On May 10, 2019, the Holy Father Francis received in audience, in Paul VI Hall, the participants in the Meeting of the International Union of Superiors General, being held in Rome from May 6-10, on the occasion of the 21st Plenary Assembly entitled “Sowers of Prophetic Hope,” with the participation of some 850 Superiors General from 80 countries.
Here is a translation of the Holy Father’s address in the course of the audience.
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The Holy Father’s Address
I’m very happy to receive you today, on the occasion of your General Assembly, and to wish you a paschal time full of peace, joy and passion to take the Gospel to all corners of the earth. Yes, Easter is all this, and it invites us to be witnesses of the Risen One by living a new evangelizing stage marked by joy. No one can rob us of the passion for evangelization. There is no Easter without mission: “Go and proclaim the Gospel to all men” (Cf. Matthew 16:15-20). The Lord asks His Church to show the triumph of Christ over death; He asks that she show His Life. Go, Sisters, and proclaim the Risen Christ as source of joy that no one can take away from us. Renew constantly your encounter with the Risen Jesus Christ and you will be His witnesses, taking to all men and women loved by the Lord — particularly those that feel themselves victims of the culture of exclusion –, the sweet and comforting joy of the Gospel.
Consecrated life, as Saint John Paul II affirmed in his day, as any other reality of the Church, is going through a “delicate and hard” time (Saint John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata, 13). In face of the numerical decrease that consecrated life is living, particularly the feminine, the temptation is that of discouragement, resignation or “arrocamiento” [hardening] in “it has always been done like this.”
In this context, I repeat to you energetically what I’ve said to you on other occasions: don’t be afraid to be few, but be afraid of being insignificant, of no longer being light that illumines all those that are immersed in the “dark night” of history. Neither must you be afraid of “confessing with humility and at the same time with great trust in God’s love, your fragility” (“Letter to All the Consecrated,” November 21. 2014, I, 1). Be afraid, more than that, panic if you fail to be salt that gives flavor to the life of men and women of our society. Work tirelessly to be watchmen that announce the coming of dawn (Cf. Isaiah 21:11-12); to be ferment where you meet and with whom you meet, even if that seemingly doesn’t bring you tangible and immediate benefits (Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 210). There are many people that need you and wait for you. They need your friendly smile which gives back confidence to them; <they need> your hands to support them in their journey, your word that sows hope in their hearts, your life in Jesus’ style (Cf. John 13:1-15), which heals the most profound wounds caused by loneliness, rejection and exclusion. Never give in to the temptation of self-reference, of becoming “closed armies.” Neither should you take refuge “in a work to elude the charism’s operative capacity” (“The Strength of Vocation,” 56). Rather, develop the imagination of charity and live creative fidelity to your charisms. With them you will be able to “reproduce the holiness and the creativity of your Founders” (Saint John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata, 37), opening new paths to take the breadth and light of the Gospel to the different cultures in which you live and work, in the most diverse ambits of society, as they did in their time. With them you will be capable of re-visiting your charism, of going to the roots living the present suitably, without being afraid to walk, “without letting the water stop running [. . . ]. Consecrated life is like water: stagnant it rots” (“The Strength of Vocation,” 44-45). And so, without losing the memory, always necessary to live the present with passion, you will avoid “restorationism” as well as the ideology of whatever sign it is, which do so much damage to consecrated life and to the Church herself.
And do everything with your humble presence and service, always animated by free prayer and the prayer of adoration and praise. To pray, to praise and to adore is not to waste time. The more united we are to the Lord, the closer we will be to humanity, particularly suffering humanity. “Our future will be full of hope,” as the motto of this Plenary Assembly affirms, and our projects will be projects with a future, in the measure that we pause daily before the Lord in the gratitude of prayer, if we don’t want the wine to be turned into vinegar and the salt to become insipid. It will only be possible to know the plans the Lord has made for us if we keep our eyes and our heart turned to the Lord, contemplating His Face and listening to His Word (Cf. Psalm 33). Only thus will you be able to awaken the world with your prophecy, distinctive note and priority of your being religious and consecrated (Cf. “Letter to All the Consecrated,” November 21, 22014, II, 2). The more urgent it is to be de-centered to go to the existential peripheries, the more urgent it is to be centered on Him and concentrated on the essential values of our charisms.
In regard to fraternal life in community, I’m concerned that there are Institutes in which multi-culturalism and internationalization aren’t seen as a richness, but as a threat, and they are lived as conflict, instead of living them as new possibilities that show the true face of the Church and of religious and consecrated life. I ask those responsible in Institutes to open themselves to the new — proper of the Spirit, which blows where it will and as it wills (Cf. John 3:8) and to prepare generations of other cultures to assume responsibilities. Live the change of your communities’ face with joy, and not as an evil needing conversion. There is no going back on internationalism and inter-culturalism.
I am worried by the generational conflicts, when young people are unable to carry forward the dreams of the elderly to make them fructify, and the elderly don’t accept the prophecy of young people (Cf. Joel 2:28). As I like to repeat: young people run a lot, but the adults know the way. Necessary in a community are both the wisdom of the elderly as well as the inspiration and strength of young people.
Dear Sisters: in you I thank all the Sisters of your Institutes for the great work they do in the different peripheries in which they live. The periphery of education, in which to educate is to win always, to win for God; the periphery of health, in which you are servants and messengers of life, and of a worthy life; and the periphery of pastoral work in its most varied manifestations, in which, witnessing the Gospel with your lives, you are manifesting the maternal face of the Church. Thank you for what you are and for what you do in the Church. Never stop being women. “It’s not necessary to stop being a woman to be equal” (“The Strength of Vocation.” 111). At the same time, I ask <you to> cultivate passion for Christ and passion for humanity. Without passion for Christ and for humanity, there is no future for religious and consecrated life. Passion will fling you to prophecy, to be fire that light other fires. Continue to take steps in the mission shared between different charisms and with the laity, calling them to significant works, without leaving anyone without the due formation and the sense of belonging to the charismatic family. Work on mutual relations with Pastors, including them in your discernment and integrating them in the selection of presences and ministries. The path of consecrated life, both masculine as well as feminine, is the path of ecclesial insertion. Outside of the Church and in parallel with the local Church, things don’t work. Pay great attention to formation, both permanent as well as initial and to the formation of formators, capable of listening and of accompanying, of discerning, of going out to encounter those that call at our doors. And, even in the midst of the trials we might be going through, live your consecration with joy. That’s the best vocational propaganda.
May the Virgin accompany you and protect you with her maternal intercession. For my part, I bless you from my heart and I bless all the Sisters that the Lord has entrusted to you. And, please, don’t forget to pray for me.
[Original text: Spanish] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester].