Pope Francis says " In the light of these two disciples of Jesus, Peter and Mary Magdalene, contemplate and let Jesus look at you and transform you..." to Religious Superiors



Paul VI Hall
Thursday, May 5, 2022

Dear sisters:

I want to greet you, in this Easter season, with the words of the Risen One: "Peace be with you".

Bearing in mind the theme you have chosen for the assembly, " Embracing vulnerability on the synodal journey " , I would like to dwell on a few points and offer some keys for your discernment.

embrace vulnerability

As I thought about this theme of “embracing vulnerability,” two scenes from the Gospel came to mind.

The first is when Jesus washes Peter's feet at the Last Supper. Contemplating it leads us to recognize both the vulnerability of Peter and the one that Jesus assumes to go out to meet him. Pedro has a hard time accepting that he needs a change in his mentality, a change in his heart, that he has to let himself be washed so that he can later do it with his brothers and sisters. Going out to meet him, the Son of God places himself in a vulnerable position, in a servant position, showing how the life of Jesus can only be understood through service. Together with Peter, the Church learns from her Master that, in order to give her life, serving others, she is invited to recognize and accept his fragility and, from there, bow down before the fragility of the other.

I invite you, who have the specific mission of animating the life of your congregations and accompanying discernment in your communities, to enter into that scene of the washing of feet, traveling that path of the Church, and to live your authority as a service.

Religious life today also recognizes its vulnerability, even if it sometimes accepts it with difficulty. We had gotten used to being significant by our numbers and by our works; to be relevant and considered socially. The crisis we are going through has made us feel the fragilities and invites us to assume minority. All this invites us to recover the attitude that the Son of God has towards the Father and humanity, that of “becoming a servant”. It's not about bondage. Lowering oneself is not retreating into one's own wounds and inconsistencies, but rather it opens up a relationship, an exchange that dignifies and heals, like Peter, and from which a new path with Jesus begins.

In this way, the place that the Son of God wants to occupy by placing himself at the feet of humanity is a theological space, and we need to re-position ourselves there. Therefore, if our vocation is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, and to do it "closely", every time that history and the Spirit relocate the Church and religious life in this place, it will be for us a source of joy and of growth, an inspiring source that allows us to rejuvenate. Well, it is from there, from below, from where each one can reread his charisma and his story.

This attitude has always illuminated religious life. Like Peter and with Peter we are called now, after acknowledging ourselves vulnerable, to ask ourselves what are the new vulnerabilities before which, as consecrated persons, we must lower ourselves today. In light of the signs of the times, what ministries is the Spirit asking of us? What changes does it require of us in the way of living the service of authority? How to work for an authority that is evangelical, an authority that does not leave wounds along the way but rather growth? Do not be afraid in this search for new ministries and new ways of exercising authority evangelically. Let it not be a theoretical and ideological search —ideologies mutilate the Gospel—,

The second scene that comes to mind, speaking of vulnerability, has María Magdalena as the protagonist. She knows very well what it means to go from a messy and fragile life to a life centered on Jesus and on the service of the proclamation. The evangelists show her to us as a woman who has experienced a great liberation in the encounter with Jesus (cf. Lk 8:2). They kept that fact, and surely they did not do it to throw her past history in her face, but to tell us that Jesus counts on her as her apostle in the testimony of the resurrection, putting her transformed fragility at the service of the announcement. .

You represent numerous charisms, many ways of reading the Gospel: each one of them is born for the mission of the Church. In the light of these two disciples of Jesus, Peter and Mary Magdalene, contemplate and let Jesus look at you and transform you, and thus you will be able to place yourself in the same way at the service of humanity. From their own frailty, freed from the spirits that trouble them, they will be able to lighten their pace for a hopeful proclamation of the Gospel. I know that you have many concerns, which probably keep you up at night — the lack of vocations, the constantly rising average age, abandonment of consecrated life, among others — but hopefully the main concern was how to proceed so as not to abandon mission horizon.

the synodal path

Let us consider, secondly, what is the contribution that the Church expects from religious life in the synodal journey of the Church, and what is your service as superiors in this journey. If the synod is above all an important moment of listening and discernment, the most important contribution you can make is to participate in reflection and discernment, putting yourself in an attitude of listening to the Spirit and lowering yourself like Jesus in order to meet your brother in your need. And this through the different mediations that are planned at this time —as consecrated women, in parishes, in dioceses—, enriching the Church with your charisms. Throughout this synodal process, be builders of communion, memory of the life and mission of Jesus.

But in addition to actively participating in the synodal process at the level of the local Church, it is very important that the communities, the congregations, make their synodal journey. Many congregations are already doing it. It is an opportunity to listen to each other, to encourage each other to speak with parresia , to ask questions about the essential elements of religious life today. Also to let uncomfortable questions emerge. Do not be afraid of your own vulnerability, do not be afraid to present it to Jesus.

Being faithful to the synodal path and spirit, we must go beyond the scope of the Institutes themselves and of the International Union of Superiors General itself. It is a path that they already share and I encourage them to continue it. I also exhort you to a deep collaboration with the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. The ecclesial communion, the diversity of vocations and charisms, and the encounter, although sometimes tiring, always enrich us.

I count on you, dear sisters, when accompanying the holy people of God in this synodal process, as experts in building communion, in promoting listening and discernment. The ministry of accompaniment is urgent (cf. Apostolic Exhort. Evangelii Gaudium 103 ; 169; 171 ).

I am counting on you so that the synodal process that we are experiencing in the Church may also take place within its institutes, where young and old exchange their wisdom and visions of consecrated life; where all cultures sit at the same table of the Kingdom; where stories are processed in the light of the risen Jesus and his forgiveness; where the laity can participate in your spiritualities.

A beautiful sign of this synodal renewal must be mutual care. In this context I am thinking of small congregations or those that are declining to the point of experiencing difficult sustainability. I trust that these processes, looking to the future, will bring them even closer to each other to support and help each other on the paths of formation and discernment. I also trust that these processes will help the ecclesial community in its dialogue with the world, without forgetting attention to the common home.

I also know that in some places there is concern about the lack of vocations and aging. But the important thing is to always be able to give a faithful and creative response to the Lord. Accept the time we live as a gift from God, a kairós , because nothing escapes His hand.

With Mary, with a light step, with faith, forward! I bless you from my heart, I bless your communities, especially the most vulnerable members, and I bless all who benefit from the work you carry out. And please don't forget to pray for me.

Ssource: Vatican.va