· Vatican City ·

The interview

The Bible is not enough to understand God

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06 February 2021

Liliana Franco, president of Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Religious (CLAR): nuns must study humanity


“We cannot remain anchored in “‘that’s the way it’s always been done’”. Here, Gloria Liliana Franco Echeverri, the president of CLAR is referring to the formation of nuns. With her usual sweet and persuasive tone, she is not afraid, however, to take clear positions. In addition to heading CLAR, she is a Sister of the Company of Mary and a theologian - in which she is finishing her doctorate-, she states unperturbed, “We need audacity”. 

What do you mean?

“We must have the audacity to make frameworks more flexible, more adaptable to the needs of the young people who enter our communities. Let them have the right to dream of the religious life they desire. How? By educating them in “meaning” rather than in “having to be”. In addition, by opening ourselves to their sensibilities, which are different from ours, with a healthy inter-generational dialogue. Sometimes, for example, novices ask to pray with the Gospel instead of following prayers that are more traditional. Why shouldn’t we try this?”.

What kind of formation is needed in today’s times?

The face of God has the features of Jesus of Nazareth. Through his words and gestures, we “know” the Father. The Gospel and Scripture are at the center of the formation of consecrated men and women. Biblical studies, however, are insufficient, especially for religious women. They are indispensable and as such, they constitute an important part of formation programmes; however, they must be integrated with anthropological disciplines, which are anything but widespread. The human dimension of education has too little space. The Lord, however, became flesh. In the folds of this flesh is hidden the narrative of a God who never ceases to speak to us. Knowing others and ourselves better brings us closer to Him. This is even more important for women’s religious life, which has a strong community connotation. Increasingly, as a result of declining vocations, congregations are maintaining a single novitiate or juniorate for all aspirants or dividing them by continent. Different cultures live side by side. It is not easy. Unless formation is capable of incorporating them, of making dialogue.

Dialogue is a word you often use, in it being linked to formation.

Dialogue between generations and between genders is the horizon towards which integral religious formation must strive. The engine for moving in that direction is audacity.

What do you mean by dialogue between genders?

This is a crucial point. Consecrated women and men are called upon to collaborate in the mission. It is necessary, therefore, that they learn to relate to each other in a healthy way. At present, many men affect the formation of women religious. The opposite, however, unfortunately, remains the exception. There are just a few women who play an important role in the formation of priests or consecrated persons. This is a serious limitation that we must have the audacity to modify. In faith as in life, women's hermeneutics is distinct from men's hermeneutics. Men are deprived of a precious wealth. I have seen with my own eyes, in the fight against sexual abuse and abuses of power, how important consecrated women are in accompanying wounded communities.

Dialogue and courage. Is there another word that could guide the formation of women religious in Latin America?

Quality. In the recent past, Latin America has made enormous strides in combating illiteracy. Today, the girls who knock on our doors are at least high school graduates. Often, however, congregations do not give due importance to the need to provide them with adequate and significant professional training, unlike in male religious life. Consecrated men engaged in college or post-graduate careers are allowed to commit themselves full-time to their studies. We are not. We must do so while we serve. The old prejudice of the nun as a “laborer”, unfortunately, is tough to kill off.    

Sister Liliana “met” God when she was still very young. “I must have been about four years old”, she recounts. One day, her grandmother, who lived next door to the convent of the Carmelite Missionaries of Medellín, made her place her ear up against the wall. On the other side of the wall was the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. “Listen to how He loves you and tell Him that you love Him, too”, the elderly woman told her granddaughter. “At that moment I had my first clear image of God, a Father-Mother full of love. This is the great challenge of religious formation, i.e. to transmit the authentic image of the Lord. The rest is consequence."

Today, Sister Liliana from Colombia prefers to refer to herself simply “woman and disciple”.

By Lucia Capuzzi