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Key quotes from the Pope’s meeting with the Union of Superiors General

Pope Francis shares his thoughts on subjects including vocations, prophesising and formations

By on Friday, 3 January 2014

Pope Francis (CNS)

Pope Francis (CNS)

On November 29 the Pope met with 120 leaders of men’s religious orders at the Vatican. A full transcript of the three hour question and answer session was published by Jesuit journal, La Civiltà Cattolica, today. Here is a selection of some of the key quotes…

On Benedict XVI…

“He said that the Church grows through witness, not by proselytism. The witness that can really attract is that associated with attitudes which are uncommon: generosity, detachment, sacrifice, self-forgetfulness in order to care for others. This is the witness, the ‘martyrdom’ of religious life. It sounds an alarm for people”

On religious life and evangelism…

“Religious life ought to promote growth in the Church by way of attraction. The Church must be attractive. Wake up the world! Be witnesses of a different way of doing things, of acting, of living! It is possible to live differently in this world. We are speaking of an eschatological outlook, of the values of the Kingdom incarnated here, on this earth. It is a question of leaving everything to follow the Lord. No, I do not want to say ‘radical’. Evangelical radicalness is not only for religious: it is demanded of all. But religious follow the Lord in a special was, in a prophetic way. It is this witness that I expect of you. Religious should be men and women who are able to wake the world up.”

“You should be real witnesses of a world of doing and acting differently. But in life it is difficult for everything to be clear, precise, outlined neatly. Life is complicated; it consists of grace and sin. He who does not sin is not human. We all make mistakes and we need to recognise our weakness. A religious who recognises himself as weak and a sinner does not negate the witness that he is called to give, rather he reinforces it, and this is good for everyone. What I expect of you therefore is to give witness. I want this special witness from religious.”

On reality and fundamentalism…

“It is not a good strategy to be at the centre of a sphere. To understand we ought to move around, to see reality from various viewpoints. We ought to get used to thinking. I often refer to a letter of Father Pedro Arrupe, who had been General of the Society of Jesus. It was a letter directed to the Centros de Investigación y Acción Social (CIAS). In this letter Father Arrupe spoke of poverty and said that some time of real contact with the poor is necessary. This is really very important to me: the need to become acquainted with reality by experience, to spend time walking on the periphery in order really to become acquainted with the reality and life-experiences of people. If this does not happen we then run the risk of being abstract ideologists or fundamentalists, which is not healthy.”

On young people…

“Those who work with youth cannot be content with simply saying things that are too tidy and structured, as in a tract; these things go in one ear and out the other of young people. We need a new language, a new way of saying things. Today God asks this of us: to leave the nest which encloses us in order to be sent. He who lives his consecration in a cloister lives this interior tension in prayer so that the Gospel might grow. The fulfillment of the evangelical command, ‘Go to the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature’ (Mk 16:15) can be accomplished with this hermeneutical key shifted to the existential and geographical periphery. It is the most concrete way of imitating Jesus, who went toward all the peripheries. Jesus went to all, really all. I would not really feel uncomfortable going to the periphery: you should not feel uncomfortable in reaching out to anyone.”

On prophesising…

“To be prophets, in particular, by demonstrating how Jesus lived on this earth, and to proclaim how the kingdom of God will be in its perfection. A religious must never give up prophesising… Let us think about what so many great saints, monks and religious men and women have done, from St Anthony the Abbot onward. Being prophets may sometimes involve making ruido [Spanish for noise]. I do not know how to put it… Prophecy makes noise, uproar, some say ‘a mess.’ But in reality, the charism of religious people is like yeast: prophecy announces the spirit of the Gospel..”

On vocations around the world…

“All cultures are able to be called by the Lord, that he is free to stir up more vocations in one part of the world than in another. What does the Lord wish to say by sending us vocations from the youngest Churches? I don’t know. But I ask myself the question. We have to ask it. The Lord’s will is somehow in all this. There are Churches who are bearing new fruit. At one time they perhaps were not so fertile, but they are now. This necessitates, of course, rethinking the inculturation of the charism. The charism is one but, as Saint Ignatius used to say, it needs to be lived according to the places, times and persons. The charism is not a bottle of distilled water. It needs to be lived energetically as well as reinterpreted culturally. But in this way there is the danger of making a mistake, you say, of committing errors. It is risky. Certainly, certainly: we will always make mistakes, no doubt about it. But this should not stop us, because there is the chance of making worse mistakes. In fact we should always ask for forgiveness and look shamefully upon apostolic failures due to a lack of courage. Just think, for example, of the pioneer intuitions of Matteo Ricci which were allowed to crumble at that time.”

On formation…

“The formation of candidates is fundamental. There are four pillars of formation: spiritual, intellectual, communitarian and apostolic. The ghost to fight against is the image of religious life understood as an escape or hiding place in face of an ‘external’, difficult and complex world. The four pillars should be integrated right from the first day of entrance into the noviceship, and should not be arranged sequentially. They must be interactive.”

“Daily culture is much richer and conflictual than that which we experienced in our day, years ago. Our culture was simpler and more ordered. Inculturation today calls for a different attitude. For example: problems are not solved simply by forbidding doing this or that. Dialog as well as confrontation are needed. To avoid problems, in some houses of formation, young people grit their teeth, try not to make mistakes, follow the rules smiling a lot, just waiting for the day when they are told: ‘Good. You have finished formation.’ This is hypocrisy that is the result of clericalism, which is one of the worst evils. I said as much to the bishops of the Latin American Bishops Conference (CELAM) this summer in Rio de Janeiro: we need to conquer this propensity toward clericalism in houses of formation and seminaries too.”

“If the seminary is too large, it ought to be divided into smaller communities with formators who are equipped really to accompany those in their charge. Dialogue must be serious, without fear, sincere. It is important to recall that the language of young people in formation today is different from that in the past: we are living through an epochal change. Formation is a work of art, not a police action. We must form their hearts. Otherwise we are creating little monsters. And then these little monsters mold the People of God. This really gives me goose bumps.”

On religious brotherhood

“Religious brotherhood” — continued the Pope — “with all its possible diversity, is an experience of love that goes beyond conflicts. Community conflicts are inevitable: in a certain sense they need to happen, if the community is truly living sincere and honest relationships. That’s life. It does not make sense to think of living in a community in which there are brothers who are not experiencing difficulties in their lives. Something is missing from communities where there is no conflict. Reality dictates that there are conflicts in all families and all groups of people. And conflict must be faced head on: it should not be ignored. 11 John (Jan) Berchmans (Diest [Belgium], March 12, 1599 — Rome, August 13, 1621 was a Jesuit, canonized by Pope Leo XIII in 1888. He pronounced his first religious profession as a Jesuit on September 24, 1618 and moved to Rome to complete his philosophical studies at the Roman College, where he fell ill. He died only two years later, August 13, 1621. True to his favorite mottos: Age quod agis (Do what you are doing well) and Maximi facere minima (Do the most with the least), he succeeded in accomplishing ordinary things in an extraordinary way and became the patron saint of community life. Covering it over just creates a pressure cooker that will eventually explode. A life without conflicts is not life.”

On religious orders and their relationship with local Churches

“The fact is: I know the problems, but I also know that the bishops are not always acquainted with the charisms and works of religious. We bishops need to understand that consecrated persons are not functionaries but gifts that enrich dioceses. The involvement of religious communities in dioceses is important. Dialog between the bishop and religious must be rescued so that, due to a lack of understanding of their charisms, bishops do not view religious simply as useful instruments.”

On education…

“Convey understanding, convey ways of doing things, convey values. Faith is conveyed through these. The educator should be up to being a person who educates, he or she should consider how to proclaim Jesus Christ to a generation that is changing. Education today is a key, key, key mission!”

A full transcript of the Pope’s remarks can be downloaded here.