From May 6 to 10, 2019, the XXI Plenary Assembly of the International Union of Superiors General took place in Rome. It was held under the theme: Sowers of Prophetic Hope. The meeting was attended by 850 general superiors from 80 countries of the world and every continent. The meeting was translated into 13 official languages. Throughout these days, we were accompanied by a total of 40 special guests, including invited speakers, representatives of the Vatican and people from the media. Our reflections focused on four main (but not only) themes: the future of religious life, interculturalism, concern for the created world (in reference to Laudato Si) and interreligious dialogue. On the last day of the meeting, we prayed together during the Holy Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica under the guidance of the Prefect of the Congregation for Consecrated Life, Cardinal Aviz. After Mass, an audience with Holy Father Francis took place in the Paul VI Auditorium. Unforgettable moments!
The International Union of Superiors General (UISG) brings together a total of 1,900 superiors general of women’s congregations and institutes from over 100 countries, which together represent more than 450,000 religious in the world. More on the Union itself, its functioning, numerous initiatives and the themes of the recent meeting can be found on the website www.uisg.org (generally, materials are presented in the 5 main languages of the Union). The section dedicated directly to the meeting includes the texts of the lectures, accompanying multimedia presentations, photos and many other interesting materials. I invite you to visit this site.
Continuing in the Easter season, we heard the words of Jesus again: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature!” What’s more, we not only heard, but we saw with our own eyes the fruits of this message. I must admit that the conference room where our meeting was held was for me a real picture of the Cenacle. All peoples and nations, different cultures and languages, skin colors and a variety of religious habits. Seemingly we were all different, and yet we were very much one, gathered in the Name of Jesus, moved by the breath of the Spirit, in the heart of the Church, by the Peter of our days. That sense of real unity in diversity grew with each passing hour of the meeting. Our hearts were filled with growing joy: if so many of us are here and representing thousands of our sisters from every continent, how many good seeds of hope are already being sown, and how much more can be spread all over the world! Truly, we are a sign of prophetic hope for the world. What’s more, we make real this hope through who we are as consecrated persons and what we do.
Each day, we hosted lecturers who introduced us to the subject of the day, presenting a rich reflection on a given topic. Then there were discussions and sharing in small language groups. As much as possible, at the end the group presented the most important thoughts from their reflection or asked further questions of the presenter. I cannot in a few sentences capture the richness of the issues that were undertaken. There will be time to return to this content in a concrete way.
The concrete testimonies of the sisters who fulfill their mission in countries and places particularly affected by suffering, violence and poverty (such as the testimonies from the Central African Republic, Venezuela or Sri Lanka) were extremely moving. How much pain, how many tears, how much powerlessness, and at the same time how much love, courage, bringing hope against hope. Throughout the whole meeting, we were accompanied by the symbol of grain thrown into the ground. A tiny seed, which if it dies, will yield a harvest. Our consecrated life is thousands of such small seeds, grains giving birth to the hope that is needed today in the world.
Every day we experienced the Eucharist together. Mass in French, Italian and Spanish. Readings and responsorial psalms in Arabic, Chinese, Vietnamese, Polish, Korean … Singing prepared and performed by various groups, of course in different languages and rhythms. How beautiful is the Catholic face of the Church when we touch our unity in diversity so tangibly.
The meeting with the Prefect of the Congregation for Consecrated Life, Cardinal Aviz, allowed us an open dialogue and a communal reflection on consecrated life today, on the challenges we face, about our radiance and shadows, about the beauty and timeliness of the vocation to the consecrated life in the Church.
Throughout the whole meeting, we were strengthened with the truth that we participate in the Easter dynamic of the Church, which is still current, and this is the dynamic of “being sent”, the dynamics of being “on the way”. There is only one direction, one way of realizing our vocation as consecrated persons: Jesus must be at the center of our lives, the lives of our communities and congregations. Jesus in the center, not us…. We are to be constantly on our way, always towards the periphery… Each of us, each of our congregations must courageously, implement its specific charism, bring hope to the world, be a prophetic sign of hope. And although each grain is different (different charisms), we are and act together, not alone. We desire to cooperate in doing good, not only together as consecrated persons, but also going beyond the circle of consecrated life, undertaking various activities together with the laity, including our brothers and sisters of different religions and all persons of good will.
In his dialogue with us, the Holy Father encouraged us to fully realize our call to spiritual motherhood. That we would help the Church to discover the “feminine face” of the Bride of Christ. That we would not be afraid to recognize the signs of the times, to follow the “fantasy” of the Holy Spirit in the faithful and creative realization of our charisms. That we would bring hope to all the peripheries of the world with the proper sensitivity of our hearts. At the end, Pope Francis blessed us, embracing our congregations, each of our sisters and everyone to whom we are sent. Go and be a prophetic sign of hope for the Church and the world!
M. Jana Zawieja