This conference for young consecrated men and women in September 2015 offered me more than I anticipated. Four days in Rome with other young religious and our younger RSCJ from around the world. The themes for each of the days echoed the themes Pope Francis used in his letter at the beginning of the Year for Consecrated Life: Listening to the Calling, In the Heart of Fraternity, Humanity's Anguishes and Hopes and Within the Church Communion. The input for each day was very rich and I found the themes resonated with my own journey.
It was a real privilege to have an audience with Pope Francis and particularly when he was asked about his own call to Religious Life. Pope Francis reminded us of the importance of remembering our first call; "James and John never forgot their first meeting with Jesus." Return to the source in times of struggle, the memory of the time that the Lord that looked at us and loved us. Look at our lives with the Lord and in return do we adore the Lord? "Do we say, 'you are the Lord.' and then wonder at the Lord?"
Through the various speakers we heard much about the importance of community and the joys and challenges of living authentic community which can be, as Pope Francis asks, 'A prophetic witness.' We were challenged to take our Charisms and lives out into the world. On the third day we looked at the needs of mission in the world. How can respond to the face of Christ in the world in a sustainable, authentic and God centred way? The last day really helped me to look at how Religious Life relates to the Church community, it is necessary for the Church but also that the Church is necessary for Religious Life. We cannot be isolated from the Church.
We also had the opportunity to experience some projects working with people in various social situations around Rome. There were sessions with Religious orders and groups working with homeless people, ill people, women who had been trafficked. I attended the evening with 'Talitha Kum', a project of the Conference of Major Superiors of Italy working with women who have been and are in prostitution. It was inspiring to hear about the work of many religious sisters in trying to prevent the trafficking of people and to support people to restore their lives. As there are religious orders all over the world Talitha Kum seeks to build networks and relationships with the various countries women may have been trafficked from, in order to offer women support if they have to return home. They also offer language classes, help to sort out official documents, courses for work and all to support women into independent life. I was shocked to hear that just before we arrived they had met 85 girls in two week from the boats crossing the Mediterranean. With this kind of project seeking and finding ways to meet and support women we can really make a difference and bring this to an end.
The real highlight for me was sharing this experience with our Probanists and other younger RSCJ and indeed many Religious from around the world. To hear the struggles, joys, hopes and dreams of so many for the future. It was good to know that there are many others walking the same journey. Religious life is diverse and alive! These kinds of meetings will be important as we look at the future of Religious Life and the need for collaboration among Religious Orders and the wider Church Community. We return to our communities with the words of Pope Francis encouraging us to continue dreaming.
Janet Hopper NSCJ