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World Congress says religious life needs "fewer professionals, more witnesses"

The first World Congress of Consecrated Life has ended in Rome with a statement in which religious worldwide commit themselves to witness with their lives the Gospel in times of terrorism.

Zenit reports that Fr José María Arnáiz, secretary of the Union of Superiors General and co-organiser of the congress, summarised the conclusions with the phrase: "fewer professionals and more witnesses."

The final statement highlights some of the main social evils, such as growing impoverishment, wars, terrorism and the "concentration of economic power."

In his address to the congress, Archbishop Franc Rodé, prefect of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, suggested that consecrated life must be "founded on the Eucharist and based on an ample and solid commitment in the sector of formation."

Brotherhood and the overcoming of ideological prejudices was the focus of the address delivered by Fr Timothy Radcliffe, former master of the Dominicans.

"We must allow the Holy Spirit to demolish the little ideological speeches, both of the right and of the left, in which we find security," he said.

At the invitation of Andrea Riccardi, founder of the lay Community of Sant'Egidio, the participants attended a prayer vigil in the Basilica of St. Mary of Trastevere, in memory of those who gave their lives for the Gospel.

In a message addressed to the congress and read by Archbishop Rodé, John Paul II said: "The people of our time are on occasions so impoverished that they are no longer capable of recognising their own poverty."

"Our age places us before forms of injustice and abuse, before the selfish prevarications of individuals and groups, which can be described as unheard of," the Pope said. "From this stems the obfuscation of hope in many."

"In this situation, consecrated men and women are called to offer disoriented, spent and forgetful humanity credible testimonies of Christian hope, making visible the love of God who does not abandon anyone and offering lost man genuine reasons to continue hoping," the Holy Father continued.

The National Catholic Reporter's Rome correspondent John Allen reported on what he called a "remarkable gathering", in his web column last Friday.

He said that of the 850 participants, 91 were from Africa, 248 from the Americas, 95 from Asia, 17 from Oceania and 399 from Europe. Women's congregations were represented by 323 superiors general, the men's congregations by 160. One hundred-thirteen delegates represent the Conferences of Religious; there are 17 directors of publications on the consecrated life, and 60 religious representing "young people." There were also 114 theologians.

"Because of the international nature of the meeting, you get a more global view of world, the church, and the place of religious life," Erie Benedictine Sr Christine Vladimiroff told him. She said that new friendships and possibilities for collaboration across international borders are among the fruits.

Mercedarian Sr Filo Hirota, coordinator for her order in Japan, applauded the collaborative, participative style of the meeting, contrasting it with another world congress she recently attended at the Ergife Hotel organised by the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

"Even how the tables are arranged is different," she said. "This time, we're sitting in small groups, around tables, so we can talk with each other. Before it was like a classroom. When the Vatican organizes a congress, sometimes the impression is that they're not serious about the outcome."

The mission of religious life today, said Confederation of Latin American Religious president Sr Quintanilla Morŕn of El Salvador, is to be "mystically prophetic, and prophetically mystical."

Vladimiroff challenged a couple of frequently held notions about the state of religious life today. First was the impression that consecrated life, especially in North America and Europe, is moribund.

"What I see across the United States as I travel with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious is great vigor and energy," she said. "You find congregations engaged in new ministries, not ones that require buildings and structures, but where the people are."

Finally, Vladimiroff said that the sign value of this world congress might extend beyond the boundaries of consecrated life itself.

"At a time when nations aren't getting along together, perhaps the insights and friendships between religious who operate across borders can add to our desire to live as one human family," she said.

Plea for "Fewer Professionals, More Witnesses" (Zenit 28/11/04)
John L Allen: The World Congress on Consecrated Life (National Catholic Reporter 27/11/04)

International Congress on Religious Life ends today: "we must aim for quality witness and commitment to evangelisation and human promotion" says José Maria Arnaiz (Fides 28/11/04)
Consecrated Life: Crucial to Deepen Sense of Vocation To Go Beyond Current Forms (Vidimus Dominum 29/11/04)
Congress: Question of Permanent Formation More Important Than First Thought (Vidimus Dominum 29/11/04)
Congress: Papal Message But No Vatican Audience (Vidimus Dominum 29/11/04)
Congress: Today's 7 Virtues of Consecrated Life Launched With Final Message (Vidimus Dominum 29/11/04)
Consecrated Life: Archbishop Rodé: A Religious Way to Respond to the Challenges of the Times (Vidimus Dominum 25/11/04)
Consecrated Life: Among the Participants Strong Search for Past and Future (Vidimus Dominum 25/11/04)
Congress: Consecrated Life in Open Dialog With Social and Ecclesial Movements (Vidimus Dominum 25/11/04)
Congress: Without Youth Consecrated Life Destined To Disappear (Vidimus Dominum 25/11/04)
Congress: Response to Post-Modernity to Guarantee Future of Consecrated Life (Vidimus Dominum 25/11/04)
Prefect seeks renewal in religious life (Catholic World News 24/11/04)
John L. Allen: Preview of the World Congress on Consecrated Life (National Catholic Reporter 8/10/04)
World Congress on Consecrated Life begins (Vatican Information Service 23/11/04)
Passion for christ, passion for humanity - The World Congress On Consecrated Life (Unione Superiore Maggiori d'Italia)

30 Nov 2004