The following official statement was issued from the Conference of Major Superiors of Men after a meeting with Pope Francis on Monday, May 5. Our own Br. John Pavlik, OFM Cap., of Sacred Heart Friary in Washington, DC, serves as the Executive Secretary of the Conference. In the photos with the Pope, he's the man in the Capuchin habit (second from right) . . . .
The Executive Committee of CMSM met with Pope Francis in a private audience on Monday, May 5, 2014 in the Papal Library. We had a free and open discussion of many of the issues important to religious in the United States. We began by thanking the Holy Father for calling the Year of Consecrated Life and about our hope that the vocation of the Religious Brother can be highlighted during the year.
The Pope informed us that a document on the Brothers’ vocation would be issued soon. We then asked Pope Francis what he would like to share with religious in the United States. The Holy Father responded by saying that he was very interested in the collaboration between religious and the hierarchy, about vocations, and about issues related to formation. We spoke of our desire to improve the Bishops’ understanding of the role of religious life in the Church in the United States.
The Holy Father agreed this was essential and spoke of the necessity of developing a unity among bishops and men and women religious. We added that CMSM has worked closely with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to ensure the protection of children and we thanked His Holiness for his initiatives in this regard. Instead of talking about vocations we shared the work done by the National Religious Vocations Conference and the work done on the vocation of the Religious Brother at CMSM. He received this information gladly.
The discussion on formation opened up a wide range of issues relevant to the life of religious. Pope Francis is very concerned that a genuine spirit of fraternity lives in our institutes. He sees a great witness in religious who have honest relationships that can resolve whatever conflicts arise. The Holy Father quoted a hymn which calls for “Eucharistic tenderness” as characteristic of our brotherhood. We are weak human beings but gospel values centered on Christ lead to authentic fraternity.
Pope Francis reminded us of the “four pillars” of formation: spiritual life, intellectual development, community living and apostolic formation. It was in this context that the Holy Father called us to “be brave, be courageous.” We should not be entrenched in a set way of doing things but become a church that “moves forth.” Here his call to “go out to the periphery” has special resonance. Those on the periphery are not in any one place and do not belong to any one class. They are those who do not feel “the sweetness of mercy.” For example, those in education ministry should not close schools but find ways of using those schools to touch lives that are broken. And the Holy Father reminded us that keeping our lives centered on the gospel requires that we genuinely touch the lives of the poor and allow the poor to touch our lives.
Pope Francis ended our discussion by reminding us that the prophetic dimension of the church is not separate from, but intimately woven together with, the administrative dimension. Institutions are called to be prophetic. With the proper interpretative “key of faith” we remember our heritage, we have the capacity to understand the present and we have the courage to place tomorrow in the hands of God. The transcendent vision of the action of the Holy Spirit enables us to “let go of many things” in order to give our special witness as religious.
As we were leaving, Pope Francis spoke of his hope of coming to the United States next year. If this develops, we hope that those in consecrated life will be a part of his visit.