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Southern African Bishops issue a pastoral letter on Year of Consecrated Life

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February 10, 2015

bishopsMESSAGES - At the end of their first plenary session of this year, the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference has this week issued a pastoral letter on the “The Year of Consecrated Life.” In the pastoral letter, they call on all Southern African Catholics to rejoice in the gift of men and women who live wonderful lives of selfless activity and service.

The Bishops say they welcomed the invitation of Pope Francis to make this, a year of thanksgiving and of deeper reflection on the calling of consecrated men and women.

The Bishops also urge all dioceses and parishes in Southern Africa to celebrate the precious gift of consecrated life in their midst. They further remind religious men and women to cultivate and deepen their relationship with Jesus and his mother, Mary,

When Pope Francis declared the Year of Consecrated Life, he said it would start on the first Sunday of Advent, 30 November 2014. The observance will end on the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, 2 February 2016.

At the time, Pope underlined the aims of the Year of Consecrated Life as an opportunity to look to the past with gratitude, to live the present with passion and to embrace the future with hope.

Here below is the full text of the Pastoral letter from the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

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30 November 2014 – 02 February 2016

I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your generous will. (Matt 11:25)

Brothers and Sisters in the Consecrated Life, Priests and the People of God,

Speaking these words aloud, Jesus rejoiced immensely in the activity and wisdom of the Holy Spirit as he thanked and praised his Father whose mission he himself had come to accomplish.

We rejoice in a similar way in the lives lived and the wonderful activity and service carried out by so many consecrated men and women in our country and in our world. We welcome the invitation of Pope Francis to make this a year of thanksgiving and of deeper reflection on the calling of the consecrated men and women among us.

We think of all the consecrated men and women who have laboured in our countries, from Bishop Griffith, the first Vicar Apostolic of the Cape and Fr. George Corcoran, both Dominicans; the Missionary Sisters of the Assumption and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, to mention a few of the first ones, up to the most recently consecrated persons from within our countries and those who have come among us from elsewhere. Consecrated men and women established the local church in our dioceses and most of our parishes, schools and hospitals, and still today they minister in the local church and outlying communities, serving people of every background in countless ways. We pay tribute to all deceased Religious who have served in our countries and are buried in our soil, sometimes in obscure or forgotten graves. We appreciate all those Religious who have grown old among us, who have given courageous witness and led exemplary lives.

We ask that in our dioceses and parishes we celebrate the precious gift of consecrated life together with the contemplative and active Religious among us, also by visiting and supporting the sick and aged among them.

Jesus himself calls and consecrates

Consecrated men and women are called to leave everything to follow Jesus. “In their finite humanity, on the margins, in their everyday struggles, consecrated men and women live out their fidelity, giving a reason for the joy that lives in them. So they become splendid witnesses, effective proclaimers, companions and neighbours for the women and men with whom they share a common history and who want to find their Father’s house in the Church.”[1] 

St. Francis of Assisi, who took the Gospel as his way of life “made faith grow and he renewed the Church, and at the same time he renewed society, he made it more fraternal, but he always did it with the Gospel and by his witness. Always preach the Gospel and if necessary use words!”[2]

“I have called you by your name; you are mine (Isaiah 43:1)

Each of our Brothers and Sisters in the consecrated life, recalls a word, an event, a priest or religious who inspired them; something as simple as a word of Scripture, the attraction of the religious habit, the kindness of a dedicated religious … Each began a journey with a simple and humble “yes”, beginning a journey by which the Lord drew each one into a deeper relationship with himself, so that his word was deeply understood and cherished: “I have called you by name; you are mine.”

Pope Francis, who identifies himself as a Religious, shares with us his hopes for this year of consecrated life. “May this Year of Consecrated Life also be an occasion for confessing humbly, with immense confidence in the God who is Love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8), our own weakness and, in it, to experience the Lord’s merciful love.  May this Year likewise be an occasion for bearing vigorous and joyful witness before the world to the holiness and vitality present in so many of those called to follow Jesus in the consecrated life.”[3]

We affirm with gratitude all that Pope Francis says. We would like to highlight one of his appeals to the Consecrated men and women, and indeed, the whole Church:

“Once again, we have to ask ourselves: Is Jesus really our first and only love, as we promised he would be when we professed our vows?  Only if he is, will we be empowered to love, in truth and mercy, every person who crosses our path.  For we will have learned from Jesus the meaning and practice of love.  We will be able to love because we have his own heart.”[4]

Embracing the Future with Hope

We are all called by our baptism to love Jesus, to follow him, to be united with him and to make him known. The Church as a whole could not faithfully fulfil its mission without the prophetic witness of consecrated men and women. The special quality of their lives becomes a leaven in the Church. Their radically obedient response to grace, by which they are prompted to leave everything, wife, husband, children, family, land and possessions, leads them to embrace the life Jesus lived – a life which was poor, celibate and obedient to the Father.

We ask that in your homes and in your parishes, especially throughout this year, you pray fervently that God will touch the hearts of many among us and inspire them to leave all things and follow Christ.

Jesus, at the Last Supper, said to his companions: “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (Jn 15:16). Vocation is always first of all an initiative of God. It is Christ who calls. Those who respond follow him: the majority in marriage, some as priests, some in the consecrated life and still others in the single life. Each Christian calling means a continuous ‘exodus’ from ourselves to love and serve others through centring our life on Christ and on his Gospel, on the will of God, often laying aside our own plans.

The witness of Community Living

A jewel in the life of the Church is the witness of the community way of life. It speaks eloquently to our people. The witness of internationality and multi-cultural living counteracts the tendency to extreme nationalism. Caring for one another across the boundaries of age and culture and listening to each other with respect encourages all to live the Gospel by openness to the mystery of God in each other. Sharing the gifts of the earth and human labour in the midst of a consumerist society, so status conscious of wealth and status, promotes those Gospel values cherished and lived by Jesus. Prayer and contemplation lend credibility and value to apostolic initiatives which witness to selfless love.

Jesus sent his disciples out two by two so that they would learn to love one another before they preached love; that they become “a leaven of communion at the service of the mission of the universal Church …”[5]  As contemplative or active Religious, living in community and ministering as community, enables people “to see and believe that today in Africa, those men and women who follow Christ Jesus ?nd in him the secret of living happily together: mutual love and fraternal communion, strengthened daily by the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours.”[6]  

Mary our Mother

The call to the consecrated life begins with a relationship with Jesus. His mother, Mary, by her own life inspires us to dedicate ourselves totally to the person and work of Jesus. We recognise and affirm that “acceptance of the ‘virginal and humble life’ of Christ also means imitation of Mary's way of life.”[7]

We entrust our dear consecrated Brothers and Sisters in a very special way to our Mother’s prayers and to her love. May she share with them, and with all of us, the love which enables them to offer their lives every day for Christ and to cooperate with him in the salvation of the world.[8]

With Pope Francis we say, “Let us constantly set out anew, with trust in the Lord.”[9]

Archbishop Stephen Brislin

Source: Vatican Radio, January 20, 2015

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