The Interview
Sister Micaela Monetti, the new USMI president

Voting at the Synod,
change is in the air

 Voto al Sinodo,  un vento nuovo  DCM-006
03 June 2023

“I am happy that Pope Francis’ reform, step by step, manifests the face of the ecclesiology of Vatican II”, emphasizes Sister Micaela Monetti, of the Disciples of the Divine Master. She is commenting here on the recent changes that have been decided upon regarding the composition of the participants in the General Assembly of the Synod next October in the Vatican. Among those entitled to vote, there is going to be a provision for a fifty per cent presence of women among the laity and five religious among the Superiors General of Congregations. Sister Monetti tells me emphatically, “I shuddered with joy. I saw the face of a Church that evangelically truly reveals itself for what it is: a community united in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and not only in the name of the sacraments, ministries, gender issues. The request that had already emerged in previous synods has been taken up; because recognising the right to vote for women’s consecrated life is a step in line with the times”.

Sister Micaela, 67 years old, who was elected president of the Union of Major Superiors of Italy (USMI) April 14, expressed her gratitude for what she considers the prophetic power of the Pope. She welcomes this breath of renewal and is convinced that it will bring “a different look to the life of the Church and society”.  This is precisely what she has always felt the need for. In her opinion, in fact, “The Italian Church is still somewhat paralyzed by clericalism that sees the religious as a function of ecclesial services. Giving voice and space to women's experience and sensitivity would be necessary, also understood as recognition at the decision-making level. We are valued when it comes to the care of spaces and people, but when it is time to decide, it is the parish priest who decides”.  Sister Monetti is fully aware that it is not a question of the lay’s claim to the ministerial priesthood, but rather of being able to perform services to the best of one's abilities. For her, the assumption is that every ministry is a service. “If the ministry entrusted to me invests all my energies and abilities, why do I have to think of more?” In addition, she recounts, for example, having had the good fortune to meet women at the head of grassroots ecclesial communities in Amazonia or Argentina where “there really is an ecclesial diakonia that expresses itself in the figure of a female diaconate that we know is maturing. That should be enough”.

Monetti comes to this new appointment after having served for a double term as General Councillor that concluded in 2017. She is well aware of the many challenges concerning a meaningful presence of women in consecrated life. At the helm of the USMI she wants to make her contribution “in simplicity and fraternity” in order to embark on even courageous paths. The image of the sowers of hope, which the Pope used when he met with the women religious gathered in the General Assembly at the Vatican on the theme On the Synodal Path, Women Witnesses of the Risen Lord, appeals to her “because it gives us a sense of littleness,” she says, “but also the strength of generativity. It is not a matter of gathering fruits, because here we do not sell fruits, we sell seeds”. She recounts how being a superior has helped her to open her mind, heart and gaze precisely on the different, on cultural worlds that we may only know from tourism. An approach that also affects the non-obvious use of language. She tells me, “Talking about authority in democratic Countries, for example, has a very different weight compared to the same thing done in former communist contexts”.

It is the model of the polyhedron, which is so dear to Francis that interests her. This model reflects the confluence of all partialities while maintaining their originality in it. With this in mind, Sr. Micaela - with a substantial commitment to youth pastoral work to her credit - points to the Global Educational Pact as a field on which much work needs to be done. Regarding this, she confides a personal concern of hers that has to do with finding ways and means to address, without prejudice and hasty rejection, the issue of gender identity in Italian Catholic schools as well as in the vocational guidance frameworks themselves. In fact, Sr. Micaela emphasizes, “The issue of gender is one that is particularly close to my heart because the new generations, the young people who are wondering on a vocational proposal, we set them on paths without giving particular attention to a gender identity that is consolidated but which today receives so many challenges”.

Based on the daily field experience of so many sisters engaged in all-round formation work, the new president refers to an affectivity “caused by so much confusion and instability”.

In addition, Sr. Micaela continues, “There is an increasingly fluid world. One must accept the invitation that the Pope makes to listen before judging and pigeonholing, and recognise that God has a good word and a good way of seeing, and one cannot close the door a priori. You have to be there, and be there in a prepared manner”. Monetti explains that in journeys of vocational discernment and research, most of the time the young person's orientation is not immediately perceived, where fear of stigma also plays a big role. “It is usually in the juniorate period, in the perpetual vows phase, when the real surprises -even for the formators- emerge. What seemed certain until the day before yesterday, is no longer so. It is a field that is challenging us with profound and certainly disorienting questions. I do not have the answers but it is necessary to inhabit this reality and seek God’s plan together. Because, she continues, “there are forms and ways of consecrated life. We cannot bypass this reality, we need closeness. And our adolescents must also find in our consecrated persons points of reference to help them with the questions they are asking”. Moreover, in this regard, Sr. Micaela feels in line with Mother Yvonne Reungoat, whose baton she has taken up. It was she who, with her Salesian charism, made a great contribution to youth pastoral work. Sister Micaela continues, “One can only be joyful, open as Pope Francis wants us to be, if one has affective maturity”.

How, then, can we not be quick to seize the world of social media as an opportunity? These are areas that fascinate the USMI, which she describes as ‘gyms’ for confrontation and dialogue. Because “the synodal path is not just walking together, but is a community that finds a way of collective discernment by learning better methods of communication”. The great underlying challenge, in which they all graft, is in fact that of interculturality, which is much more than just a welcome. Sister Micaela concludes by telling me that the point is to move from Babel to Pentecost, to understand each other; this is what our communities need.