sabato 13 dicembre 2014

Stati Uniti
Women who wake up the world

The Tablet
(Mary Clare Millea) On Tuesday, the long-awaited Vatican report on women’s religious life in the US is to be released. It follows a three-year apostolic visitation led by a senior American sister who here describes how she set about the task and her hopes for its conclusions. 
Our lives can sometimes be dramatically changed for several years by a single conversation. I remember, as if it were yesterday, taking a brief telephone call from Cardinal Franc Rodé, then prefect for the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life, towards the end of 2008. When he asked if I would be willing to conduct an apostolic visitation to the nearly 400 institutes of women Religious in the United States, I felt overwhelmed. Although I realised immediately the task would be well beyond my abilities, I knew in my heart that I had to say yes.
I knew I would need not only prayers but the best possible practical help and expertise, and I quickly gathered together an experienced core team to support me. I was determined that their commitment to the values of religious life would ensure the visitation took place with profound respect for each individual congregation and each individual Religious. Since I am the superior general of an international religious congregation myself, leading more than 1,000 sisters in 15 countries, all of whom I visit regularly, taking on this additional responsibility also called for the understanding and support of my own sisters. The announcement of the apostolic visitation came as a surprise, and elicited some very strong reactions, including from some women Religious. I decided that while keeping abreast of the criticisms, I would focus on trying to accomplish the service entrusted to me as respectfully as I could. I felt I had the complete trust of the congregation in Rome. I was allowed to choose my own collaborators and partners, and to formulate my own strategy for evaluating the quality of life of women’s religious congregations in the US. In the first of our many long sessions working together, the core team chose an image of the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth as the icon of our own visitation. We opened every meeting with a special prayer to Mary who, “with Jesus hidden beneath your Heart, arose in those days and, with haste, went to your kinswoman Elizabeth, to serve her in her time of need”. We asked Mary to help us serve our sisters in faithfully loving the Church, and to help us love the Church in humbly serving our sisters.
We tried to put compassionate listening at the heart of the process. It began with my personally contacting – often by meeting them in person – 266 of the 341 superiors general of the institutes in the US engaged in apostolic activities. (Since their lifestyle and needs are so different, it had been decided not to include cloistered, contemplative communities in the visitation.) They each shared with me the joys, hopes and challenges of their congregation. In the subsequent phases of qualitative and quantitative data gathering and evaluation, we welcomed input from the religious sisters themselves, from their pastors and from anyone else who wished to share their insights with us. While the process itself was public, we were careful throughout to protect the confidentiality of those who had responded to our request for feedback and information. Seventy-five different visitors from 46 different religious institutes were then chosen to make on-site visits to selected religious congregations. These visitors all took part in an intensive residential training session, designed to ensure that they would be active listeners, encouraging each sister they met to share her lived experience and to express her personal vision of her charism and mission. The visitors included four men, who were sent to institutes that had told us that they would welcome a male religious visitor. At the end of each visit, a confidential report was prepared for me, which became a reference document to help me in the preparation of my report, which I completed in January 2012. Many opportunities for reflection, dialogue and communion, both among women Religious in the US and in the wider Church, were provided by the visitation. Although it continued to face criticism, many of the leaders of these women’s congregations, including some who had initially expressed resistance to it, found that the process yielded surprisingly positive results, including deeper contact with the Word of God, with the words and witness of their foundresses and founders, and with church teaching on the consecrated life. In his apostolic letter to consecrated persons at the beginning of the Year of Consecrated Life on 30 November, Pope Francis asks us to look at the past with gratitude, to live the present with passion and to embrace the future with hope. I believe the apostolic visitation has given the women Religious of the US an opportunity to rediscover the greatness of the unique charisms of our foundresses and founders, and to rekindle our desire to find creative ways of bringing the newness of the Gospel to every culture and every corner of society. Perhaps, like Mary and Elizabeth, we too may be astonished by the great things that the Holy Spirit still can and will do in and through us.
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Mother Mary Clare Millea ASCJ has been the superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart since 2004.