Servite, therefore, must be equipped with a capacity for dialogue, acquire the ability to speak the language of his contemporaries and assimilate the riches of diverse cultural and religious thought. (cf OSM Const 107)

In our ardent desire towards a paradigm shift, I would like to recommend the working method proposed by the Church. In Mater et Magistra Pope John XXIII affirms the process of See, Judge, Act as a way of reading and responding to the signs of the time:

Seeing, hearing, and experiencing the lived reality of individuals and communities. Naming what is happening that causes you concern and examining carefully and intentionally the primary data of the situation. What are the people in this situation doing, feeling, and saying? What is happening to them and how do you/they respond? What do you know about this issue or what did you observe? What specific facts can you cite about this issue or experience? What did you learn or observe? How do you feel in the face of this issue or experience? How does it touch you personally? Therefore, there is a need to be connected – to be personally connected with one’s reality around him.

To Judge is to analyze the situation and make an informed judgment about it. Judging involves Social Analysis and Theological reflection. Social analysis helps us to obtain a more complete picture of the social situation by exploring its historical and structural relationships. Why does this situation exist? What are the root causes? Theological Reflection explores the experience and its deeper analysis, in dialogue with the religious tradition. What Scripture passages can help us to interpret this experience? How do biblical values us to see this reality in a different way? What does Catholic social teaching say about this issue? What key principles from Catholic social teaching apply to this situation?

And lastly, what action needs to be taken to change the situation? To address root causes? How would you transform the structures and relationships that produce this situation? How can you act to empower those who are disadvantaged in this situation? How will you evaluate the effectiveness of your action?

We can live life as chronos by doing all the things we must do each day. Or we can live life as kairos, by looking for meaning among the circumstances of our day.

This is the time for innovation.

This is the favorable time to begin anew with zeal and enthusiasm.

This is the propitious time to make a leap of faith.

This is the right to time to decide for a better future.

This is the opportune time to act together.

 

Fr. Rhett M. Sarabia, OSM

A MULTI-FACETED ECOLOGY, THE NEW IDEAL FOR RELIGIOUS ORDERS

The Rome bulletin Adista transcribed the principal parts of a talk delivered by the president of the Spanish Conference of Religious (Confer), Fr. Alejandro Fernandez Barrajon, a religious from the Order of Our Lady of Mercy (June 7, 2008, pp. 6-9). Confer is an organization that represents 64,000 religious in Spain and has an increasingly influential voice in national events. Barrajon’s speech – entitled “Consecrated Life and the Integrity of Creation” – was delivered at the Week of Religious Life Conference that took place in Bilbao.

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The talk is of interest because it summarizes and gives shape to a general tendency that is becoming prevalent in religious orders and congregations around the world, as well as in the secular clergy.

An anti-capitalist ecological approach

Early in his presentation, Fr. Fernandez Barrajon takes an anti-capitalist approach. Indeed, he says: “The ecological situation of the planet is reaching an irreversible deterioration caused by a devastating model of development … The solution implies, therefore, a change in the consumer lifestyle of developed society toward a reduction of consumer products and a greater respect for the environment.”

Why should religious orders and the Church enter the green arena to promote ecology? He answers: “In the face of the frightening organization of the prevailing system, Confer proposes an evangelical, compassionate and Samaritan spirituality that promotes a simple, welcoming and common life; a transforming and liberating social praxis that may interest a network of Church congregations and institutions as well as other social movements.”

Fr. Barrajon’s first aim, then, is to engage the religious orders in a liberating social movement in order to change the present day consumer mentality. Only secondarily does he refer to ecology properly speaking. “We must favor the awakening of an ecological consciousness that expresses itself through concrete, coherent options,” he says.

According to the president of Confer, global warming, droughts, flooding, forest destruction, desert growth around the world – along with other meteorological disasters – are caused directly or indirectly by the present-day economy. He warns: “The alarm is being sounded in many places of the world, but strong economic interests and the established power systems silence those voices in order to maintain their political weight and sustain these empires.” Further, he emphatically insists: “Today more than ever, we must stop the economic dynamics that are destroying everything.”

These few excerpts from the Spanish religious would already be enough to include him as a member of Liberation Theology, which has caused – and continues to produce – so much damage. Instead of taking up the banner to liberate the poor – as the Boffs, Bettos and Gutierrez did – he pretends to save the planet. But to do so he must destroy the same “enemy” that Liberation Theology aimed to demolish, that is, Capitalism. At the very least, one can say that Liberation Theology and Ecological Theology are friendly and helpful fellow travelers on the same road.

Ecology of man, nature and spirit

Fr. Barrajon further distinguishes three types of ecology: of man, of nature, and of the spirit.  His ecology of man makes the same cry against poverty that we have always heard from Communists, Socialists, Distributists and Progressivists. Here is his new ecological presentation of the same problem:
“The ecology of man gives first place to the shameful situation of radical poverty in which millions of human beings live. This is the most perverse attack on ecology. In the face of the misery of so many human beings without a future or hope, there can be no half-measures. … above all, at a time when there are abundant natural and economic resources to respond to this situation that cries out to Heaven.”

Now we have the Spanish religious demanding that this same “consumer economy” he wants to destroy should first voluntarily give everything to the poor. If he really wants to be just, why doesn’t Fr. Barrajon at least acknowledge that it is Capitalism that has produced the abundance of food and goods he wants to distribute? It would be the only decent position to take. He could, for example, say: ‘You are very efficient, but bad.’ But his hatred for the system is so deep-rooted that his only mention of its efficiency is to demand that the surplus of goods it produces must be given to the poor.

Here is another curious thing: Why doesn’t Barrajon make the same demand to the Communist systems? After all, taking advantage of Nixon’s detente policy, Carter’s economic protection, and artificial injections of capital from the Western bourgeoisie, China has become a strong economic power. It has such a surplus of money that it is practically “buying” many countries in Africa, that is to say, entering into controlling contracts that allow China direct exploitation of Africa’s natural riches.

Fr, Barrajon, who blames Europe for contaminating the waters and killing the fish of Lake Victoria in Africa, conveniently forgets to mention that China is economically dominating and exploiting entire countries in Africa (1). It is an omission that appears very biased: everything that is Capitalist is bad; everything that is Communist escapes his razor-sharp indignation. It seems to indicate his tendency to favor the latter system.

Just in passing: Barrajon includes all immigration issues around the world as part of the ecology of man. Then he goes on to explain the ecology of nature. Suddenly he becomes poetic and imagines an illusory nature: “Nature is God’s paradise for humankind,” he croons. Since he does not seem to believe in the real Paradise where our first parents resided, he applies the words of Genesis to nature as it exists now. Original sin and God’s punishment are also out of Barrajon’s picture. He says about today’s nature what the Bible says about all of creation: “And [God] saw that the ensemble was good.”

As a religious, Fr. Barrajon should know that after original sin, the ensemble of nature was chastised in different degrees. But he pretends there was no such punishment. So, for him, there would be no salmonella from eggs, no mad-cow disease from beef, no bird flu virus from poultry, no bubonic plague from rats, no malaria from mosquitoes; rather, everything is good and a part of “God’s paradise.” The only blame should be placed on the consumer system. In his talk, he returns to this indictment: “Hidden behind the disrespect for and destruction of nature is an oppressive system saturated with harmful interests.”

Now, let us go to his ecology of the spirit, which in principle should be his main point, since he is addressing the topic of religious life. Here, Fr. Fernandez Barrajon introduces and mixes two meanings of ecology of spirit.

His first meaning is to seek a better-quality life. He states: “Definitively, we should look for those areas where a greater and better-quality life is possible. Ours is indisputably a commitment to a quality life. The ecology of spirituality signifies a more complete vision of nature that is not just the material reality.”
His second meaning considers the earth itself as an object of faith… He says: “We need to make ideological and emotional changes to situate ourselves correctly into our context with a spiritual gaze that makes us value and love our earth as a privileged and necessary ambit for the faith.”

To understand what Barrajon wants to say in this last paragraph, a distinction must be made. The traditional Catholic teaching tells us that all of nature is a reflection of God’s wisdom and should be the object of our contemplation as well as an instrument to know, love and serve the Creator. However, Catholic teaching does not affirm that the contemplation of the earth as such is “necessary,” as Barrajon declares. I think that it is convenient, but in essence it is dispensable. A Catholic may very well know God through other means. This supposed necessity to love the earth that Barrajon advocates takes on a kind of Buddhist or Hindu connotation. It looks like he is affirming that people must in some way adore a pantheistic divine presence disseminated on the earth or some pagan deity such as Gaia, a mythological entity that supposedly is the goodness of the earth.

But Barrajon doesn’t linger long in the theoretical; he quickly returns to practical measures: no wasting water in showers, no unneeded lights turned on, no air-conditioners, no elevators in three or four-storied buildings. These comforts should be avoided; otherwise, “we are contributing to a scandalous inequality, to a structural injustice, to the arrogant abuse of the man who has and wants everything for himself.”

A new religious ideal

Fr. Fernandez Barrajon closes his talk with an invitation for religious to adopt a new ideal. The religious under his direction should strive for “an engaged, coherent spirituality that will lead us along the path of austerity, bring us close to the poor, and give us the disposition to share our lives and goods. The obsolete structures that give us an image of wealth should gradually be shut down, in some cases by necessity, in others by conviction.”Small ecological communities will sprout that will be strongly committed to a serene, peaceful living in nature, using solar energy, consuming natural products, proposing an open spirituality and ecological exercises as profound as the spiritual ones.”

Communism, Buddhism and Yoga mixing with Catholicism would seem to be on the horizon to mold these religious groups of the future and replace the traditional Catholic ideals of the religious life as it existed before Vatican II. Insofar as the views of Fr. Fernandez Barrajon will prevail, the future will give us a Liberation Theology with another name, composed of Base Christian Communities with a green touch.

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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