I had the privilege of gathering with 5000 other religious women and men from around the globe at a conference held in Rome for the close of the year of consecrated life, January 28-February 2.
I had traveled to Rome for meetings in the days before the conference, and I stayed with friends just a few blocks from the Vatican, so that made my participation so much easier. I was able to walk to the meetings and come home for lunch breaks. They were also able to get me in “the back way” when we had Mass with the Pope for the closing of the celebration.
The conference began on January 28 with an evening vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica. They gave us a 24-page booklet with the prayers, readings and songs. That’s a lot of words I thought, but it was really lovely. There were five languages being used, and I could pretty much understand them all (“pretty much” being the operative words). That made participation really rich. There were songs and readings from scripture as well as from founders of various communities. It was lovely and powerful. I saved the booklet to use for my retreat.
Over the days of the conference, we had gatherings for everyone, then smaller gatherings some by type of religious life and some by language. These ranged in quality as you might expect. But there were two presentations that were particularly good. The first was by Nathalie Becquart, a french Xavierian sister. She spoke of the distinctive social realities in which we live and how they impact religious life. In particular, the shift in the relationship of individual and group identities. In the past, more emphasis was placed on conforming to the group identity. Now, there is more emphasis on personal identity and discovering how personal identity fits in the group. For me this is a subtle but important shift in the way we think about vocation and formation. The second presentation that stood out was that of Nicla Spezzati, an ASC sister who works at the Congregation for Religious. She spoke about the present situation of religious life and its challenges. Her analysis was very insightful and I will certainly reflect on it further as I ponder the whole experience.
There were several options for the “Way of Beauty” pilgrimages. I went with the group to the Sistine Chapel. I had never been inside, and it was really impressive. They had sisters giving the tour guide information and it was really quite informative. I also saw a brother from the US with a really nice camera. I asked him to send me his pictures, so I could just enjoy it. The one above is his, not mine. We also had an evening performance by choir, orchestra, ballet dancers and readers. In four movements they traced creation, salvation history, the history of religious life and the present/future of religious life. It was very well done and a powerful experience.
In reflecting on the over-all conference, I think the main thing I take away is the opportunity to share life and prayer with religious women from all over the world. There were men there too, but overwhelmingly, we were women, from every language and nation, people and tongue. The sheer diversity of those giving our one wild wonderful life to this particular path was the greatest gift and the greatest message.