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The men and women who awaken the world

· Pope Francis meets with the Union of Superiors General and announces that the year 2015 will be dedicated to consecrated life ·

“Men and women who awaken the world”: Pope Francis chose this striking phrase to describe the mission of religious in our modern world when he announced that the year 2015 will be dedicated to the consecrated life. This was announced in a public statement by the Union of Superiors General (usg), after their audience with the Pope on Friday, 29 November, which took place in the Synod Hall.

The Holy Father received the 120 leaders of religious congregations, gathered at the Salesianum in Rome from 27 to 29 November for the 82nd General Assembly, in an audience that lasted for three full hours. The Pope chose to hold the meeting with fraternal and colloquial discussion composed of questions and answers. The first group of questions focused on the identity and mission of consecrated life. Radical life is required of all Christians, the Pope said, but the religious are called to follow the Lord in a special way: “They are the men and women who awaken the world. Consecrated life is prophecy. God asks us to leave the nest that restrains us and to be sent to the edges of the world, avoiding the temptations to domesticate them. This is the most effective way to imitate the Lord”.

When asked about the current situation of vocations, the Pope pointed out that there are young Churches which are bearing new fruits. This compels us to rethink the inculturation of charism. Following the example of Matteo Ricci, the Church must ask forgiveness, and look very shamefully upon, apostolic failures due to misunderstandings like this. Intercultural dialogue must push for people from various cultures, who express different ways of living a charism, to be involved in the governance of religious institutions.

The Pope emphasized the importance of formation that is based on four pillars: spiritual, intellectual, communal and apostolic. It is essential to avoid every form of hypocrisy and clericalism through frank and open dialogue on every aspect of life: “Formation is craftsmanship not enforcement”, he said, “and the goal is to train religious who have a heart that is tender, not sour like vinegar. We are all sinners, but we are not corrupt. We accept sinners, but not the corrupt”.

When asked about fraternity, the Pope answered that it has an enormous power of attraction. It presupposes the acceptance of differences and conflicts. Sometimes it is hard to live, but if you do not live it, you are not fruitful. Nevertheless, “we must never manage in the conflict of a brother: we must treat the conflict with care”.

He was then asked a few questions on the relations between religious and the particular Churches to which they belong. The Pope said that he knew from experience the possible dilemmas: “We bishops must understand that consecrated people are not materials for help, but they are gifts that enrich the dioceses”.

The last questions concerned the missionary frontier of consecrated persons. “They should be sought after on the basis of charisms”, the Holy Father said. Alongside these challenges he mentioned the cultural and educational challenges that exist in schools and universities. Before taking leave the Pope said: “Thank you for your witness and for the humiliations which you have had to go through”.

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