Peace, Synodality and the Exercise of Authority: The Three Themes of the Pope to Superiors of Male Congregations – ZENIT

(ZENIT News / Vatican City, 11.27.2022).- The last week of November, from November 23 to 25, the 98th Assembly of the Union of Major Superiors of male congregations and orders took place in Rome. The assembly revolved around the theme “Brothers all: called to be artisans of peace.” On Saturday the 26th, the Pope received them in audience in the new synod room, next to the Paul VI Hall.

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I am pleased to welcome you all, members of the Union of Superiors General, with the Archbishop Secretary of the Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. I thank Father Arturo Sosa for his kind words.

In your Assembly, on the basis of the Encyclical “Brothers All”, you addressed the theme “Called to be artisans of peace”. It is an urgent call that concerns us all, especially the consecrated: to be artisans of peace, of that peace that the Lord has given us and that makes us all feel like brothers: «I leave you peace, I give you my peace ». Not as the world gives it, I give it to you” (Jn 14:27).

What is the peace that Jesus gives us and how is it different from that which the world gives? In these times, when we hear the word “peace”, we think above all of a situation of non-war or the end of war, in a state of tranquility and well-being. This – we know – does not fully correspond to the meaning of the Hebrew word shalom, which, in the biblical context, has a richer meaning.

The peace of Jesus is above all his gift, the fruit of charity, it is never a conquest of man; and, from this gift, it is the harmonious set of relationships with God, with oneself, with others and with creation. Peace is also the experience of God’s mercy, forgiveness and benevolence, which in turn makes us capable of exercising mercy, forgiveness, rejecting all forms of violence and oppression. Therefore, the peace of God as a gift is inseparable from being builders and witnesses of peace; as «Fratelli tutti» says, «artisans of peace prepared to initiate processes of healing and renewed encounter with ingenuity and audacity» (nº 225).

As Saint Paul reminds us, Jesus broke down the wall of enmity between men, reconciling them with God (cf. Eph 2,14-16). This reconciliation defines the modalities of being “builders of peace” (Mt 5,9), because this -as we said- it is not simply the absence of war or even the balance between opposing forces (cf. Gaudium et spes, 78). On the contrary, it is based on the recognition of the dignity of the human person and requires an order to which justice, mercy and truth inseparably contribute (cf. Hermanos Todos, 227).

“Making peace” is, therefore, a job that must be done with passion, patience, experience, tenacity, because it is a process that lasts over time. (cf. ibid., 226). Peace is not an industrial product, but a trade. It is not achieved mechanically, it needs the skilful intervention of man. It is not built in series, only with technological development, but requires human development. That is why peace processes cannot be delegated to diplomats or the military: peace is the responsibility of each and every one.

“Blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt 5,9). Blessed are the consecrated if we commit ourselves to sow peace with our daily actions, with attitudes and gestures of service, fraternity, dialogue, mercy; and if in prayer we incessantly invoke Jesus Christ “our peace” (Eph 2,14) the gift of peace. Thus, the consecrated life can become a prophecy of this gift, if consecrated persons learn to be artisans of it, beginning with their own communities, building bridges and not walls inside and outside the community. When everyone contributes doing their duty with charity, there is peace in the community. The world also needs those of us consecrated as artisans of peace.

This reflection on peace, brothers, leads me to consider another characteristic aspect of consecrated life: synodality, that process in which all we are called to enter as members of God’s holy people. As consecrated persons, then, we are especially called to participate in it, since the consecrated life is synodal by its very nature. It also has many structures that can favor synodality: I am thinking of the chapters –general, provincial or regional, and local–, fraternal and canonical visits, assemblies, commissions and other structures proper to each institute.

I am grateful to those who have offered and are offering their contribution to this journey, at different levels and spheres of participation. Thank you for making your voice heard as consecrated persons. But, As we well know, it is not enough to have synodal structures: it is necessary to “revisit” them, asking ourselves first of all: how are these structures prepared and used?

In this context, the way of exercising the service of authority must alsoe be seen and perhaps reviewed. In fact, we must be alert to the danger that it degenerates into authoritarian forms, sometimes despotic, with abuses of conscience or spiritual that are also fertile ground for sexual abuse, because people and their rights are no longer respected. And also, there is a risk that authority is exercised as a privilege, for whoever holds it or for whoever supports it, therefore also as a form of complicity between the parties, so that each one can do what they want, thus promoting , paradoxically, a kind of anarchy, which does so much damage to the community.

I hope that the service of authority is always exercised in a synodal style, respecting the proper law and the mediations that it provides, to avoid authoritarianism, privileges and “letting go”; favoring a climate of listening, respect for others, dialogue, participation and sharing. Consecrated persons, with their testimony, can contribute a lot to the Church in this process of synodality that we are experiencing. As long as you are the first to experience it: walking together, listening to the other, valuing the variety of gifts, being welcoming communities.

In this perspective, the suitability and aptitude evaluation pathways are also part of it, so that generational renewal in the direction of the institutes can take place in the best possible way. Without improvisation. In fact, the understanding of current problems, which are often new and complex, requires adequate training, otherwise you do not know where to go and “sail by sight”. Furthermore, a reorganization or reconfiguration of the institute must always be done with a view to safeguarding communion, so as not to reduce everything to mergers of circumscriptions, which then may not be easily manageable or cause conflicts. In this sense, it is important that the superiors are vigilant to avoid that any person is not well occupied, because this not only harms the subjects, but also generates tensions in the community..

Dear brothers and sisters, thank you for this meeting! I wish you to continue your service with serenity and fruitfulness, and to be artisans of peace. May the Virgin be with you. I bless you all from my heart. And I ask you to please pray for me.

Translation of the original into Italian by the editorial director of ZENIT.

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