Inspiring final gathering

Inspiring final gathering

For Year of Consecrated Life

By Br. Paul Bednarczyk C.S.C.

Religious from around the world greeted Pope Francis enthusiastically during their audience with him on February 1. Photo courtesy of the Vatican YouTube channel.

I was privileged to attend the International Meeting on Consecrated Life, sponsored by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL) and held at the Vatican from January 28 to February 2.

Gathering under the theme of “Consecrated life in Unity,” more than 5,000 men and women religious (apostolic and cloistered), consecrated seculars, virgins, and hermits came from all corners of the globe to celebrate with Pope Francis the closing of the Year of Consecrated Life.

The conference opened with a beautiful Prayer Vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica featuring the Vatican Choir. While most general sessions where held in the Paul VI Audience Hall with simultaneous translation in six languages, there were opportunities for individual forms of consecrated life (apostolic/monastic men, cloistered nuns, consecrated virgins, and consecrated seculars) to meet in their own groups for talks and discussion. Mass was said in various languages in churches throughout the city for the participants.

The highlight, of course, was the audience with the Holy Father, on February 1. His entrance into the hall was met with thunderous applause and cheers, which he clearly enjoyed. While he did have a prepared statement, he put it aside and instead chose, as he said, “to speak from the heart.” The three themes the pope touched upon were prophesy, proximity, and hope. He said our fidelity to the vow of obedience with a loving heart is in and of itself a prophetic witness. He encouraged those present to be in proximity, in other words, to be close to the sufferings of Christians and non-Christians alike. Finally, he asked us never to give up on hope, especially with vocations. The Holy Father spoke about his personal pain he feels about the lack of vocations to consecrated life. While prayer needs to be foremost, he also said that congregations should not be tempted to just accept anyone because of fewer numbers. (See video and a report of this event here. Find the full video here.)

Pope Francis officially closed the Year of Consecrated Life on February 2, the Feast of the Presentation and the day the Church celebrates World Day of Consecrated Life, with a special Mass at St. Peter’s. There were so many people eager to attend, the Basilica was filled to capacity with an overflow of approximately 4,000 people in St. Peter’s Square who watched the Mass on large screen TVs. (See the report and written homily here. See it on video here.)

I left Rome truly inspired and even more convinced of the valuable gift that consecrated life brings to the Church and the world. Habited and non-habited, apostolic and cloistered, young and old, I dare say that we all felt a oneness and solidarity in our common commitment.

On a personal level, to be with other consecrated men and women from around the globe, to experience the diversity of their charisms and lifestyles, and to witness their enthusiasm and love for this unique form of discipleship, I truly felt that I was part of something greater beyond my own congregation and country. I, like the other participants, am part of a legacy integral to the Church for centuries while standing on the shoulders of the millions of women and men who have gone before us and who lived and died by their vows.

God’s grace is abundant! I gave and continue to give thanks to God for this goodness, for the gift of our vocations, and for the many men and women who discern this life with us. Deo gratias! 

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