God calls us to encounter - the encounter which is born of the call, culminates in vision

Sr Monica Cavanagh RSJ

Sr Monica Cavanagh RSJ

As we step forward into the hopes and dreams of 2019, we pause to reflect on the role of Consecrated Women and Men in the life of the Church and the wider society.  Pope John Paul II set aside 2nd February, the feast of the Presentation in the Temple, as a World Day dedicated to Consecrated Life.  In his homily in 2019 Pope Francis spoke of the gift of encounter which is at the heart of Consecrated Life. ‘The God of life is to be encountered every day of our lives; not now and then, but every day’.  In this feast we are invited as consecrated people ‘to allow the charism we have received to encounter today’s graces’. (Full text here).

On 8th February the world-wide church celebrated the feast of Sr Josephine Bakhita as a day of international prayer and awareness against human trafficking.  Josephine herself was a slave taken from Sudan to Italy.  In 2009, the International bodies of Religious Life - UISG and USG - founded Talitha Kum. It arose from the shared desire to coordinate and strengthen the already existing activities against human trafficking undertaken by consecrated persons in the five continents.  In a report of the Arise Foundation in London it was noted ‘that Religious Congregations have not allowed their changing demographic to prevent them from contribution in important ways to the antislavery movement’.  Sr Janet Maltby RSCJ went on to say: ‘The intangible aspects of anti-slavery accompaniment are so critical to this work, and yet feature so rarely in policy conversations on this subject. Love and trust take time to build and to make manifest. It is the core strength of the work of religious in this area.’

Here in Australia the movement was established as ACRATH - Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking of Humans. This network of people work tirelessly in addressing the many facets of this endeavour, ranging from entrapment related to forced marriages or work situations, to child labour and trafficking of peoples. I am mindful of the many religious women and men and the groups with whom they network, who support this work and who use their voice to address this growing human tragedy.  This work needs our on-going support both prayerfully and in action.  Let us raise our voices for those enslaved in terrible situations both within Australia and across our world.

At the end of this month Archbishop Mark Coleridge as President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference will be attending the meeting in Rome called by Pope Francis to address the worldwide sexual abuse by clergy.  This conference needs our prayerful support for the outcomes  to bring about positive actions across the world.  Attending the conference will be the Bishops, survivors of sexual abuse, representatives of leadership groups of women’s and men’s religious institutes, and specialists on the subject. Pope Francis has confirmed that he will be in attendance for the whole summit, in its entirety.  The major themes of the summit will be responsibility, accountability and transparency.  May this encounter of the world-wide church, born of the call to be present, culminate in a vision that reverences the dignity of the child and those who are vulnerable in our world and sets a pathway for a new way of being church in these times.

Here in Australia, the Listening and Dialogue stage of the journey to the 2020 Plenary Council will reach its completion on 6th March - Ash Wednesday.  One of the powerful elements of this journey has been the sharing of stories which give expression to the issues raised.  These stories capture in a powerful way the voice of the Spirit calling us to be church in a new way in this country.  They capture both the joys and sorrows of the people of God, the wonder and heartache of what it means to be a missionary disciple.  Let us pray for open hearts and open minds as we enter into the next phase of discernment.

From 13-15 May Catholic Mission and Catholic Religious Australia are hosting Australia's premier conference on mission, ‘Mission: One heart, many voices’.  Sister Carol Zinn has been confirmed as  a keynote speaker. Other speakers include Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Bishop Paul Tighe, and Murri Ministry Coordinator in the Brisbane Archdiocese Ravina Waldren.  It is fitting that this conference is being held in the year when Pope Francis has called for an Extraordinary Missionary Month.  Much of what Pope Francis is inviting us to explore in this special year will be covered in this conference: ‘biblical and theological reflection on the Church’s mission, works of Christian charity, and practical works of cooperation and solidarity between Churches, so that missionary zeal may revive and never be wanting among us’.  So, come and join us in this exciting opportunity for a courageous, creative, collaborative and compassionate adult faith formation experience - to meet people from across the church in Australia and beyond, to hear and witness the missionary spirit in our key note speakers and to participate in life-giving workshops.  To register for the conference, go to www.mohmv.com.au

In January two significant spiritual writers, the poet Mary Oliver and the author Daniel O’Leary sj passed away.  We are grateful for their many reflections on the meaning and purpose of life and for inspiring us to be our best selves.  May their wisdom continue to guide us as we reflect on the closing words of Mary’s poem - The Summer Day - ‘what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life’ and these words from Daniel - ‘You are the manifestation of divine beauty for you are loved by a God who can never take those loving eyes off you’. 

Sr Monica Cavanagh RSJ

President, Catholic Religious Australia