VATICAN CITY (CNS) — During a three-hour meeting with 120 superiors general of men’s religious orders, Pope Francis said the church would make consecrated life its focus in 2015.
Consecrated men and women “can wake up the world,” the pope told members of the Union of Superiors General Nov. 29, at a closed-door meeting during which he listened to the superiors and responded to their questions.
The Vatican did not release a transcript of the pope’s remarks but issued a communique outlining the topics discussed, summarizing some of the pope’s points and including a few direct quotations.
The questions and answers, the Vatican said, focused on the identity and mission of consecrated people in the church, vocations, formation, community life, relations between religious orders and dioceses and the mission of religious in the world today.
“God calls us to leave the nest holding us and go out to the far ends of the world, avoiding the temptation to domesticate” the faith, the pope said.
Religious orders of priests and brothers aren’t simply manpower for dioceses, he said, but their orders and identity as consecrated men should enrich the dioceses.
For many orders, he said, schools and universities are the primary field of mission. In Catholic schools, he said, the teachers and professors must “transmit knowledge, ways of acting and values. Faith is transmitted through them.”
Catholic teachers and professors, he said, “must ask themselves how to proclaim Jesus Christ to a generation that is changing.”
In the discussion about the difficulty some orders are having in attracting new vocations in some parts of the world, Pope Francis spoke about how the “younger churches” in Africa and Asia are providing many vocations today, which requires orders to look at their charism or identity to determine how that can be lived in different cultures.
“The church must ask forgiveness and look with shame at the apostolic failures that occurred because of misunderstandings in this area, like in the case of Matteo Ricci.” The work of the Jesuit missionary to China, who died in 1610, was controversial and misunderstood because he tolerated some Confucian practices as social and cultural traditions rather than as religious practices incompatible with Christianity.
Pope Francis told the superiors that as their orders become increasingly international and multicultural, their leadership teams also must include people who show the order’s charism can be lived in different cultures.
On the topic of formation, he said educating and preparing new members for religious life is “a craft, not a police operation,” but it must include spiritual, intellectual, community and apostolic components.
At the end of the meeting, the Vatican said, the pope thanked members of religious orders “for what you do and for your spirit of faith and your desire to serve. Thank you for your witness and also for the humiliations you have endured.”