Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 13, 2000
At one with all creation
Religious orders respond to call to solidarity, environmental awareness
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
How are religious orders called to solidarity and hope in the 21st century?
"By collaborating and connecting and networking with others and particularly those who are marginalized and oppressed because we have much to learn from them," says Sister Alexandra Kovats, a Seattle lecturer, professor and author.
"The face of God in poor people is an important dimension for us to receive."
In addition to working with people, religious orders also have to work with the environment, which is threatened by pollution, Kovats said. "Our habitat is in jeopardy and God is calling us to respond."
Kovats, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace and a well-known lecturer on spirituality, feminism and religious life, was the guest speaker at the meeting of the Canadian Religious Conference West, an umbrella organization for most religious congregations in Western Canada.
About 62 women and men religious representing more than 40 religious orders in Western Canada attended the March 3-5 conference at Grey Nuns Regional Centre. Leadership for the 21st century, call to solidarity and hope was the theme of the conference.
Speaking at the opening of the conference March 3, Kovats called for a dramatic change in our perception of life, saying, "We have to see ourselves in a relationship with the rest of creation," not above it.
"This is a profound challenge for us who are in leadership. We the human species are not the centre of the universe. We are made in the image and likeness of God but we are not it. We are interconnected and interdependent with the rest of creation."
According to Kovats, "Trees are more important than we are (because) if we have no trees, we can't breathe."
In an interview, Kovats said contemplation may lead us to appreciate our interconnectedness with the rest of creation. "Contemplation invites us to see life from God's perspective."
To be prophetic and countercultural, religious leaders must invite people to live a more holistic way of life, starting by modeling that way of life themselves, Kovats said.
They must also be self-reflecting, good listeners, constant learners and creative. "We desperately need creative leaders willing to trust their perceptions as they interact with the community at large," Kovats told the conference."
Leadership in the 21st century must not be hierarchical or linear but circular in which "the leader is part of the circle rather than on the ladder," she said, adding that true leaders must read the signs of the times and pay constant attention to what's going on in the general community.
Rather than just doing one thing after another, the leader's role is to develop processes that will enable peace and justice to happen, Kovats said.
The WCR also asked some religious leaders at the conference to explain how they feel they are being called to solidarity and hope.
By constantly challenging the status quo as Jesus did and by meeting the unmet needs of society, replied Sister Faye Wylie, superior of the Grey Nuns.
"As leaders we have to build solidarity by responding to the needs of the poor in our midst, of those who are lonely, of the immigrants who come to our country and of children who do not have the support of a traditional family structure," Wylie said.
"Our primary purpose (as religious) is to reflect God's love for the people."
Sister Yvette Plessis, president of the CRC-West, said leaders of religious congregations are called to connect their congregations with the less fortunate.
"We are called to be a voice for the voiceless. The gap between the rich and the poor is expanding and we are called to be their voice," said Plessis, provincial superior of the Sisters of Charity of St. Louis.
"And we are called to care for the rest of creation as well. In our congregations and in our Church we have talked about love of God, love of neighbour and love of self but we have really neglected the love of creation.
"Unless we do something about saving our earth and respecting our earth, we are not going to have an earth in which to live."
Sister Ludvina Scheck, member of the Ursulines of Prelate and secretary of the CRC-West, said if congregations are to be a sign of hope and solidarity, they have "to mirror the cosmic findings that everything is inter-related."
"We have to show that every person and every cell has its function. And that creates equality - not the same, but equal," she said. "A tree is not to do what a human being does but if I can't respect the tree for what it is then I have broken down that solidarity between nature and myself."
"I believe we are called to be one with all God's people and that includes being compassionate with all of creation," said Sister Carla Montante, superior of the Sisters of Providence.
To be a sign of hope amidst the pain and the suffering, "we have to model the Gospel virtues in everyday life," she said.
"More and more we (religious communities) are called to raise awareness in the Christian community to the sovereignty of the earth and all of creation," noted Sister Teresita Kambeitz, superior of the Ursulines of Prelate, Sask.
"This is part of our baptismal call. Here in Western Canada we are called to be in solidarity with the farming community that is facing a lot of challenges dealing with (agricultural) systems seemingly beyond their control.
"We have to encourage farmers to refrain from using genetically modified organisms and other harmful chemicals that pollute the earth."