Apostolic Religious Life, a way of life that unites contemplation and action – Pope Francis described us in a short word when he met with the UISG members in May 2013 when he told us that our life implies continuously making an exodus from ourselves to centre our life on Christ and his gospel, leaving aside our plans in order to say It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. This exodus means setting out on a path of adoration and service, the two being inseparable.
We have been here listening and participating for three days. What will we take home with us.
My answer is linked to the three characteristics of apostolic religious life:
First characteristic: We each have had a meeting with the risen Christ that disturbed our life to the point of leaving all to follow him, attracted to His way of life, How far is this attraction still alive to day? Are we still in love? Our joy comes from the continual deepening of our relationship with Christ.
Second characteristic: Forming community with those who have heard the same call. Community life is central, but it is not understood and practiced in the same way by all. Community life is like the test of whether we are truly disciples, because if one does not love the sister who she sees how can she love God whom she does not see? Today our communities are often inter-cultural. How open are we to welcome and respect each other? How truly are we putting everything in common? We are called to discern together what God is telling us today, each having her word to say. Sr Nicla yesterday reminded us of the importance of synodality as a way of functioning, rather than a hierarchical way.
Pope Francis has also called us to a simple life style, to an integral ecology. We have a lot to do in this area – to be aware of the consequences of all we do on others and on nature.
Third characteristic: being with Christ we are sent out on a mission Ad gentes and sometimes also ad extra to other cultures. For there are many forms within this one category in fact and the way we live differs quite a bit from one Institute to another. This means that we need to continually listen to what society is living, to scrutinize the signs of the times, to listen to what is being lived by our societies. We know that God always hears the cry of the poor who call on him and he sends someone in his name. So we need to hear the calls. We have been doing a lot, trying to heal, to give a helping hand, to prevent social ills through education and accompaniment, to denounce injustice.
We are already working in the peripheries of society, with women who are often left behind in society, with abused children and adults, with street children, with the sick, the economically poor and those suffering in all sorts of ways. A number of religious live and interrelate in inter-religious milieus. We also want to prevent social ills through education, formal and informal, working in Universities, health care centres, doing youth work. I cannot mention everything but I would say we work for the dignity of the person, to empower the person to live with dignity.
Today we need to rethink our services, examine what we are doing and see if we need to adapt it, to let it go, to start something new. This calls for courage.
Some calls that need our attention today are: youth who in many countries are searching for reasons to live, the family facing so much change, the old who find it hard to face solitude and pain.
Some of the cries of today are so great and so global they call us to unite our forces, through networking. One big area is trafficking in humans – and yesterday on the news came out that some 10000 migrant minors are “missing” – many are believed to have been trafficked in Europe. Talitha Kum is the network of religious who are working against human trafficking in 70 different countries. The members work to help the victims if possible to be freed and also to denounce the perpetrators, to change something in society.. But this is not enough, and we call especially men religious to wake up and recognize that this is an urgent question for them as well.
The migrant problem needed a rapid response. I know that many congregations took in migrants in their houses. And we have started an intercongregational venture in Sicily, with ten sisters from 8 different congregations. Again this is just one drop. We know much is being done everywhere, and we do need to join forces with other forms of religious life, with lay groups, with all people of good will to be effective.
How far are we ready to do this?
Sr Carmen Sammut, Missionary Sister of Our Lady of Africa
(February 1, 2016, Rome. Reflection during the Final Panel on Consecrated Life in Communion of the International Meeting to close the Year of Consecrated Life)