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Guidelines for reflection on apostolic religious life

17/02/2011: General House

From 7 to12 February 2011 was held the seminar on "Theology of Apostolic Consecrated Life" in the Centre of Spiritual Exercises of the Society of Saint Teresa of Jesus in Rome. The seminar was organized conjointly by the two Unions of Superiors General, male  (USG) and female (UISG). The respective Unions invited 15 Superiors General of men’s congregations and 15 of women’s together with thirty theologians (15 men and 15 women). Brother  Emili Turú was one of the participants  and had an important role as moderator of various presentations.

The presidents of the two Unions, Father Pascual Chávez and Sister Mary Lou Wirtz, gave a brief explanation of the basic objectives of the meeting in the opening session:

- Promote serious reflection on the situation of the theology of apostolic consecrated life today;
- Identify the questions and challenges that the current situation of the world and the Church pose for this theology;
- Promote the renewal of studies and research in this field.

Of particular significance was the reading of the expectations previously expressed by the participants in view of this seminar: approach the question of the prophetic, evangelical, and charismatic function of apostolic religious life, offer some creative ideas for updating this theology, outline the major themes and future challenges for religious life, treating at the same time of "re-imagining it" "with new paradigms, new frontiers, and a new vision of the world in which the Spirit leads us into the future."

In harmony with these objectives, the organizers not only offered an opportunity for sharing useful and interesting information, but for creating a "laboratory" with persons enthusiastic about and competent and interested in the specific topic of theology of the apostolic religious life.

From Tuesday to Friday, work began with a leading paper around which the day’s activities revolved: communications, group work, general assembly.

The Superior General of the Verbites, Father Antonio Pernia, opened the round of presentations with the topic "Opportunites and challenges which the world and Church of today offer and pose to the theology of the consecrated life". With this presentation, the seminar came to the heart of deep reflection on apostolic consecrated life.

Among the many challenges, the speaker concentrated especially on the crisis of consecrated life, particularly evident in Western Europe and North America, caused by an increasingly globalised world.

The main opportunities the current situation can offer religious life are especially those of inter-culturality, inter- congregational co-operation and the growing involvement of increasingly better prepared and motivated lay people.

But there are many questions more looking for an answer. The first response to these questions, as much about the challenges as about the opportunities, came through five  communications on the current situation of religious life in Africa (Bishop Faustin Ambassa), Latin America (Sister Maricarmen Bracaonte), Asia (Sr. Kallupurakkathu Sujita María), France (Br. André-Pierre Gauthier) and  Oceanía (Fr. Smith). All these topics were later analysed in the language groups.

The second presentation was made by Sister María Maher, Superior General of the Sisters of Notre Dame, on the topic: "Called and sent: reflections on a theology of apostolic religious life today”.
The complex and difficult talk by María Maher was subsequently completed by three short comunications confided to the ex-Superior General of the Dominicans, Father Carlos Azpiroz Costa (Theological reading of the principal historical forms of consecrated life), the United States theologian, Sister Sandra Schneider, (Radicality and meaning of consecrated life), and the Salesian theologian, Juan Bartolomé (Theological basis of religious life).
The working groups discussed these presentations afterwards. The new secretary of the Vatican Congregation for Consecrated Life, Mons. Joseph Tobin, took part.

The third session opened with a report by Father Camilo Maccise, ex-Superior General of the Discalced Carmelites and ex-president of the directing committee of the USG. As he was unable to participate in the work because of his poor health, the report was presented by a confrère, Father Miguel Márquez, provincial of the Carmelite Province of Castilla.

Father Maccise spoke of the achievements and questions relating to the founding and historical development of consecrated life. The most important achievements of religious life, according to him, were the overcoming of the "action-contemplation" dichotomy, evangelization and the witness of God in history, the unique mission of the Church, the apostolic dimension of fraternal life and the religious vows, the preferential option for the poor as an evangelical option within the apostolic mission.

The challenges, certainly no less numerous, are: the commitment to justice and solidarity, authentic and evangelical engagement in "practical politics", the presence in advance posts and in the new ‘areopaguses’ of mission (wastelands, suburbs, frontiers), the inculturation of apostolic consecrated life capable of reconciling unity with diversity, sharing the charism with lay people, the theological aspect of inter-congregational co-operation starting from a clear charismatic identity of each religious institute.

Three communications made up the final contribution to the morning’s work: from the French theologian Sylvie Robert (The place of the three vows in the theological understanding of religious life), from the Marianist José M. Arnaiz, ex-secretary general of the USG (Consecrated life in the ecclesiology of the apostolic communion), and, last, from the Capuchin Paolo Martinelli, director of the Spirituality Institute in the Antonianum, (A theological reflection on the consecrated person of apostolic life). The presentation of Fr Maccise and the three communications gave rise to a rich debate among the participants in the small groups and in the general assembly.
The fourth and last day began with a presentation by the Brasilian theologian and Pauline Sister Vera Ivanise Bombonatto. She presented a broad reflection on new experiments of apostolic religious life in the Church from the Brasilian situation, where they already number about 500. It was a question, she said, of a multifaceted phenomenon, complex and many sided, of which it is almost impossible to give a complete analysis.

 Vera Bombonatto’s presentation took on a much more concrete outline with the presentation of some "new communities". This exposition was completed by the ex Minister General OFM, Giacomo Bini, who spoke about the "European Missionary Society in Palestrina" which he founded and directed four years ago, as "a new form born within an institute of apostolic consecrated life". This institution is favouring the birth of the first Franciscan vocations.

A different position was expressed by the Franciscan Sister Osf, Ilia Delio, who in the United States gave new life for some years, with another sister, to a community of "Franciscan evangelical life", not renewing old forms of religious life, but trying to be present in the world as "women centred on the Gospel." For her part, Sister Suzanne Phillips confined herself simply to talking about "newness" of the consecrated life in  Australia, in the existing institutes.

On 12 February 2011, the seminar concluded with a celebration of the Eucharist presided over by the new secretary of the Vatican Congregation, Bishop J. Tobin who, ex-Superior General of the Redemptorists, was also vice-president of the USG.

At the closure of the seminar, no conclusions or proposals were announced, but some important reference data given for the future work to be done in continuing the work of the seminar. This meeting was merely a point of departure for future work. The two Unions organising the seminar (USG and UISG) had not planned on a final declaration but simply indicated some lines for theological investigation that all the participants should take up personally in a responsible manner. For its part, the USG will continue and deepen the themes of the seminar in the two assemblies of 2011, and the women Superiors General will do the same at their assembly in May.

This information was compiled using the data provided by Father Ángel Arriola  in Vidimus Dominun  http://vd.pcn.net/it/ a common project of the UISG and theUSG, where appear in short form the texts of the presentations delivered during the seminar.

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