The Changing Landscape of Religious Missionary Life
Sisters Ana Helena Rockenbach (ALC), Marinez Capra (Shalom International Network) and General Councilors Carolyn Anyega and Martina Radež had the privilege to participate in the Service of Documentation and Study on Global Mission (SEDOS) residential Seminar in Nemi, Italy, May 1-5, 2023. The theme Changing Landscape of Religious Missionary Life contributed to a greater understanding of our call and mission as we respond to the Gospel in various ways as religious. Below they share some of their experience.
Sr. Ana Helena Rockenbach
The seminar was an invitation to become more aware of the world’s reality, characterized by rapid, unpredictable changes, cultural differences, and changing values. It revisited the call to consecrated life as an intervention of God to set his people free (Ex 3:16).
Empowered by the Holy Spirit and believing that God is always at work, we look at the world with hope and joy. We thank God as we are called to let go and accept that we don’t have ready answers and solutions. We journey together, acknowledging our differences and seeking together how to live a consecrated life, prioritizing consultation and dialogue to promote unity. We are discerning together as communities, congregation/s, and missionaries where and for what God is calling us. We engage in the process of learning the language of today’s world so that we can communicate and be credible for God’s love. We are called to discover ways to acculturate the Gospel message and our charisms and allow their inculturation. We favor enhancing the coming of God’s kingdom and calling to racial, civic, social, and ecological justice.
According to Pope Francis, “We are not living an era of change but a change of era”. The scenario of nature is always in constant transformation as well as our world and religious life. In this changing landscape, we find the changes in consecrated life, emphasized by the Second Vatican Council that opened itself to the local Churches. With the decentralization of the Church, there has been a greater evangelization in the peripheries. Religious missionaries made fundamental contributions in health care, education, and in the defense of human rights
In this scenario, it is also noticeable that the number of people in consecrated life is gradually decreasing. Numbers, however, should not scare us, but ensure the quality of religious life and the efficacy of our mission. Jesus started with a small group. We are in mission because we have fallen in love with God. As religious, we are called to become intentionally intercultural communities, foster in all of us an ad-gentes missionary spirit, step out of our comfort zones and use technological means available to create networks for mission.
Sr. Marinez Capra
On the second day, we reflected on Missio Dei as God’s mission of universal justice in the context of globalization, cosmopolitanism, social and print media platforms, “#me too” culture, and multiculturalism. Worldwide we can hear a demand for every member of society to be included regardless of culture, gender, race, border, or religion. Are we in the Age of Justice? Should its purpose be to harmonize the relevance of the individual and community? Would seeking consensus and privilege dialogue be the key to evangelization? God’s justice is the ground for peace and questions resource control and economic and environmental justice.
Jesus Christ is prophetic in his mission by being the justice of God (Gal 3:28) and ministered to deliver God’s justice intervening for people’s liberation from unjust structures. The impact of naming the present time of evangelization as the Age of Justice takes us beyond the frontiers of the traditional theological ground of God’s talk (EG 2013, 118). It challenges us to face the need to speak God’s language of justice in words and actions and ‘visit’ the secular justice systems to intervene for justice for all. Paul urges us to “Walk by the Spirit.” (Gal 5:16). How do we create this sense of the communion of one human identity as God’s children who all have the Spirit of God? Does what we are and do say, it is not me: it is Christ who lives in me? Are we building reconciliation and unity beyond culture, nation, gender, and race in our missionary life? We closed the day with insights for further reflection.
Sr. Carolyn Anyega
The third day focused on the impact of the changing landscape on governance, leadership and financial management. Many insights were shared with us. That this era, described as volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, demands a change of mentality, organization and styles of functioning. Top-down governance is being challenged, especially the Church, which, in excluding women from the decision-making processes, has damaged the face of religious life. Some institutions are transitioning to new structures for sustainability and mutual sharing.
What has happened in the Global North will happen to the Global South, which is becoming the locus of missionary activity. Hence, there is a need for new tools, concepts and understanding of community life, leadership, authority, and resource management through synodality, dialogue, discernment, co-responsibility and subsidiarity. The deep spiritual traditions in the Global South should translate into justice, peace, and human rights promotion. Servant leadership and a responsible membership that foster unity, hope, diversity, listening, and accompaniment are crucial.
Religious must not be obsessed with numbers but to trust, be responsible, creative, and avoid the formation that seeks privileges and influence. They are to occupy a liminal part, be a little flock, salt, and leaven for transformation. Drawing from God-experiences and becoming experts of communion, they are to be simple, optimistic, detached and hopeful. For silence to give way to a culture of care, congregations need to educate their members in safeguarding, implement procedures and guidelines for prevention, protection and respond to allegations of abuse.
Sr. Martina Radež
On the fourth day, Fr. Amedeo Cencini encouraged us to face the new landscapes positively and give up some old ones. God is always paving new paths and calling not only to perseverance but also to creative faithfulness.
Evangelization is a process of acculturation and inculturation.
Acculturation expresses Gospel and charism in terms of listeners, in their language and culture. Expressing our faith and spirituality according to their mindset and sensibility unveils new aspects of the Gospel and of our charisms.
Inculturation is a response given by those who have received the message of faith from an evangelizer and now reinterpret that Gospel from their culture and sensitivity. Charism is alive because of this ongoing circular process of acculturation provoking inculturation.
Community is a laboratory preparing, educating people for a communicative-relational, synodal style, which gives voice to the other. No one can improvise outside, in the apostolate what he or she did not learn and live inside, in a community. This requires training in cultural sensitivity, education to otherness and love for the world to which we are sent. An authentic community life and personal responsibility of religious for their ongoing formation are crucial.
Sr. Josephine Enenmo, OLA,stressed that evangelization is needed on all continents. Following the footsteps of the early missionaries, recipients of the Christian message want to take a more active part in God’s mission by sharing the faith in the countries of those who brought the good news to them. We are called to form a new way of intercultural living with no dominant culture in order to bear witness to the Gospel.
Despite the changing landscape, the vows remain attractive, and new members desire to see us live authentically and humanly.
The primary objective of religious formation is preparation of candidates for total self-giving to God. The candidate needs to know from the beginning that formation implies conversion. An integral and holistic formation of younger members includes everything they are to live as religious, emphasizing formation as a personal responsibility.