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May 30, 2016
CINDY WOODEN
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

ROME - Women consecrated in religious life and engaged in apostolic work must realize their vocation is about being prophetic witnesses of God's love, superiors general from around the world were told.

They should not see their mission as one of building and maintaining great institutions, speakers told almost 900 superiors of religious orders at the assembly of the International Union of Superiors General.

The greatest challenge facing women religious today is not declining vocations in the West, insisted Divine Providence Sister Marian Ambrosio, former president of the National Conference of Religious in Brazil.

"Our crisis does not depend on the fact that we are few," but on a mistaken view that preserving large institutions where the Gospel was shared in the past is key to remaining faithful to the founding vision of the religious order, she said May 11.

Referring to the assembly's theme, Weaving Solidarity for Life, Ambrosio asked the religious superiors to think about the differences between a woman who sits at home at a loom weaving cloth and one who presses buttons on a massive machine in a factory, producing hundreds of yards of fabric that all looks the same.

"Dear sisters, how are we living, how are we witnessing?" she asked.

"Like a machine turned on day and night for greater production? Or like a weaver who has before her eyes the person that will be warmed, valued and honoured?"

When people visit the community, do they encounter "machines or weavers?" she asked.

If maintaining institutions is the point of religious life, Ambrosio said, no one will join. Laypeople can carry out those works today just as easily and with the same love for God and for others.

The men and women who founded the women's religious orders were moved to action as a prophetic response to the needs of the people of their time, particularly the need for education and health care.

Today, she said, people are pleading for peace, care for creation, mercy, shelter for refugees, an end to human trafficking, protection of the sacredness of human life and the promotion of dialogue, she said.

Religious are called to respond precisely as religious: grounded in prayer, as models of community created among people who are different, committed to serving the poorest and prophetic in "denouncing sin and proclaiming hope."

Addressing the assembly May 10, Notre Dame Sister Mary Sujita, the first Indian superior general of her order, said prayer, "sustained by divine intimacy, is the fundamental requirement for engaging with one another in solidarity and moving to the peripheries with the heart and mind of Jesus."

COMFORTABLE BOUNDARIES

Sujita said religious women today are called to "cross over the tightly held, comfortable boundaries of our religious life and move to the peripheries."

Such a move and such ministry, she said, cannot be a matter of talk alone.

LIVING ALONGSIDE OTHERS

Religious, like all Christians, can be tempted to seek a "comfortable life," she said. But following Jesus means giving totally of oneself, sacrificing for the good of others and living alongside them in their struggles.

"The future of religious life will be decided on the peripheries where Christ is in agony," Sujita said.

"To minister for and with the poor, we need to move away from our privileged position of power, control and security and displace ourselves existentially toward the peripheries."