UISG during the ‘best of times and the worst of times’
By Sr Bernadette M, Reis, fsp
The second day of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) Plenary assembly focusing on the theme "Embracing Vulnerability on the Synodal Journey" echoed Pope Francis’s General Audience of 27 April. Morning prayer focused on Ruth through whom God fulfilled His promises for the older Noemi and His people.
Following morning prayer, Sr Jolanta Kafka, UISG President, and Sr Patricia Murray, UISG Executive Secretary, presented a report covering 2019-2022. While acknowledging the unexpected difficulties experienced in these three years, Sr Jolanta also said the current context also offers opportunities.
“Alongside these difficult horizons, new ways of proceeding like ‘mutual help,’ ‘collaboration’ and ‘partnership’ developed within congregations and institutions. What used to be done around the table in person moved to the “table of Zoom,” she explained.
Networking around the ‘table of Zoom’
Many other organizations collaborated with UISG around this table, Sr Jolanta continued. Dialogue with their male counterpart, the USG, “led to growth in different areas of the life and mission” in their joint commissions.
Other partners at the table included Vatican Dicasteries and Pontifical Commissions such as the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the Dicastery for Integral Human Development, the Dicastery for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Pontifical Council for Culture and the General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops. In addition, collaborative partnerships included Caritas, Jesuit Refugee Service, the Sant’Egidio Community and several Pontifical Universities in Rome.
More remarkably, however, Sr Pat reported there were at least 65,000 participants in online sessions promoted by the UISG.
UISG projects 2019-2022
Although the UISG also suffered loss of income due to Covid, it distributed “almost $2 million to needy congregations on every continent thanks to the generosity of many religious congregations” and foundations. Since the 2019 assembly, the UISG has “been sowing new seeds, nurturing growth and gathering fruits” through various programs it sponsors.
The programs highlighted are: Sisters Advocating Globally; Catholic Care for Children International; UISG Office for Care and Safeguarding and UISG/USG Join Commission for Care and Safeguarding; 29 sister theologians exploring various themes on religious life; rebranding the UISG website; Sowing Hope for the Planet, now part of the Laudato Si’ Action Platform; Talitha Kum celebrated its 10th Anniversary; 149 women religious participating from 111 Congregations took part in the UISG’s Formation Program; and finally, it reconfigured its Migrant Project in Sicily due to changing circumstances.
Sr Pat Murray also announced a new program that takes inspiration from Pope Francis’s invitation to interact with the elderly. “The UISG and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation have launched a consultative process to determine the needs of aging sisters,” she said.
‘Human person is infinite abyss’
Sr Jolanta concluded the report picking up once again the theme of vulnerability. Women religious, she said are called to “more radical vulnerability.”
The “human person, made in the image and likeness of God who is Trinity, has three infinite abysses,” she explained. These abysses include a “disposition for fullness,” an awareness of “radical poverty” and “the insatiable hunger for his love."
“Only the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit can fill this triple abyss completely and forever.”
‘Walking together…Taking charge’
Sr Nurya Martinez-Gayol Fernández, of the Congregation of the Hand-maids of the Heart of Jesus, then introduced the second part of the theme: Synodality.
A synodal spirituality is formed, she said, by understanding the “particular way of ‘walking together’ as the Church (synodality),” to “’take charge’ of the world (spirituality).”
Service of listening
Welcoming others and their words is the first step, she explained, to “take charge” of the world. The Bible itself portrays God as the One who listens to His people and is affected by what He hears.
Jesus Himself listened to the Canaanite woman this way, Sr Nurya said. Humble words, she said, creates dialogue which creates a “theological place that includes the Other,” fulfilling “the service of listening…entrusted to us by the One who is the listener par excellence,” she said, citing the Pope.
Vulnerability of consecrated life
Cardinal João Bráz de Aviz, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, celebrated the liturgy of the day with the sisters present in Plenary Assembly.
Later in the afternoon, the Cardinal highlighted certain aspects of vulnerability in which consecrated life is immersed today.
Because men and women religious “are greatly consoled by the experience of faith,” he said, “we are called to embrace our vulnerability” which is no different than the brothers and sisters with whom they walk.
In addition, he acknowledged that “consecrated life is living a moment of profound crisis.” It must be lived as the Second Vatican Council invited, “as disciples of Jesus with the entire People of God…retrieving the charismatic identity” of each Congregations foundresses and founders.