The church has just kicked off a year to celebrate the gift of consecrated life in the church.
In a letter inaugurating the special 14-month year, which opened Nov. 30 and will close Feb. 2, 2016, Pope Francis asked Catholics to let religious know “the affection and the warmth which the entire Christian people feels for them.”
During this year, the pope is calling on Catholics to thank God for the gifts members of religious orders have given the church and the world, to join them in prayer and find practical ways to support them and their ministries.
Reaching beyond his own flock, the pope also offered greetings to Orthodox communities of monks and nuns, and to members of Protestant religious orders, who also take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and are “expressions of fraternal communion and service.” Dialogue between Catholic religious and those of other traditions “can prove helpful for the greater journey toward the unity of all the churches,” he said.
The special year celebrates the 50th anniversary of the publication of Perfectae Caritatis, the Second Vatican Council Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life, promulgated on Oct. 28, 1965.
The pope urged religious to cultivate three qualities: courage, joy and community.
“Leave your nests and go out to the peripheries,” he said in a video at a vigil in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome Nov. 29. “Live on the frontiers” where people are waiting to hear and understand the Gospel.
In a message the next day at mass in St. Peter’s he said, “Wake up the world, enlightening it with your prophetic and countercultural witness.”
Speaking of joy, he said a person’s attitude reflects what is in his or her heart, and for consecrated people that means “to know and show that God is able to fill our hearts to the brim with happiness.” None of us, he said, “should be dour, discontented and dissatisfied, for a ‘gloomy disciple is a disciple of gloom.’ ’’
Within communities, within dioceses and within the church, he said, religious are called to be “experts in communion.” “In a polarized society where different cultures experience difficulty in living alongside one another and where the powerless encounter oppression, where inequality abounds, we are called to offer a concrete model of community which, by acknowledging the dignity of each person and sharing our respective gifts, makes it possible to live as brothers and sisters,” he said.
In Canada, both the Canadian Religious Conference and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops have added special sections on their websites (www.crc-canada.org and www.cccb.ca) to publicize news, reports and videos on religious life.
In a message to Canadian religious, Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, apostolic nuncio to Canada, urged them to strive for three objectives:
- have a “grateful memory” of the recent past, in particular, the 50 years after the Second Vatican Council;
- embrace the future with hope, in the certainty that consecrated life will never disappear from the church;
- live the present with passion by giving witness to the beauty of following Christ in the many ways through which consecrated life is lived.
On the Canadian Prairies, many people have been touched by religious, especially in the fields of health, education and pastoral work. For many religious, these labours have come to an end, but the spirit that inspired them continues to live on.