Religious formators gathered in Rome for a seminar on fashioning new vocations in contemporary society – a task the Vatican’s point man for consecrated life says is not easy, but still full of hope.
Consecrated life is rooted in “the action of God, in the Holy Spirit, (who) calls some people to follow Christ closely, to transmit the Gospel in a specific way of life, to read the signs of the times with eyes of faith, to respond with creativity to the needs of the Church,” Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, said April 8.
Organized by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the April 8-11 seminar was held during the Year for Consecrated Life called for by Pope Francis.
The event began with a prayer vigil April 7, and will close April 11 with a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Braz de Aviz, prefect of the congregation, in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Roughly 1200 religious from all over the world gathered to discuss the fundamental identity of consecrated life as well as formational needs unique to the contemporary age.
In addition to the scheduled presentations, there will be more than 50 workshops on current issues that participants can attend. The seminar will close with a formation forum having an interdicasterial vision.
Cardinal Braz de Aviz spoke with the formators at the beginning of the seminar, telling them that the Year for Consecrated Life is an occasion to “establish common points” on their journey, specifically in the area of formation, which he said is “so important.”
“For all of us the call remains to make fruitful the paths already traveled by many true disciples of Jesus,” the cardinal said, explaining that to bear fruit in this sense involves looking at the present moment, which is new, complex and challenging.
However, despite the challenges present the Lord gives hope, he said, and encouraged the formators to look for new ways to carry forward the work started by their founders and foundresses.
As a guide, the cardinal referenced objectives outlined by Pope Francis for the Year of Consecrated Life, which he said mirror those of St. John Paul II in his 1996 post-synodal exhortation on consecrated life.
“Francis wanted to write us as the Successor of Peter, whom the Lord entrusted the responsibility of confirming his brethren in faith, but also as a brother of the consecrated, dedicated to God like us,” Cardinal Braz de Aviz said.
He stressed the necessity of looking at the past with gratitude, observing that each community and order has a rich charismatic history.
With intense changes in the world that have resulted in new geographical and cultural contexts, consecrated persons have been “disoriented” in terms of their own identity, the cardinal said, explaining that “a new commitment to deepen” that identity is being asked of them.
To remember and keep alive the history of their orders and congregations is not a matter of “doing archeology or cultivating useless nostalgia,” he said, but rather of grasping the “spark” that led founders to create new projects and ideals.
Cardinal Braz de Aviz noted that Pope Francis has called the 50 years since the Second Vatican Council “a breath of the Holy Spirit for the whole Church,” and said the Pope’s invitation to look at the past is an occasion to live the Year for Consecrated Life in humility by recognizing one’s own fragilities, as well as the merciful love of God.
It is an opportunity, he said, “to shout to the world with strength and joyfully give witness to the holiness and vitality present in the majority of those who have been called to follow Christ in the consecrated life.”
The cardinal also mentioned the importance of living the present with passion, and pointed to all the founders and foundresses who sought to live the Gospel with the same passion as Christ.
“Is the Gospel our ‘handbook’ for everyday life?” he asked attendees, stressing that it is not enough to merely read or meditate on it without putting it into action.
He questioned whether Jesus was still their first and only love, which they professed the day they made their vows, and said that Francis, with the Year for Consecrated Life, “questions us about the mission which was entrusted to us.”
“Do our ministries, our works, our presence, respond to what the Holy Spirit asked our founders? Is there something that we need to change? Do we have the same passion for our people, are we close enough to share their joys and sorrows?” the cardinal asked.
To live the present moment with passion means to become “experts of communion,” Cardinal Braz de Aviz said, explaining that in the midst of a culture of confrontation and oppression of the weak, consecrated persons are called to be “a concrete model of community” who foster fraternal relations.
Consecrated persons are also called to embrace the future with hope, he said, noting that a decline in vocations, aging, economic problems, relativism, marginalization, difficulties surrounding internationalism and globalization are all challenges they currently face.
However, “it is precisely in these uncertainties that our hope is realized, (which is) a fruit of faith in the Lord of history who continues to repeat: Be not afraid…because I am with you,” he said.
Cardinal Braz de Aviz closed by noting how hope does not lay in numbers or works, but rather in the Lord for whom “nothing is impossible.”
“This is the hope that will not disappoint and that will allow consecrated life to continue to write a great history in the future, which we must keep looking to, conscious that this is what the Holy Spirit pushes us toward in order to continue to do great things.”