“Being faithful involves the capacity for change,” Pope Francis said November 23, 2017, in a video message for 7th Festival of the Social Doctrine of the Church. The festival runs November 23-26 in Verona, with the theme “Fidelity is Change.”
“The Word of God helps us to distinguish between the two “faces” of change:
- the first is trust, hope, openness to the new;
- the second is the difficulty of leaving certainties to head for the unknown,”
The Holy Father continued: “Indeed, it makes us feel calmer to stay in our enclosure, to conserve, to repeat the usual words and gestures – this makes us feel more secure – rather than to go out, to depart and to start up new processes.”
Text of the Video Message of the Holy Father
Dear brothers and sisters,
I greet you all, participants in the seventh Festival of the Social Doctrine of the Church, which this year is entitled “Fidelity is Change”. This expression, which intentionally causes a certain logical “surprise”, leads us to consider that, in reality, being faithful involves the capacity for change.
Let us think of the experience of Abraham, whom the Bible shows to us as a model of faith. When he was already elderly, God said to him, ““Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Gen 12: 1-2). To be faithful, Abraham had to change, to depart. The Word of God helps us to distinguish between the two “faces” of change: the first is trust, hope, openness to the new; the second is the difficulty of leaving certainties to head for the unknown. Indeed, it makes us feel calmer to stay in our enclosure, to conserve, to repeat the usual words and gestures – this makes us feel more secure – rather than to go out, to depart and to start up new processes.
Let us ask ourselves, then, what happens if we keep our faith in God and man. We have seen in the story of Abraham the effect of the Lord’s calling: his life changed radically, he entered into a new story, unexpected horizons opened up to him, with new skies and new lands. When one responds to God, one always activates a process: something unexpected happens that leads us where we would never have imagined. This is important: a process is always activated, one goes ahead, one does not occupy spaces, one initiates processes.
Fidelity to man means coming out of oneself to meet the real person, his face, his need for tenderness and mercy, to make him come out of anonymity, from the peripheries of existence. Fidelity to man means opening the eyes and the heart to the poor, the sick, to those who have no work, to the many who are wounded by indifference and by an economy that discards and kills, to open oneself to refugees fleeing violence and war. Fidelity to man means defeating the centripetal force of one’s own interests, selfish interests, and making space for passion for the other, rejecting the temptation of desperation and keeping alive the flame of hope.
In such a way, fidelity to God and to man converge in a dynamic movement that takes the form of change in ourselves and change of reality, overcoming immobility and convenience, creating space and work for the young and for their future. Because change is healthy not only when things are going badly, but also when everything works well and we are tempted to make ourselves comfortable with the results obtained. Enlarging our service, participating in other projects, broadening the spaces of creativity, means welcoming the challenge of change precisely to remain faithful to God and to man. It seems to be a contradiction, but fidelity is this path that initiates processes and does not allow us to remain in the spaces that defend us from any creativity, spaces that in the end are of the type: “it has always been done this way”.
In sending you this brief message, I address a fraternal greeting to His Excellency Msgr. Zenti, bishop of Verona, city that hosts the Festival of the Social Doctrine of the Church, to Don Vincenzi and all his colleagues, speakers and volunteers. I hope that this initiative may contribute to inspiring and supporting the evangelizing mission of the Church in the world of work, the economy and politics.
I bless you, and I ask you, please. to pray for me. Thank you!
© Libreria Editrice Vatican
“Our role is no longer to merely ease suffering,
bind up wounds,
and feed the hungry
but through every form of effort
to raise the powers of love upward to the next stage of consciousness.”
— Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Pope Francis says, Church and state bring together unique roles to build community, working for the common good of every person. Earlier in his pontificate, Pope Francis urged sisters to “wake up the world! Be witnesses of a different way of doing things.” Perhaps lobbying is a means of waking up the world. As Jesus urges, “Follow me.”
International sisters’ group addresses interculturality as essential to religious life
Nov. 20, 2017 in Global Sisters Report
Respecting differences. Communicating clearly. Adjusting formation programs to create connection among novices and postulants from various cultures. Extending such awareness training to older members of the community. Remembering that Christianity and the Catholic Church are rooted theologically in international mission.
These were some of the key points discussed Nov. 5-10 during the Council of Delegates meeting of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) in Manila, which was focused on the theme of “building community in an intercultural world.”
The meeting opened with symbolic presentations of colorful scarves, netting and other cloths the 45 delegates who attended brought to represent their regions, joining them together to “weave” global solidarity as they began the weeklong series of sessions, which sister volunteers translated into English, Spanish, Italian and French.
Building on the UISG plenary in May 2016 in Rome and in preparation for the upcoming plenary in May 2019, this halfway-point meeting was to assess how the 36 regional groups, or constellations, across the globe are doing and to get input on the organization’s structure, plans and programs. There are 52 delegates total, representing congregations in 115 countries.
Sessions included updates on UISG programs and goals, an overview of the Vatican Commission for the Protection of Minors and the role sisters can play in protecting children and vulnerable adults, and visits to some congregation ministries in Manila.
Religious congregations are changing, UISG President Sr. Carmen Sammut said in her opening remarks. Communities in Europe, America and Australia are shrinking, with more younger members coming from Africa and Asia. Cultural differences with resultant misunderstandings often arise, she said.
Even congregations with members from the same country are often made up of different ethnic groups, “and sometimes it is more difficult to live together from one country than from many,” Sammut said. “These difficulties often turn around money, power, ethnic superiority — topics we are often ashamed to speak about and so remain unspoken. In the meantime, there is much suffering and unevangelical behavior.”
Making several theological points about multiculturality, he said it isn’t just about the human experience. “It is about God, about the mystery of God,” he said. “We encounter the God of mystery only if we encounter others who are different from us.”
Multiculturality in religious congregations has been part of religious life for decades, even centuries for some congregations as missionaries went abroad, Pernia said. Intercultural communities need to be intentional communities, he said.
“Each member needs to be convinced that internationality or interculturality is an ideal to be sought after or a value to be promoted,” he said. “Intercultural communities do not come about automatically just by simply putting together under the same roof people from different nations and cultures.”
Our instinctive response is exclusion, he said, which is “far easier than inclusion. Exclusion is simple and less complicated, less demanding, less disconcerting, less painful. Once we reject others, we don’t have to deal with them anymore,” he said. Inclusion is complicated, requiring change and taking into account others’ experiences and history.
Formation programs ideally should have candidates for religious life experience living in an intercultural community or training program, he said in response to a question.
Presentations by two sisters with experience leading international, multicultural communities followed.
Sr. Christine Burke was province leader for the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary sisters in Australia, Vietnam and East Timor from 2005 until 2011, then moved to the Philippines in late 2013 to start a house of studies for younger sisters from the province. There, she pioneered a shared community with a group of Congregation of Jesus sisters from Korea and China.
Differences in culture — on the importance of tradition, deference to elders and authority, fear of making mistakes versus taking risks — are evident, Burke said. There’s even a big difference in the understanding of religious life because there are not as many translations of books and articles about the Second Vatican Council available in Asian languages as in English and European ones.
In response to questions she posed to them, Burke said younger sisters in her current community said communication and potential miscommunication is a big challenge. Beyond language, experiences with repressive governments or war can also affect sisters’ willingness to communicate openly. Despite the challenges, Burke said the sisters noted they appreciate the opportunity to let others’ cultures widen their thinking and deepen their own self-understanding.
Sr. Eden Panganiban, who has held several leadership positions with the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit, gave an overview of the cultural changes within the congregation and an acculturation process that the Philippines North Province community uses in welcoming sisters from other countries.
For example, the Missionary Servants of the Holy Spirit were founded in Germany 128 years ago, and, until 15 years ago, Germans were the largest ethnic group in the congregation. By the end of 2016, Indonesians were the largest group in the 3,045-member congregation with 763 sisters (25 percent), followed by Indians at 13.6 percent and Germans at 11 percent. Fifty-one nationalities are represented among the 427 Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit communities around the world, based in 49 countries.
The Philippines North Province has received 100 sisters over the past 10 years, most from other communities throughout Asia for university study, formation courses, to learn English or for cross-cultural mission experience. Currently, the province’s 162 sisters are from 12 nations, with Indonesians and Vietnamese being the largest.
Communication skills, attitude are key
While the integration process is fluid, depending on an individual’s needs, language proficiency and experience, Panganiban said there are four distinct parts to the process. The first two steps provide basic information about the community and sensitivity training to appreciate cultural differences through formal sessions or informal exchanges. A third step is guided immersion, or “learning by doing,” which helps foster a sense of belonging and addresses culture shock. The final step is gaining proficiency in the local language, which facilitates adjustment and enhances social skills.
The panel of four younger sisters shared their experiences living in multicultural communities in the Philippines. Sr. Marysia Malating, who made her perpetual vow in 2014 as a Franciscan Sister of the Immaculate Conception and is studying theology at the Institute of Formation and Religious Life, lives with sisters from six congregations and eight countries: Cameron, Chad, Korea, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vietnam.
Growing up in a small village in Malaysia, she said she had to overcome a limited view of the world and a conviction that other cultures were inferior.
“Narrow-mindedness kills community life,” she said. “Openness of mind helps me to see the richness of other cultures, and it invites me to accept them and draws me to love them.”
The sessions on multiculturalism and the meeting overall helped first-time attendee Sr. Patricia Siemen, prioress of the Adrian Dominican Sisters of Adrian, Michigan, appreciate UISG’s international scope.
“Its whole intent is to have this global solidarity network,” said Siemen, whose congregation has more than 600 vowed women religious and 200 associates who minster in five countries. “Just the experience of being day-in, day-out and having conversations with sisters from five continents — there’s a breadth of experience here and universality of the church that I haven’t seen before.”
The sessions on interculturality were relevant even to congregations that are in only one country, said Sr. Illumina Virginia Jenny Katsukunya, superior general of the Little Children of Our Blessed Lady , which is in four dioceses in Zimbabwe.
“At first, I didn’t think this applied to me,” she said. “But differences in language and attitudes occur even within a country.”
“More and more, our visibility has increased as women religious, and we are constantly being invited to participate in Vatican meetings, commissions and working groups,” she said. “This is a change.”
In addition to standard Vatican meetings, UISG has been working with the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life to develop a document to replace Mutuae Relationes, which outlines the relationship between bishops and orders of religious. (Pope Francis called for the update in November 2013.) It has also been working with the new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.
Ongoing projects, such as the anti-human-trafficking network Talitha Kum and the Sicily Migrant Project, continue to expand. The canon law program — which includes the UISG council, workshops and scholarships for some women from Eastern Africa studying canon law — and theological training of sisters under the Regina Mundi project fulfill UISG’s objective to support members and contribute to religious life, she Murray said.
At the end of the week, in a ceremony filled with joy and laughter, the sisters presented the cloths they had brought to one another. They shared prayers written on paper in the shape of footsteps, symbolizing steps forward they would take themselves and in their constellations.
Strengthened by the meeting, the sister leaders planned to help their communities and missions face the challenges Sammut laid out in her opening remarks. Digital technology is changing the nature of relationships, allowing people to connect more than ever, even as countries grapple with massive migration flows because of political unrest, ethnic and religious conflict as well as a shift politically to the right with nationalistic attitudes that keep out refugees and migrants, she said.
“In front of these enormous problems, we have not given up,” Sammut said. “We have the courage and perseverance to continue working in order ‘to welcome the stranger, to feed the hungry, to liberate the captive,’ as Jesus has told us. And to be more effective, we are determined to do it together.”