Sunday, November 30, 2014

Challenges on being a Jesuit in South Asia in the context of the 200th anniversary of the Society’s Restoration -Fr. Cedric Prakash sj* (November 29th 2014)

Challenges on being a Jesuit in South Asia in the context of the 200th anniversary of the Society’s Restoration
-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*

This year 2014 has indeed been a special moment of grace for all Jesuits, in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Restoration of the Society of Jesus by Pope Pius VII in 1814.

It is necessary at first to have a glimpse into the historical context and some of the facts which led to the suppression of the Society of Jesus in 1773.  Ignatius of Loyola was a person with a difference; because of his vision, his spiritual depth and apostolic zeal, he had the courage to translate his dreams into action. This we know revolutionised not only Europe but several other parts of the world at that time - including parts of South Asia. From its birth in 1540, in a little over 200 years, the Jesuits numbered 23,000 worldwide which was a phenomenal growth in comparison to the traditional religious congregations of that period. 

In those 200 years Jesuits had established themselves and involved themselves in all kinds of apostolic activities from becoming ‘the school masters of Europe in 1600’, to accompanying individuals and groups in their spiritual growth through the Spiritual Exercises. They became synonymous not only for ‘loyalty to the Pope’ but also for ‘bold and creative initiatives’. They were a ‘well-connected’ group with the rich and the powerful and in fact with the ‘who’s who’ of Europe.

The Jesuits demonstrated an uncanny ability to go like their founder Ignatius where others dared not go.  The theology of the Jesuits was pastoral and liberal, unlike the rigidity which was espoused by the Jansenists of the middle ages. Philosophers like Blaise Pascal, a Jansenist, took on the Jesuits who were exhorting people to be loyal to the demands of faith. In the late 17th century and early 18th century, the Jesuits had established several missions called ‘reductions’ in South America. This was done with the approval of Spain. However, in 1750 the Treaty of Madrid redrew the boundaries between the colonies of Portugal and Spain in South America. Seven of these reductions (now in Portuguese territory) had to be dismantled and relocated. What ensued was terrible violence and bloodshed between the native Guarani tribe from the Jesuit missions and the troops from Europe.  Portugal laid the entire blame on the Jesuits who had taken the side of the tribals.

In 1758, there was an attempt to assassinate King Joseph I of Portugal. The Jesuits were also blamed for this and charged with treason and in a matter of time, Portugal became the first country to expel all Jesuits from its territories which included its colonies in South America.

Later in 1762, France banned the Jesuits for some frivolous reason but also because of pressure from the Jansenists and other anti-Christian groups in the country.  On April 2nd 1767, a royal decree was read out to all the Jesuit communities in Spain expelling them from that country and their colonies because of Jesuit involvement in the riots against taxation. This led to tremendous pressure on Pope Clement XIII to abolish the entire Society of Jesus throughout the world. He steadfastly refused to do so and continued to champion the Society of Jesus till his sudden death on February 2nd 1769.

Pope Clement XIV who succeeded him was apparently a pawn in the hands of powerful vested interests of Europe. Threatened with a schism in the Catholic Church, he finally gave in and on July 21st 1773, through his brief ‘Dominus ac Redemptor’, he suppressed the Society of Jesus. Very strangely, the document begins with a text from Jeremiah that it is not sufficient only “to plant and to build” but it is also important “to uproot and to destroy”. The document goes on to assert that the Society of Jesus had always been an object of dissension clearly implying that the Jesuits are trouble-makers and rebellious!

Thanks to Catherine the Great, the Empress of Russia, the Society of Jesus was in fact not entirely wiped out; so when Clement XIV issued the brief of suppression, Catherine refused to obey it and did not permit the Bishops in her Empire to endorse it. It was due to her patronage and later on because of Ferdinand, the Duke of Parma, the Society never died. Above all, there was Joseph Pignatelli with his undaunted zeal and total commitment to the life and mission of the Society, the Jesuits were able to continue with their work – and to survive!

Towards the end of the 18th century, Europe went through a tremendous amount of violence and mayhem. The Napoleonic wars and the French revolution brought about great suffering to the people. The people of Europe and even several Church officials clamoured for the return of the Jesuits fully aware of their significant contributions to every dimension of society.

Eventually, on August 7th 1814, Pope Pius VII through the papal bull ‘Sollicitudo Onnium Ecclesiarum’ (the care of all Churches) restored the Society of Jesus completely.  For forty-one years, the Jesuits were suppressed. The most powerful of Europe did everything they could to destroy the Jesuits once and for all. Today 200 years later, we need to thank God for those great men who refused to give up, who refused to be discouraged and who refused to die!

Some reasons for the suppression of the Society of Jesus
There are several reasons given as to why the Society of Jesus was suppressed; among them was the fact that they were openly backing the papacy inspite of the fact that several Roman Pontiffs led a very scandalous life-style and had a great obsession for power and control.  There were others who regarded the Jesuits as arrogant because of their proximity to the rich and the powerful and there were still others who seemed to be threatened by the way the Jesuits were doing things not only in Europe but also in the distant lands of South America, India and China.
If one had to carefully analyse the reasons for the suppression of the Society, one could conclude the following:

  • Commitment
Commitment was the hallmark of the Jesuits.  A commitment to the vision and mission of the Society, to the poor and to the signs of the times – the Jesuits were neither pushovers nor people who could be compromised. Their unflinching zeal ensured that there were enough of enemies who would want to put them in place for any reason whatsoever. 

  • Contemplation
Thanks to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Jesuits were encouraging people to become more and more contemplatives in action. They insisted on a spiritual depth but at the same time in service of the others. This was in complete variance to the hollow ritualistic religion that was meted out and propagated at that time. This dimension gave new meaning and purpose to several, very specially to the youth of the day.

  • Courage
In GC35, we are reminded that “Jesus confronted the powers that opposed his kingdom and that opposition led him to the death on the Cross, a death which he freely accepted in keeping with his mission” (D3#14). This is exactly what the Jesuits prior to the suppression were doing. They confronted the rich and powerful of their times, they took sides with the Guarani Indians in South America, they sided with the ordinary folk when they were over-taxed; what mattered most was that the faith that does justice becomes a reality in their lives and in the lives of others.

  • Conscience
GC34 in Decree 3 “Our Mission and Justice” highlights new dimensions of justice which include the full range of human rights.  This powerful Decree reminds us that “The promotion of justice requires, before all else, our own continuing personal conversion – finding Jesus Christ in the brokenness of our world, living in solidarity with the poor and outcast, so that we can take up their cause under the standard of Cross.  Our sensitivity for such a mission will be most affected by frequent direct contact with these “friends of the Lord,” from whom we can often learn from faith. Some insertion into the world of the poor should therefore be part of the life of every Jesuit.” (#17)  In the days prior to the suppression of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits very effectively touched the conscience of the world they lived in. They had rich powerful friends but the Jesuits had no fear to confront these “friends” who ultimately became their deadliest enemies.

  • Creativity
Another reason why the Jesuits were suppressed was surely because of their ability to have creative and contextual responses.  They were able to transcend the narrow confines of the status quo. The context at that time challenged them to go to new frontiers. They easily became a threat to those who would rather have confined them to the Church or their particular institutions.  The same applies to us today. The new context in which “we live our mission today is marked by profound changes, acute conflicts and new possibilities.” (GC35 DC3 #8)

Having reflected on a bit of the history and some of the significant reasons which led to the suppression of the Society, one needs to pay a closer attention at the challenges we Jesuits in South Asia face today and how best we could and should “restore” ourselves in the very complex and changing realities in this part of the world.

Challenges Today
It is a little over fifty years since Pope John XXIII through the Second Vatican Council literally “forced opened the doors and windows of the Church”; in doing so, the Lord’s Spirit seemed to have breathed a time of renewal for Christendom. Exactly forty years ago, with the visionary leadership of the then Superior General of the Society of Jesus Fr. Pedro Arrupe, the historic 32nd General Congregation very emphatically stated that “the mission of the Society of Jesus today is the service of faith, of which the promotion of justice is an absolute requirement” (D4 # 2).  This year 2014, we celebrate forty years of that path-breaking mandate which in so many ways have defined the way most Jesuits think and act today. A case-in-point are the brutal assassinations (exactly 25 years ago) of Ignacio Ellacuria, his six Jesuit companions and two women co-workers in El Salvador on November 16th 1989 because they had the courage to take on the powerful vested interests, the political ruling class and the army of their country. General Congregations 34 and 35 continued in the same vein challenging the Jesuit of today to be truly ‘a servant of Christ’s mission’ and ‘a fire that kindles other fires’.

In March 2013 the world and particularly the Church had another pleasant shock when a Jesuit was elected as Pontiff and took the name Pope Francis. So much of what he says and does has its roots in Jesuit spirituality.  His first apostolic exhortation ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ (the Joy of the Gospel) which he promulgated exactly a year ago on November 24th, 2013 has become a blueprint for every Christian who wants to live one’s discipleship in a more authentic way.

The situation in South Asia is highly complex and a fast-changing one. The countries in our Assistancy have a wealth of diversity which is so evident by its numerous languages, cultures, customs and traditions. All the major religions of the world have millions of adherents living here; however, the last few years have witnessed, like never before, growing intolerance, exploitations and injustices: the gap between the rich and the poor is ever-increasing, patriarchy continues to rule the roost; violence on the minorities, the poor and other vulnerable groups seem to be the order of the day; fascism and fundamentalism seem to hold sway and in a very systematic manner democratic values and principles are being shredded to bits.

We Jesuits of South Asia are therefore challenged, as never before, to engage ourselves in a ‘new restoration’ which could and should mean:

  • Availability
How available are we to go to new frontiers? to go to places where no one dares to go? to think “out-of-the-box?” and as Pope Francis reminds us “to be priests without frontiers and to literally “smell of the sheep?”  Availability pre-supposes an attitude of self-giving; that we are not tied down to nor tied up with our pet projects or institutions. At the same time, we need to identify ourselves in more tangible ways with the poor, the marginalized and other vulnerable groups  and to also create space for them in our own lives.

  • Articulation
We are not sufficiently articulate in highlighting the context, the challenges and concerns of today.  Many of us seem to be compromised (cfr. Jesus’ temptations in the desert) with power, privileges, possessions and positions!  As long as we can remain in our comfort zones, we fight shy of serious research, objective analysis and having the courage to communicate our stand publicly.  If we seriously do so, many of us will surely lose our places of privilege and the patronage from powerful vested interests. It is also important for all of us to do a reality check and to see who are our friends and with whom do we (or our institutions) identify with.

  • Action
Any meaningful action for a Jesuit necessitates contemplation and our closeness with Christ means “to follow Christ bearing his Cross means opening ourselves with him to every thirst that afflicts humanity today.” (GC35 DC2 #12) As Jesuits, we must act: to respond constructively and positively to the context we live in and to the challenges which beckon us.  The substantial actions of the Jesuits was a clear reason for the suppression of the Society but these men were not afraid, they were able to give and not count the cost.

Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, our Superior General in a letter dated November 14th, 2013to the whole Society writes, “I pray that our grateful commemoration of this 200th anniversary of the Society’s reestablishment might be blessed with a greater appropriation of our way of life and a more creative, generous and joyful commitment to give our lives in service for the greater glory of God.”

This Jubilee Year indeed challenges every single Jesuit to make important and greater strides towards the ‘Magis”.  We can surely do so through greater Availability, courageous Articulation and committed Action.

(This Article was first published in the IGNIS (No.2014. 2 & 3 / Vol. XLIV No. II & III) entitled ‘Challenges of being a Jesuit in India’.  It has now been rewritten for the Jesuit South Asian Assistancy, International Seminar on ‘Jesuit Contribution to Nation Building in South Asia from the Nineteenth Century till Today’ held at JDV, Pune, November 27th – 29th 2014)

(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)

Address: PRASHANT, Hill Nagar, Near Saffron Hotel, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052
Phone: (079) 27455913, 66522333 Fax:  (079) 27489018   Cell: 9824034536

Pope issues letter for Year of Consecrated Life (November 30th 2014)

Pope issues letter for Year of Consecrated Life

2014-11-30 Vatican Radio
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis issued a letter for the Year of Consecrated Life, which will start throughout the universal Church on the first Sunday of Advent, 30 November. The observance will end on the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, 2 February 2016.
In his message, the Pope underlined the aims of the Year of Consecrated Life, namely to look to the past with gratitude, to live the present with passion and to embrace the future with hope.
Listen to the report by Laura Ieraci:
The Pope then expressed his expectations for the yearlong observance: that consecrated men and women would be witnesses of communion, of joy and the Gospel, and go evermore to the peripheries to proclaim the Good News.
“I am counting on you ‘to wake up the world’, since the distinctive sign of consecrated life is prophecy,” he wrote.  “This is the priority that is needed right now.”
He urged religious communities to guard against gossip, jealousy and pettiness in community life, to live “in synergy” with other vocations in the Church, and to “step more courageously from the confines of our respective institutes and to work together.”
The Pope said he also expected consecrated men and women to examine their presence in Church life and to respond to the “ new demands constantly being made on us, to the cry of the poor.”

See the official translation of the Pope’s full message for the Year of Consecrated Life below:
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Consecrated Life,
I am writing to you as the Successor of Peter, to whom the Lord entrusted the task of confirming his brothers and sisters in faith (cf. Lk 22:32).  But I am also writing to you as a brother who, like yourselves, is consecrated to God.
Together let us thank the Father, who called us to follow Jesus by fully embracing the Gospel and serving the Church, and poured into our hearts the Holy Spirit, the source of our joy and our witness to God’s love and mercy before the world.
In response to requests from many of you and from the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life, I decided to proclaim a Year of Consecrated Life on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, which speaks of religious in its sixth chapter, and of the Decree Perfectae Caritatis on the renewal of religious life.  The Year will begin on 30 November 2014, the First Sunday of Advent, and conclude with the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple on 2 February 2016.
After consultation with the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life, I have chosen as the aims of this Year the same ones which Saint John Paul II proposed to the whole Church at the beginning of the third millennium, reiterating, in a certain sense, what he had earlier written in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata: “You have not only a glorious history to remember and to recount, but also a great history still to be accomplished!  Look to the future, where the Spirit is sending you in order to do even greater things” (No. 110).
1.         The first of these aims is to look to the past with gratitude.  All our Institutes are heir to a history rich in charisms.  At their origins we see the hand of God who, in his Spirit, calls certain individuals to follow Christ more closely, to translate the Gospel into a particular way of life, to read the signs of the times with the eyes of faith and to respond creatively to the needs of the Church.  This initial experience then matured and developed, engaging new members in new geographic and cultural contexts, and giving rise to new ways of exercising the charism, new initiatives and expressions of apostolic charity.  Like the seed which becomes a tree, each Institute grew and stretched out its branches.
During this Year, it would be appropriate for each charismatic family to reflect on its origins and history, in order to thank God who grants the Church a variety of gifts which embellish her and equip her for every good work (cf. Lumen Gentium, 12).
Recounting our history is essential for preserving our identity, for strengthening our unity as a family and our common sense of belonging.  More than an exercise in archaeology or the cultivation of mere nostalgia, it calls for following in the footsteps of past generations in order to grasp the high ideals, and the vision and values which inspired them, beginning with the founders and foundresses and the first communities.  In this way we come to see how the charism has been lived over the years, the creativity it has sparked, the difficulties it encountered and the concrete ways those difficulties were surmounted.  We may also encounter cases of inconsistency, the result of human weakness and even at times a neglect of some essential aspects of the charism.  Yet everything proves instructive and, taken as a whole, acts as a summons to conversion.  To tell our story is to praise God and to thank him for all his gifts.
In a particular way we give thanks to God for these fifty years which followed the Second Vatican Council.  The Council represented a “breath” of the Holy Spirit upon the whole Church.  In consequence, consecrated life undertook a fruitful journey of renewal which, for all its lights and shadows, has been a time of grace, marked by the presence of the Spirit.
May this Year of Consecrated Life also be an occasion for confessing humbly, with immense confidence in the God who is Love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8), our own weakness and, in it, to experience the Lord’s merciful love.  May this Year likewise be an occasion for bearing vigorous and joyful witness before the world to the holiness and vitality present in so many of those called to follow Jesus in the consecrated life.
2.         This Year also calls us to live the present with passion.  Grateful remembrance of the past leads us, as we listen attentively to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church today, to implement ever more fully the essential aspects of our consecrated life.
From the beginnings of monasticism to the “new communities” of our own time, every form of consecrated life has been born of the Spirit’s call to follow Jesus as the Gospel teaches (cf. Perfectae Caritatis, 2).  For the various founders and foundresses, the Gospel was the absolute rule, whereas every other rule was meant merely to be an expression of the Gospel and a means of living the Gospel to the full.  For them, the ideal was Christ; they sought to be interiorly united to him and thus to be able to say with Saint Paul: “For to me to live is Christ” (Phil 1:21).  Their vows were intended as a concrete expression of this passionate love.
The question we have to ask ourselves during this Year is if and how we too are open to being challenged by the Gospel; whether the Gospel is truly the “manual” for our daily living and the decisions we are called to make.  The Gospel is demanding: it demands to be lived radically and sincerely.  It is not enough to read it (even though the reading and study of Scripture is essential), nor is it enough to meditate on it (which we do joyfully each day).  Jesus asks us to practice it, to put his words into effect in our lives.
Once again, we have to ask ourselves: Is Jesus really our first and only love, as we promised he would be when we professed our vows?  Only if he is, will we be empowered to love, in truth and mercy, every person who crosses our path.  For we will have learned from Jesus the meaning and practice of love.  We will be able to love because we have his own heart.
Our founders and foundresses shared in Jesus’ own compassion when he saw the crowds who were like sheep without a shepherd.  Like Jesus, who compassionately spoke his gracious word, healed the sick, gave bread to the hungry and offered his own life in sacrifice, so our founders and foundresses sought in different ways to be the service of all those to whom the Spirit sent them. They did so by their prayers of intercession, their preaching of the Gospel, their works of catechesis, education, their service to the poor and the infirm… The creativity of charity is boundless; it is able to find countless new ways of bringing the newness of the Gospel to every culture and every corner of society.
The Year of Consecrated Life challenges us to examine our fidelity to the mission entrusted to us.  Are our ministries, our works and our presence consonant with what the Spirit asked of our founders and foundresses?  Are they suitable for carrying out today, in society and the Church, those same ministries and works?  Do we have the same passion for our people, are we close to them to the point of sharing in their joys and sorrows, thus truly understanding their needs and helping to respond to them?  “The same generosity and self-sacrifice which guided your founders – Saint John Paul II once said – must now inspire you, their spiritual children, to keep alive the charisms which, by the power of the same Spirit who awakened them, are constantly being enriched and adapted, while losing none of their unique character.  It is up to you to place those charisms at the service of the Church and to work for the coming of Christ’s Kingdom in its fullness”.[1]
Recalling our origins sheds light on yet another aspect of consecrated life.  Our founders and foundresses were attracted by the unity of the Apostles with Christ and by the fellowship which marked the first community in Jerusalem.  In establishing their own communities, each of them sought to replicate those models of evangelical living, to be of one heart and one soul, and to rejoice in the Lord’s presence (cf. Perfectae Caritatis, 15).
Living the present with passion means becoming “experts in communion”, “witnesses and architects of the ‘plan for unity’ which is the crowning point of human history in God’s design”.[2]  In a polarized society, where different cultures experience difficulty in living alongside one another, 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.
So, be men and women of communion!  Have the courage to be present in the midst of conflict and tension, as a credible sign of the presence of the Spirit who inspires in human hearts a passion for all to be one (cf. Jn 17:21).  Live the mysticism of encounter, which entails “the ability to hear, to listen to other people; the ability to seek together ways and means”.[3]  Live in the light of the loving relationship of the three divine Persons (cf. 1 Jn 4:8), the model for all interpersonal relationships.  
3.         To embrace the future with hope should be the third aim of this Year.  We all know the difficulties which the various forms of consecrated life are currently experiencing: decreasing vocations and aging members, particularly in the Western world; economic problems stemming from the global financial crisis; issues of internationalization and globalization; the threats posed by relativism and a sense of isolation and social irrelevance…  But it is precisely amid these uncertainties, which we share with so many of our contemporaries, that we are called to practice the virtue of hope, the fruit of our faith in the Lord of history, who continues to tell us: “Be not afraid… for I am with you” (Jer 1:8).
This hope is not based on statistics or accomplishments, but on the One in whom we have put our trust (cf. 2 Tim 1:2), the One for whom “nothing is impossible” (Lk 1:37).  This is the hope which does not disappoint; it is the hope which enables consecrated life to keep writing its great history well into the future.  It is to that future that we must always look, conscious that the Holy Spirit spurs us on so that he can still do great things with us.
So do not yield to the temptation to see things in terms of numbers and efficiency, and even less to trust in your own strength.  In scanning the horizons of your lives and the present moment, be watchful and alert.  Together with Benedict XVI, I urge you not to “join the ranks of the prophets of doom who proclaim the end or meaninglessness of the consecrated life in the Church in our day; rather, clothe yourselves in Jesus Christ and put on the armour of light – as Saint Paul urged (cf. Rom 13:11-14) – keeping awake and watchful”.[4]  Let us constantly set out anew, with trust in the Lord.
I would especially like to say a word to those of you who are young.  You are the present, since you are already taking active part in the lives of your Institutes, offering all the freshness and generosity of your “yes”.  At the same time you are the future, for soon you will be called to take on roles of leadership in the life, formation, service and mission of your communities.  This Year should see you actively engaged in dialogue with the previous generation.  In fraternal communion you will be enriched by their experiences and wisdom, while at the same time inspiring them, by your own energy and enthusiasm, to recapture their original idealism.  In this way the entire community can join in finding new ways of living the Gospel and responding more effectively to the need for witness and proclamation. 
I am also happy to know that you will have the opportunity during this Year to meet with other young religious from different Institutes.  May such encounters become a regular means of fostering communion, mutual support, and unity.
What in particular do I expect from this Year of grace for consecrated life?
1.         That the old saying will always be true: “Where there are religious, there is joy”.  We are called to know and show that God is able to fill our hearts to the brim with happiness; that we need not seek our happiness elsewhere; that the authentic fraternity found in our communities increases our joy; and that our total self-giving in service to the Church, to families and young people, to the elderly and the poor, brings us life-long personal fulfilment.
None of us should be dour, discontented and dissatisfied, for “a gloomy disciple is a disciple of gloom”.  Like everyone else, we have our troubles, our dark nights of the soul, our disappointments and infirmities, our experience of slowing down as we grow older.  But in all these things we should be able to discover “perfect joy”.  For it is here that we learn to recognize the face of Christ, who became like us in all things, and to rejoice in the knowledge that we are being conformed to him who, out of love of us, did not refuse the sufferings of the cross.
In a society which exalts the cult of efficiency, fitness and success, one which ignores the poor and dismisses “losers”, we can witness by our lives to the truth of the words of Scripture: “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10).
We can apply to the consecrated life the words of Benedict XVI which I cited in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: “It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but by attraction” (No. 14).  The consecrated life will not flourish as a result of brilliant vocation programs, but because the young people we meet find us attractive, because they see us as men and women who are happy!  Similarly, the apostolic effectiveness of consecrated life does not depend on the efficiency of its methods.  It depends on the eloquence of your lives, lives which radiate the joy and beauty of living the Gospel and following Christ to the full.
As I said to the members of ecclesial movements on the Vigil of Pentecost last year: “Fundamentally, the strength of the Church is living by the Gospel and bearing witness to our faith. The Church is the salt of the earth; she is the light of the world. She is called to make present in society the leaven of the Kingdom of God and she does this primarily by her witness, her witness of brotherly love, of solidarity and of sharing with others” (18 May 2013). 
2.         I am counting on you “to wake up the world”, since the distinctive sign of consecrated life is prophecy.  As I told the Superiors General: “Radical evangelical living is not only for religious: it is demanded of everyone.  But religious follow the Lord in a special way, in a prophetic way.”  This is the priority that is needed right now: “to be prophets who witness to how Jesus lived on this earth… a religious must never abandon prophecy” (29 November 2013).
Prophets receive from God the ability to scrutinize the times in which they live and to interpret events: they are like sentinels who keep watch in the night and sense the coming of the dawn (cf. Is 21:11-12).  Prophets know God and they know the men and women who are their brothers and sisters.  They are able to discern and denounce the evil of sin and injustice.  Because they are free, they are beholden to no one but God, and they have no interest other than God.  Prophets tend to be on the side of the poor and the powerless, for they know that God himself is on their side.
So I trust that, rather than living in some utopia, you will find ways to create “alternate spaces”, where the Gospel approach of self-giving, fraternity, embracing differences, and love of one another can thrive.  Monasteries, communities, centres of spirituality, schools, hospitals, family shelters – all these are places which the charity and creativity born of your charisms have brought into being, and with constant creativity must continue to bring into being.  They should increasingly be the leaven for a society inspired by the Gospel, a “city on a hill”, which testifies to the truth and the power of Jesus’ words.
At times, like Elijah and Jonah, you may feel the temptation to flee, to abandon the task of being a prophet because it is too demanding, wearisome or apparently fruitless.  But prophets know that they are never alone.  As he did with Jeremiah, so God encourages us: “Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you” (Jer 1:8).
3.         Men and women religious, like all other consecrated persons, have been called, as I mentioned, “experts in communion”.  So I am hoping that the “spirituality of communion”, so emphasized by Saint John Paul II, will become a reality and that you will be in the forefront of responding to “the great challenge facing us” in this new millennium: “to make the Church the home and the school of communion.”[5]  I am sure that in this Year you will make every effort to make the ideal of fraternity pursued by your founders and foundresses expand everywhere, like concentric circles.
Communion is lived first and foremost within the respective communities of each Institute.  To this end, I would ask you to think about my frequent comments about criticism, gossip, envy, jealousy, hostility as ways of acting which have no place in our houses.  This being the case, the path of charity open before us is almost infinite, since it entails mutual acceptance and concern, practicing a communion of goods both material and spiritual, fraternal correction and respect for those who are weak … it is the “mystique of living together” which makes our life “a sacred pilgrimage”.[6]  We need to ask ourselves about the way we relate to persons from different cultures, as our communities become increasingly international.  How can we enable each member to say freely what he or she thinks, to be accepted with his or her particular gifts, and to become fully co-responsible?
I also hope for a growth in communion between the members of different Institutes.  Might this Year be an occasion for us to step out more courageously from the confines of our respective Institutes and to work together, at the local and global levels, on projects involving formation, evangelization, and social action?  This would make for a more effective prophetic witness.  Communion and the encounter between different charisms and vocations can open up a path of hope.  No one contributes to the future in isolation, by his or her efforts alone, but by seeing himself or herself as part of a true communion which is constantly open to encounter, dialogue, attentive listening and mutual assistance.  Such a communion inoculates us from the disease of self-absorption.
Consecrated men and women are also called to true synergy with all other vocations in the Church, beginning with priests and the lay faithful, in order to “spread the spirituality of communion, first of all in their internal life and then in the ecclesial community, and even beyond its boundaries”.[7]
4.         I also expect from you what I have asked all the members of the Church: to come out of yourselves and go forth to the existential peripheries.  “Go into all the world”; these were the last words which Jesus spoke to his followers and which he continues to address to us (cf. Mk 16:15).  A whole world awaits us: men and women who have lost all hope, families in difficulty, abandoned children, young people without a future, the elderly, sick and abandoned, those who are rich in the world’s goods but impoverished within, men and women looking for a purpose in life, thirsting for the divine…
Don’t be closed in on yourselves, don’t be stifled by petty squabbles, don’t remain a hostage to your own problems.  These will be resolved if you go forth and help others to resolve their own problems, and proclaim the Good News.  You will find life by giving life, hope by giving hope, love by giving love.
I ask you to work concretely in welcoming refugees, drawing near to the poor, and finding creative ways to catechize, to proclaim the Gospel and to teach others how to pray.  Consequently, I would hope that structures can be streamlined, large religious houses repurposed for works which better respond to the present demands of evangelization and charity, and apostolates adjusted to new needs.
5.         I expect that each form of consecrated life will question what it is that God and people today are asking of them.
Monasteries and groups which are primarily contemplative could meet or otherwise engage in an exchange of experiences on the life of prayer, on ways of deepening communion with the entire Church, on supporting persecuted Christians, and welcoming and assisting those seeking a deeper spiritual life or requiring moral or material support.
The same can be done by Institutes dedicated to works of charity, teaching and cultural advancement, to preaching the Gospel or to carrying out specific pastoral ministries.  It could also be done by Secular Institutes, whose members are found at almost every level of society.  The creativity of the Spirit has generated ways of life and activities so diverse that they cannot be easily categorized or fit into ready-made templates.  So I cannot address each and every charismatic configuration.  Yet during this Year no one can feel excused from seriously examining his or her presence in the Church’s life and from responding to the new demands constantly being made on us, to the cry of the poor.
Only by such concern for the needs of the world, and by docility to the promptings of the Spirit, will this Year of Consecrated Life become an authentic kairos, a time rich in God’s grace, a time of transformation.
1.         In this letter, I wish to speak not only to consecrated persons, but also to the laity, who share with them the same ideals, spirit and mission.  Some Religious Institutes have a long tradition in this regard, while the experience of others is more recent.  Indeed, around each religious family, every Society of Apostolic Life and every Secular Institute, there is a larger family, a “charismatic family”, which includes a number of Institutes which identify with the same charism, and especially lay faithful who feel called, precisely as lay persons, to share in the same charismatic reality.
I urge you, as laity, to live this Year for Consecrated Life as a grace which can make you more aware of the gift you yourselves have received.  Celebrate it with your entire “family”, so that you can grow and respond together to the promptings of the Spirit in society today.  On some occasions when consecrated men and women from different Institutes come together, arrange to be present yourselves so as to give expression to the one gift of God.  In this way you will come to know the experiences of other charismatic families and other lay groups, and thus have an opportunity for mutual enrichment and support.
2.         The Year for Consecrated Life concerns not only consecrated persons, but the entire Church.  Consequently, I ask the whole Christian people to be increasingly aware of the gift which is the presence of our many consecrated men and women, heirs of the great saints who have written the history of Christianity.  What would the Church be without Saint Benedict and Saint Basil, without Saint Augustine and Saint Bernard, without Saint Francis and Saint Dominic, Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Angelica Merici and Saint Vincent de Paul.  The list could go on and on, up to Saint John Bosco and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.  As Blessed Paul VI pointed out: “Without this concrete sign there would be a danger that the charity which animates the entire Church would grow cold, that the salvific paradox of the Gospel would be blunted, and that the “salt” of faith would lose its savour in a world undergoing secularization” (Evangelica Testificatio, 3).
So I invite every Christian community to experience this Year above all as a moment of thanksgiving to the Lord and grateful remembrance for all the gifts we continue to receive, thanks to the sanctity of founders and foundresses, and from the fidelity to their charism shown by so many consecrated men and women.  I ask all of you to draw close to these men and women, to rejoice with them, to share their difficulties and to assist them, to whatever degree possible, in their ministries and works, for the latter are, in the end, those of the entire Church.  Let them know the affection and the warmth which the entire Christian people feels for them.
3.         In this letter I do not hesitate to address a word to the consecrated men and women and to the members of fraternities and communities who belong to Churches of traditions other than the Catholic tradition.  Monasticism is part of the heritage of the undivided Church, and is still very much alive in both the Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church.  The monastic tradition, and other later experiences from the time when the Church in the West was still united, have inspired analogous initiatives in the Ecclesial Communities of the reformed tradition.  These have continued to give birth to further expressions of fraternal community and service.
The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life has planned a number of initiatives to facilitate encounters between members of different expressions of consecrated and fraternal life in the various Churches.  I warmly encourage such meetings as a means of increasing mutual understanding, respect and reciprocal cooperation, so that the ecumenism of the consecrated life can prove helpful for the greater journey towards the unity of all the Churches.
4.         Nor can we forget that the phenomenon of monasticism and of other expressions of religious fraternity is present in all the great religions.  There are instances, some long-standing, of inter-monastic dialogue involving the Catholic Church and certain of the great religious traditions.  I trust that the Year of Consecrated Life will be an opportunity to review the progress made, to make consecrated persons aware of this dialogue, and to consider what further steps can be taken towards greater mutual understanding and greater cooperation in the many common areas of service to human life.
Journeying together always brings enrichment, and can open new paths to relationships between peoples and cultures, which nowadays appear so difficult.
5.         Finally, in a special way, I address my brother bishops.  May this Year be an opportunity to accept institutes of consecrated life, readily and joyfully, as a spiritual capital which contributes to the good of the whole body of Christ (cf. Lumen Gentium, 43), and not simply that of the individual religious families.  “Consecrated life is a gift to the Church, it is born of the Church, it grows in the Church, and it is entirely directed to the Church”.[8]  For this reason, precisely as a gift to the Church, it is not an isolated or marginal reality, but deeply a part of her.  It is at the heart of the Church, a decisive element of her mission, inasmuch as it expresses the deepest nature of the Christian vocation and the yearning of the Church as the Bride for union with her sole Spouse.  Thus, “it belongs… absolutely to the life and holiness” of the Church (ibid., 44).
In the light of this, I ask you, the Pastors of the particular Churches, to show special concern for promoting within your communities the different charisms, whether long-standing or recent.  I ask you to do this by your support and encouragement, your assistance in discernment, and your tender and loving closeness to those situations of suffering and weakness in which some consecrated men or women may find themselves.  Above all, do this by instructing the People of God in the value of consecrated life, so that its beauty and holiness may shine forth in the Church.
I entrust this Year of Consecrated Life to Mary, the Virgin of listening and contemplation, the first disciple of her beloved Son.  Let us look to her, the highly beloved daughter of the Father, endowed with every gift of grace, as the unsurpassed model for all those who follow Christ in love of God and service to their neighbour.
Lastly, I join all of you in gratitude for the gifts of grace and light with which the Lord graciously wills to enrich us, and I accompany you with my Apostolic Blessing.
From the Vatican, 21 November 2014, Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

[1] Apostolic Letter to the Religious of Latin America on the occasion of the Fifth Centenary of the Evangelization of the New World Los caminos del Evangelio (29 June 1990), 26.
[2] SACRED CONGREGATION FOR RELIGIOUS AND SECULAR INSTITUTES, Religious and Human Promotion (12 August 1980), 24: L’Osservatore Romano, Suppl., 12 November 1980, pp. i-viii.
[3] Address to Rectors and Students of the Pontifical Colleges and Residences of Rome (2 May 2014).
[4] POPE BENEDICT XVI, Homily for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (2 February 2013).
[5] Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (6 January 2001), 43.
[6] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (24 November 2013), 87
[7] JOHN PAUL II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata (25 March 1996), 51.
[8]  BISHOP J.M. BERGOGLIO, Intervention at the Synod on the Consecrated Life and its Mission in the Church and in the World, XVI General Congregation, 13 October 1994.
(from Vatican Radio)