Pope Francis encourages religious orders to ‘make their synodal journey’

Courtney Mares   By Courtney Mares for CNA


Pope Francis meets participants in the plenary assembly of the International Union of Superiors General on May 5, 2022. / Vatican Media. See CNA article for full slideshow. 

Vatican City, May 5, 2022 / 09:56 am (CNA).

After arriving in a wheelchair for a meeting with religious sisters at the Vatican on Thursday, Pope Francis delivered a message about how important he believes it is for religious congregations to “make their synodal journey.”

The pope spoke off the cuff at his audience with the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) in the Paul VI Hall on May 5 and then took time to answer some of the sisters’ questions in a closed-door meeting.

In his prepared written remarks, which were handed out to the religious sisters, the pope wrote that the synodal process provides an opportunity for “young and old to exchange their wisdom and visions of consecrated life.”

“In addition to actively participating in the synodal process at the local Church level, it is very important that communities, congregations, make their own synodal journey,” the pope said.

“I am counting on you so that the synodal process that we are experiencing in the Church may also take place within your institutes,” he added.

Pope Francis said that a synodal process within a religious congregation can also be a chance to “let uncomfortable questions emerge.”

The Synod on Synodality is a global, two-year consultative process of “listening and dialogue” in the Catholic Church that began in October 2021. The first stage is a diocesan phase expected to last until Aug. 15.

The Vatican has asked all dioceses to participate, hold consultations, and collect feedback on specific questions laid out in synod documents.

Religious communities, lay movements, associations of the faithful, and other ecclesial groups are encouraged to participate in the synodal process in this local context. But it is also possible for them to contribute directly to the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, according to the synod’s vademecum.

Many religious orders have already been participating in the first stage of the Synod on Synodality through their local dioceses.

The UISG, for women religious, and the Union of Superiors General (USG), for male religious, have also been collecting responses from the consultative phase.

The two bodies were given the task of synthesizing the responses from religious orders for the General Secretariat and the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

According to the UISG, if every religious congregation in the world participates, there will be more than 2,000 responses, which will need to be distilled into one 10-page document to be submitted by August.

At the end of the current process, an assembly of the Synod of Bishops is scheduled to take place in Rome in October 2023 to produce a final document to advise the pope.

Many other themes were reportedly addressed in Pope Francis’ unscripted discussion with the UISG, including the war in Ukraine, discernment within religious communities, and colonialism.

Members of the UISG are meeting in Rome on May 2-6 for a plenary assembly on the theme “Embracing Vulnerability on the Synodal Journey.”

“I know that there are many concerns that probably keep you awake at night — the lack of vocations, the constantly rising average age, the abandonment of the consecrated life, among others — but I hope that your main concern is how to proceed so as not to abandon the missionary vision,” the pope said.

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  1. If all pontifical councils and congregations and curial offices can be reorganized into equivalent dicasteries, what, under synodality, will be the best model for the varied religious congregations? Considering that the Second Vatican Council did call for a renewal, but in two dimensions:

    FIRST, “…Therefore loyal recognition and safekeeping should be accorded to the spirit of founders, as also to all the particular goals and wholesome traditions which constitute the heritage of each community” ((Perfectae Caritatis, Decree on the Appropriate Renewal of the Religious Life n. 2.a).“All communities should participate in the life of the Church [….] (2.c)”; “Communities should promote among their members a suitable awareness of contemporary human conditions and of the needs of the Church” (n. 2.d).

    SECOND, or really first, this lead-off clarification:

    “The appropriate renewal of religious life involves two simultaneous processes: (1) a continuous return to the sources of all Christian life and to the original inspiration behind a given community and (2) an adjustment of the community to changed conditions of the times [….], n. 2). And, “…the members of each community should combine contemplation with apostolic love” (n.5), and ““[….] faithfully preserve their form of life” (n.9).

    THIRD, there’s the overarching sign of the times of rapid decline in religious order membership, its deep causes, and how best and deeply to deal with it:

    “Worldwide, the decrease [1970 to 2020] in religious (sisters, brothers, and religious priests) is 33% (from 1,232,516 to 824,793). In the United States, the decrease in religious (sisters, brothers, and religious priests) is a much more dramatic 71% (from 194,474 to 55,466) (CARA 2021). About Europe it was difficult to find consistent data. The drop of 59% accounts for both Western and Eastern Europe between 1973 and 2018 and does not include the religious priests (Secretaria Status Rationarium Generale Ecclesiae 1975, p. 89; Agenzia Fides 2020.”

  2. Given Pope Francis’ synodal efforts to synodally force religious orders out of existence, is it synodally sinful to pray that he synodally dry up and blow away, synodally speaking of course?
    I so very much look forward to the time when that word will never be uttered by human tongue again in the remaining history of humanity.

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