Pope Francis on Saturday met participants in the plenary assembly of the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life and thanked them for their service.
“Everything we do is at the service of the Gospel, and you, in particular, serve that "gospel" which is consecrated life, so that it may be the gospel for the world today.” Pope Francis made the remark to some 60 members of the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, at the end of their plenary assembly. He expressed his closeness to all those who believe in the future of consecrated life.
The Holy Father recalled that when Saint John Paul II convoked the 1994 Synod on consecrated life, it was a difficult time for the Church, with new experiences that did not always have positive results and the number of vocations was in decline in certain areas, which continues even today. Nevertheless, he noted, hope prevailed and continues to prevail, founded on the beauty of the gift that consecrated life is.
“This is what is decisive: focusing on God's gift, on the gratuitousness of His call, on the transforming power of His Word and His Spirit,” the Holy Father stressed. He encouraged the Congregation, the various institutes and particular Churches who help consecrated men and women keep alive the memory of their free gift and look to the future with confidence.
When one loses the memory of one’s history, one’s institution, of the wonders that God has done in the Church, in our institute, in my life, the Pope said, we lose strength and we will not be able to give life.
Their service, Pope Francis said can be summed up in discernment and accompaniment. Dealing with multiple and often complex situations is the serious and patient work of discernment, which, he said, can only be carried out within the horizon of faith and prayer.
They have to accompany especially communities of recent foundation, which are also more exposed to the risk of self-reference. An essential criterion for discernment is the ability of a community to integrate itself into the life of the Holy People of God for the good of all. “Consecrated life,” the Pope pointed out, “is born in the Church, it grows and can bear evangelical fruit only in the Church, in the living communion of the faithful People of God.”
The Holy Father called on the Congregation, communities and local Churches to be attentive to certain factors in the process of discerning and accompanying.
They must watch out against founders who sometimes tend to be self-referential, regarding themselves to be the sole custodians or interpreters of the charism, as if they were above the Church. They must be attentive to the pastoral care of vocations and the formation imparted to candidates. They must find out how the service of authority is exercised, the duration of mandates, the accumulation and abuse of power and authority in a community.
In the process of approving new institutes, forms of consecrated life or communities, Pope Francis exhorted the Congregation to collaborate with diocesan bishops. This will help avoid the inappropriate creation of institutes without sufficient motivation or adequate vigour.