Synod 1994: 'Consecrated Life'
SYNOD 1994: CONSECRATED LIFE
by Kenneth Baker
If it were not for the dedication and self-sacrifice of thousands of nuns and religious priests and brothers, the Church in the USA would never have reached the prominence it enjoys today. During the month of October 1994, bishops representing most of the countries of the world met in Rome, under the leadership of Pope John Paul II, in a Synod to examine the nature and role of consecrated or religious life and to make some recommendations to the Holy Father.
The official title of the Synod was: "The Consecrated Life and Its Role in the Church and in the World." The word "consecrated" was used in place of "religious" because it is a broader concept that includes hermits, virgins, secular institutes, and new forms of consecrated lay persons who do not live in a religious community.
There is no doubt that nuns and religious play an important role in the Church. They were referred to as a "gift" of the Holy Spirit to the Church; as a "treasure"; a few bishops spoke of them as the "heart" of the Church. Since all members of the Church are called to holiness, laity and consecrated persons alike, those who dedicate their whole lives to strive for sanctity have a special place in the Church. The heroes of the Church are the saints, and, at least in the past, most of the canonized saints were members of religious orders.
What is a Synod? It is a gathering of bishops from all over the world, summoned to Rome by the Pope, to advise him on the subject of his choice. It is not a deliberative body; it does not define dogmas and it does not make rules for the Church. It is a large advisory committee, if you wish. Since the conclusion of Vatican Council II in 1965 there have been eleven of them-nine Ordinary (1969, 1971, 1974, 1977, 1980, 1983, 1987, 1990, 1994) and two Extraordinary (1967,1985). The differences between the two kinds involve the reason for calling the Synod and the members who attend. In brief, in the former the bishops are elected locally; in the latter the presidents of all the bishops' conferences in the world (about 103) attend .
Normally, the Synod produces a series of "propositions" or resolutions which are given to the Pope. He then accepts them and, along with the minutes of all the sessions, writes an Apostolic Letter on the matter discussed. The Pope's letter usually appears about one year after the conclusion of the Synod. For example, (early 1993) was the Pope's letter based on the October 1990 Synod on the priesthood.
In addition to the voting members (bishops and ten priests who are heads of religious orders), there are also some guests who are called "auditors." There were 75 auditors, about half of them women. For example, Mother Teresa of Calcutta was an invited auditor. In addition, as an ecumenical gesture, there were eight auditors from other churches-Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran.
The Vatican now takes good care of the press. They publish daily bulletins in five languages (English, French, German, Italian and Spanish) which offer summaries of all the talks in the Synod. In addition, there are regular "Briefings" in all five languages which follow plenary meetings. Also, there is a press conference once a week conducted by different members of the Synod. For example, Cardinal John J. O'Connor presided at the first one on October 6.
The official language of the Synod is Latin, but only a few talks are given in that language. English was used more frequently than any other language. Since the bishops come from all over the world and all do not speak English, there is a need for simultaneous translation. This service was provided by about twenty persons. Half of them were Jesuits and half were members of Opus Dei. One of the Jesuits reported that there was a fine spirit of cooperation between them.
Near the end of each Synod the Holy Father asks the bishops for suggestions about the topic for the next Synod three years later. Among the suggested topics at the 1990 Synod was the matter of religious or consecrated life. That was the topic he selected. One of the offices in the Roman Curia is the Council for the Synod, presided over by Archbishop Jan P. Schotte, a Belgian. The Council has fifteen members-twelve elected and three appointed by the Pope. This Council, with the help of some theologians, produced a theological outline on the topic; it is called in Latin . The outline was sent to all the bishops in the world and solicited their opinions, in this case on the consecrated life. 66% of the bishops' conferences sent in replies. The Council for the Synod took these replies, synthesized them, and then produced a second document called the (IL) or, in English, the "working document." The IL presents the best thinking available on the consecrated life and is presented to the bishops as the basis of the discussion to take place at the Synod. The IL for the 1994 Synod was made public in June 1994 (see , June 30, Vol. 24, No. 7, pp. 97- 140).
The IL has four parts. Part I offers an overview of consecrated life today in the Church. It is seen as a gift from God and a sign of the transcendence of God. It is basically charismatic in origin. Many new forms of consecrated life are emerging, but there are some problems with regard to vocations, formation, break up of common life, and abandoning the religious habit or garb.
Part II deals with consecrated life as an aspect of the mystery of Christ and of the Church. It is a special charism given by the Holy Spirit to the Church. Since it is rooted in Baptism it is intrinsic to the nature of the Church. This section highlights the special following of Christ which characterizes religious who take the evangelical vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
A "mystery of communion"
Part III is theological and considers consecrated life as a part of ecclesial communion. The ecclesiology of communion is the basis of the Church's ordering and of a proper relationship between unity and pluriformity in her. Ultimately it is based on charity or love among all members of the Church as a reflection of the love of the Holy Trinity. The IL says that "the Church is a mystery of communion" which is composed of three orders of persons: laity, sacred ministers or priests, and those who live a consecrated life. The IL points out that religious should love the Pope, the Bishops and the Magisterium and also be obedient to them (72). There should be coordination and collaboration between the local bishop and the religious in his diocese. The document reaffirms the proper autonomy of religious institutes in ecclesial life, and the importance of "exemption" for the good of the universal Church for those religious congregations and orders that depend on the Holy See.
Part IV of the IL concerns the works of consecrated persons or their mission- what they do. The document states that many bishops requested that women be given access to positions of consultation and decision-making. It speaks about the problems of training formators, the challenge of inculturation and the call to the new evangelization which is often on the lips of the Pope. It also touches on such areas as ecumenical work, the option for the poor, educational institutions, the mass media and that consecrated persons should be witnesses to God's supernatural plan for humanity.
The purpose of the IL is to stimulate thought on the part of the bishops. It contains 111 paragraphs and in the course of the Synod most of the bishops related their eight- minute talks to one or more numbers of the IL.
The Synod opens and closes with a papal Mass in St. Peter's Basilica so it is intimately connected to prayer and the worship of God. For this Synod, the opening Mass took place on Sunday, October 2, 1994. The Holy Father concelebrated with the Cardinals, Bishops and priests who were participants in the Synod-314 in all. In his brief homily he said that religious are called to strive for perfection. He praised the consecrated life and reminded the audience that "most canonized saints came from Orders and religious Congregations." He stressed the importance of the topic and hoped that the Synod would have a salutary effect not only on religious but also on the whole Church of Christ.
The next day, October 3, the bishops began meeting twice a day to listen to each other. The sessions lasted from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. In the course of the next eleven days they listened to about 284 different talks, most of which lasted from six to eight minutes each.
The first major speech was given by Archbishop Schotte, the General Secretary of the Synod. He gives the first talk at each Synod. It was a report of what his office has been doing since the last Synod in 1990. He told the bishops how the and IL were put together; he also gave a lot of statistics about the participants in the Synod and the responses from the bishops' conferences around the world. For the most part, it was composed of house-keeping details.
Next came Cardinal Basil Hume of England who was the of the Synod. In English he would be called the "Secretary." His job is to give the bishops a summary of the IL, which they have already studied, and to set the stage for the following speeches and discussions. He was given about an hour to make his presentation in Latin (but an Italian translation was made available to all the Fathers in the hall since many of them do not know enough Latin to follow him). His talk is called the "Relatio" or Report. What he did was pick out some important points from the IL and then raise some questions which should be addressed by the Fathers.
Cardinal Hume's Report was presented in three parts. In the first part he spoke about the responsibility of the diocesan bishop for all the members of consecrated life in his diocese. Since the bishop is responsible for discerning and regulating all charisms, and since consecrated life is a special charism, the bishop has something to say about it. Hume said it is the duty of the bishop to recognize, appreciate, discern, protect and promote religious life in his diocese. The purpose of the Synod is to promote consecrated life and to make it more understandable to the laity.
In the second part Hume touched on various aspects of consecrated life, especially as it must be lived in Church communion. He said that consecrated life is a varied and rich phenomenon in the Church. For example, there are about 3,000 groups of women and 500 groups of men. With regard to composition, 82.2% of consecrated persons are laity, 17.2% are priests and almost 75% are women. The Cardinal singled out three main traits of consecrated life: 1) it is a from the Holy Spirit; 2) it involves of Christ; 3) it is an essential aspect of . Essential to all forms of consecrated life is the personal call to a life of holiness and striving for the sanctification of the neighbor.
In addition, he said that consecration has four notes: it is of divine origin, personal, objective and functional or apostolic. In sum, every consecration is conformation to Christ. Also, he stressed that each institute has its own specific charism.
In the third part Cardinal Hume mentioned some current to consecrated life. He said bishops are challenged on how to promote consecrated life and what to do when religious fail the Church. There is a problem about how to harmonize their proper autonomy and necessary dependence on the Magisterium of the Church. Further challenges he mentioned include: spirituality, fraternal life in communion, the role of women in the Church re positions of authority. There is the challenge of mission, of inculturation, of lifestyle such as the practice of poverty, living in private apartments and not wearing the religious habit. There are challenges with regard to relations with bishops, diocesan clergy and laity, and the fostering of vocations.
Hume's assessment was mainly positive, but he did point out some problems in consecrated life. He concluded on a positive note: "The future of consecrated life is decisive for the life and mission of the whole Church" (III, 27).
As soon as the Cardinal finished giving his Report the bishops began addressing the assembly to give their views on consecrated life. Most of them related their remarks to the IL and the Report. Each one was given eight minutes to speak; at the eight-minute mark a light went on saying "Stop." If the speaker did not stop then his microphone was turned off to make sure he did stop!
During the next eleven days the assembly heard about 284 talks, as I mentioned above. Most of them were given by the bishop delegates, but about 50 were delivered by the men and women auditors- both religious and lay. During that time the twenty "periti" or theological experts who assisted Cardinal Hume analyzed each talk and picked out the main points. All of this was synthesized for him so that he could present his Second Report () at the end of the first part of the Synod on October 14. The purpose of the Second Report is to summarize all that was said and then to present a series of questions to be discussed in the small language groups () (CM) during the third week of the Synod. The task of the CM is to formulate a series of resolutions to be submitted to the Pope-that is the main fruit or outcome of the Synod. In Rome they are called "propositions" ().
God calls all to holiness
The Latin text of Hume's Second Report covers 31 pages. It mentions most of the topics given above in the summary of the IL and the First Report given on October 3. Here is a brief summary of it. It contains an Introduction, four chapters and a conclusion.
In the Introduction he says that God calls all to a life of holiness and he praises persons of consecrated life for making holiness the goal of their lives; their very life points to the absolute transcendence of God.
In Chapter I Cardinal Hume covers the great diversity among religious institutes. He says that the rapid changes in the world have affected consecrated life, v.g., the collapse of communism in the East, secularism, democracy, war, mass media, the role of women in society. New forms are appearing in many places: How is the bishop to discern among them? In Europe and North America there is a serious crisis of vocations, but also a need for well-trained formators. The emphasis in different parts of the world was different. In central and Eastern Europe the fall of communism has brought new problems. The Africans are concerned about inculturation. In Asia they are concerned about relations with the other religions and about prayer and spirituality. Latin Americans spoke about the preferential option for the poor. North Americans were concerned about the role of women in the Church. Chapter II deals with consecrated life in itself as a part of the mystery of Christ and the Church. Here the Cardinal gave an analysis of the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as a form of radical imitation of Christ. Religious are bound to seek perfection and to a strict observance of their rules. He says that all religious should cultivate a sense of fidelity to the Pope and the Magisterium. Some Fathers asked why women's congregations do not enjoy the same rights as men's and many expressed the wish that women (both nuns and lay) have positions of consultation and decision-making. He also mentioned the question of lay brothers as superiors in some institutes.
Chapter III treats consecrated life in ecclesial communion. Here Hume defines the Church as a mystery of communion and image of the Holy Trinity. By divine will consecrated life is an essential structure of the Church (18). He reports that several Fathers said that the activity of religious is based on and flows from their being or what they are (). Religious institutes have a certain limited autonomy according to Church law, but it is never totally independent of Church authority (20). The universal nature of consecrated life is stressed; it depends on the Roman Pontiff and is an instrument of communion; therefore is necessary to promote universal communion (21). He said that consecrated persons should be involved in the New Evangelization, develop good relations with lay people and with families (24).
In Chapter IV the Cardinal takes up the matter of or activity of consecrated persons. They evangelize by what they are primarily, and then by what they do. They are called to make God known to believers and unbelievers (25). All consecrated persons, whether active or contemplative, must be missionary, since mission is of the essence of the Church (see Matt. 28:18-20). Inculturation is important and it must include the evangelization of whole cultures. Religious should be involved in the preferential option for the poor; Catholic education is one of the best ways to fight poverty. Some of the Fathers said that consecrated persons should be involved in ecumenism, interreligious dialogue and the maintenance of houses of prayer and spirituality.
Main themes of the Synod
When one reads all the talks one sees that certain themes keep recurring. Cardinal Hume attempts in his Report to reflect all the main points made. But there is a priority. I will now list the main themes, more or less in their order of importance. In general, one can say that all the talks can be reduced to two types: I) those that deal with the of consecrated life, such as vows, sanctity and fraternal life; 2) those that deal with to the world. The main particular themes are the following:
1) Relations, cooperation and mutual assistance between bishops and institutes of consecrated life. Many bishops referred to the Vatican document (1978) and said it should be updated; others said it does not need revision but only implementation.
2) Consecrated life is essential to the Church and ecclesial communion.
3) Consecrated life is started and sustained by the Holy Spirit and therefore it is a special in the Church.
4) Persons in consecrated life are bound to strive for sanctity, especially through the practice of the three vows; what they are is prior to what they do.
5) All members of religious institutes must love and obey the Pope and the Magisterium (IL 72).
6) Women should be in positions of consultation and decision-making where appropriate.
7) All persons in consecrated life should share in the missionary activity of the Church, including contemplatives by their prayer and love of God.
8) There should be a universal concern for inculturation.
9) Monasticism, as a witness to belief in the resurrection and the transcendence of God, is to be maintained everywhere, especially in the Eastern and Asian Churches.
10) In mixed institutes, lay brothers should by law have access, if they are qualified, to all posts of authority, including the office of provincial.
Questions are posed
Cardinal Hume concludes his Second Report by posing a series of seven questions which flow from the material covered. These questions will be the basis of the discussions in the small language groups ( or CM). Here are the questions which were considered by the bishops during the next five days of the Synod.
1) Have the interventions of the last two weeks clarified your understanding of the nature of consecrated life, and specifically concerning the identity of the religious life?
2) Do you agree that the contents of the Second Report accurately reflect what was said by the Fathers during the past two weeks? Is there anything you would like to change?
3) In order to meet the challenges of new missionary fields, how are the new emerging forms to be discerned and fostered, not only at the diocesan level but also nationally?
4) In the geographical areas known to you, what are the results (positive and less positive) of inculturation of the consecrated life?
5) In your experience, what means could be used to promote understanding and cooperation between bishops and religious in order to overcome tensions? What means do you consider effective to promote unity of heart and action in the Church?
6) How can greater responsibility be given to consecrated women, both in the life of the Church and in decisions affecting their lives?
7) What is the opinion of your group about the positive and negative matters listed in number 17 of the First Report given by Cardinal Hume?
The purpose of the CM is to give the Fathers a chance to discuss the theme in the light of the 284 talks or interventions. The members can sign up for the language of their choice. In this Synod there were 14 groups: 4 English, 3 French, 3 Spanish, 2 Italian, 1 German and 1 Latin. Each group was composed of about 30 members, including lay and religious auditors.
The most international were the English groups because they had members from all parts of the world. Each group elects its own Moderator and Secretary or . Three Americans were elected moderators: Cardinals Joseph Bernardin (Chicago) and James Hickey (Washington, D. C.), and Archbishop William H. Keeler (Baltimore). The Moderator leads the discussion and the Secretary takes notes. It is the Secretary's job to give a short report to the assembly on what they discussed and any conclusions they reached. The reports of the 14 groups were given to the assembly during the two sessions on October 19.
Clear definition needed
Following are a few excerpts from the Reports of the 14 language groups on the seven questions posed by Cardinal Hume. They will give the reader some idea about what the bishops discussed during the previous week.
1) Nature of consecrated life. It is requested that a clear definition be given of consecrated life and religious life and the difference between them. What distinguishes religious life from other forms is the profession of public vows of poverty, chastity and obedience which are accepted by the Church, community life and a common apostolate pursued in the name of the institute. In addition to the universal call to holiness, consecrated persons are bound to strive for it by their vows. Consecration is seen as based on the Sacrament of Baptism and it implies a specific relationship to Christ, to the Church and to the world. The "prophetic" dimension of consecrated life as a special way of proclaiming the Gospel was mentioned. The "charism" of the Founder and the institute should be a constant point of reference for all consecrated persons. One group asked for a clarification on whether or not consecrated life is an essential structure of the Church or only a structure in the Church.
2) Is the Report accurate? Some thought that there should be more emphasis on Christology and the following of Christ. French Group-B said there should be more precision and emphasis on certain points that were made, for example, poverty, inculturation, discernment of the new communities, holiness and the means to attain it. They also said that some points had been omitted, such as the place of the Cross in the life of religious, the contribution of the East, secular institutes, societies of apostolic life, hermits, and consecrated virgins. Consecration and mission are intrinsically related to each other. They would like to see a clear statement of the relation of laity who are associated with an institute, such as Third Orders.
3) The challenge of new missionary fields. The Church now confronts a new cultural situation which affects consecrated life. Some groups said that the Church should make better use of the mass media and should try to evangelize them. There should also be greater effort to evangelize modern secular culture. The groups reaffirmed the mission to the poor, but also said that established works in schools, hospitals and orphanages should not be abandoned. Italian Group-A said that the hierarchy should not crush charisms, but after adequate discernment, foster them and coordinate them for a united answer to challenges.
4) Inculturation of consecrated life. To inculturate the Gospel and consecrated life means to root it and to make it sprout in the concrete reality of a given culture. Foreign missionaries may start it, but full inculturation is the responsibility of those who are native. In dealing with inculturation, a solid personal formation and a good knowledge of the culture are required of all who are involved. Inculturation is a need not only of the young churches but also of the old, traditional churches. English Group-B said that when religious move to a new area, they should get to know the local culture, language and traditions before beginning apostolic work.
5) Understanding and cooperation between bishops and institutes of consecrated life. Relations between bishops and religious congregations was the number one topic at this Synod. It was discussed in terms of the 1978 Vatican document- on the question called (MR). Most of the groups affirmed that relations between the two have been and are good. Some said that MR should be updated; others said it does not need updating but better implementation. Several groups said that relations of bishops to major superiors are good, and thereby implied that there are problems with some local superiors. French Group-A said that religious at times do not adequately consider the apostolic priorities of the local Churches. Spanish Group-C complained about differences of doctrinal formation in diocesan seminaries and in the religious houses of formation.
6) How can greater responsibility be given to consecrated women? This was the second most discussed question. Most of the groups expressed their opinion on it. The German group said that "one should tend towards more equality between men and women in consecrated life." Most of the groups agreed with the proposal that women should be in positions of consultation and decision-making on all levels that do not require Holy Orders and jurisdiction. Nuns should be able to manage their own monastery without having to depend on the superior of the male branch of their institute. French Group-B said that more consideration should be given to consecrated virgins and that the rules for cloistered nuns should be same as those for monks.
Role of women a main issue
English Group-B centered its whole Report on this one question. They said the bishops should take the voice of women seriously, but did not specify which ones. Then they listed many ways in which nuns are already in positions of authority, such as chancellors of dioceses and administrators of parishes. Some also serve in the Roman Curia. Their main thrust was to overcome discrimination against women in the Church. Italian Group-B expressed the wish that the possibility of conferring official ministries on women, such as lector and acolyte, be taken into greater consideration.
7) What about the positive and negative matters listed in numbers 17 of Cardinal Hume's First Report? The reference here is to a series of questions: 1) In a positive sense, how the bishops can promote consecrated life; and 2) In a negative sense, what bishops should do about nuns who refuse to attend Mass because the priest is a man; what they should do when communities have no real superior, or members live in apartments; when religious publicly oppose positions taken by the bishops or Pope; when Catholic colleges, publications or pastoral activities are opposed to the Magisterium? Right here Hume touched on what is seriously wrong with many religious congregations and, sad to say, the Synod Fathers, for the most part, failed to address these problems. Unfortunately, there was a massive silence on the "negative" questions in number 17.
Some groups did come out in favor of lay brothers being able to be superiors in mixed congregations, such as Franciscans. English Group-D said that one way to reduce aberrations and dissent is to emphasize solid formation-human, theological, spiritual and pastoral.
English Group-B asked the Synod to utter a clear call to consecrated persons to an abiding fidelity to God and his Church. But a serious weakness of this part of the Synod is that most of the 14 groups did not even comment on Cardinal Hume's questions in a negative sense. The operative principle in Rome seems to be that everyone must save face. Therefore most of the bishops are very reluctant to say anything negative or critical of many religious congregations, especially their doctrinal deviancy, their failure to follow their constitutions and rules, their moral collapse in some cases, their antipapal and anti-magisterium attitudes. Also, no one at this Synod, to my knowledge, seriously addressed the problem of the catastrophic decline in vocations to many of the major religious orders and congregations in the affluent western world. Why has this happened and what can and should be done about it? Silence.
Average age is now 67
With regard to the present situation, Archbishop Keeler of Baltimore mentioned in his talk that, in the U.S.A., "the average age of the typical community of religious women is now 67." Bishop James Timlin of Scranton, Pa., one of the three bishops out of 230 to put his finger right on the problem, said, "Thirty years ago, 22% of all religious in the U.S.A. were under thirty years of age. Today, less that 1ø70 are under thirty."
A "Message to the People of God"
The presentation of the 14 Reports from the Language Groups concluded the second part of the Synod. The third and final phase of a Synod is the formulation and approval of a list of propositions or resolutions based on the talks and discussions; during this part the bishops also write, approve and publish a "Message to the People of God" which is released to the press on the last day.
The Message is a collective statement of all the bishops directed to the public at large, while the Propositions are private, secret and intended for the eyes of the Pope alone. The Message does not carry any doctrinal authority. It is a positive, general summary of what the bishops discussed during the Synod in the form of a pious exhortation.
Released on October 28, the day before the end of the Synod, the Message begins on a high note of joy and gratitude to God; it also expresses thanks to men and women religious for the work they do around the world. After mentioning the many and diverse forms of consecrated life, it goes on to say that it is indispensable to the Church. The profession of the evangelical counsels strengthens the original consecration of Baptism and Confirmation. Flowing from this consecration is the mission to bring Christ to the world.
The bishops affirm that consecrated life is a special charism of the Holy Spirit. Planted in the particular churches or dioceses, institutes of consecrated life should work closely with the bishop for the good of all. Consecrated persons have a prophetic role in bearing witness to Christ by what they are and what they do. It is their task to inculturate the Gospel and to be examples of the poor, obedient and chaste Jesus Christ.
Special praise is reserved for the Oriental Churches who represent the continuity of religious life and were the source of monasticism. All are called upon to take part in the New Evangelization called for by John Paul II on the threshold of the year 2000. Finally, after directing a word of hope to young people, all Catholics are urged to strive for holiness and consecrated persons are asked to bear witness "to the divine plan and to gather all of humanity into the civilization of love, the great family of the children of God."
55 Propositions presented
The last two weeks of the Synod were spent for the most part in the small language groups. They discussed the points raised by the Fathers in the 284 talks. The point of all this is to formulate Propositions or resolutions. The way it works is that each of the 14 groups formulates its own list of propositions. These then go to a committee which organizes and unifies them.
The Synod came up with about 55 Propositions on the various aspects of consecrated life mentioned above. At the time of this writing they have not been released to the public, but it is probable that they will have been made public by the time this article is printed.
It is not difficult to make an educated guess about the contents of the Propositions. It seems to me that they will include the following points, though not restricted to them: consecrated life is a charism of the Holy Spirit and an essential part of the ecclesial communion; bishops and religious should work together harmoniously; consecrated persons are bound by vows to strive for holiness; where appropriate, women should be involved in consultation and decision-making in the Church; the Gospel should be inculturated, monasticism should be supported; all are called to mission and the New Evangelization; consecrated life depends on the Magisterium and must be subject to it; in mixed institutes lay brothers should by law have access to all posts of authority in which Holy Orders is not required.
There will be more specifics not envisioned here, but this should be the general thrust of the Propositions. Towards the end of 1995 the Pope will publish an Apostolic Exhortation based on all the work of the Synod and especially on the Propositions. That document will then become part of the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church.
The Synod was concluded on Saturday morning, October 29, at a solemn Eucharistic Celebration in St. Peter's Basilica. The Pope was the principal celebrant; the concelebrants included 7 Patriarchs, 39 Cardinals, 60 Archbishops, 118 Bishops and 90 Priests. In his brief homily, John Paul II thanked God for Vatican II and for the Synod of Bishops which is a consequence of the Council. He promised to publish an Apostolic Exhortation on consecrated life. He also touched on the consecration involved in Baptism and referred to its eschatological dimension. He spoke about the many saints given to the Church by religious institutes, such as Benedict and his sister Scholastica, Bonaventure, Catherine of Siena, Ignatius of Loyola, John Bosco, Theresa of the Child Jesus, Maximilian Kolbe and Sister Faustina. Finally, he offered the fruits of the Synod to Mary, the Mother of God.
"Consecrated life" term confusing
In conclusion, I will offer a few personal opinions about this Synod.
I) The use of the words "consecrated life" was a bit confusing. It is a broader concept than "religious life" because it includes those with vows who are not religious, such as secular institutes, Societies of Apostolic Life and other new forms.
2) Consecrated life was seen as an essential aspect of ecclesial communion. An important and useful distinction was made between "consecration as such" and various concrete forms of consecration. Consecrated life is more than a structure in the Church; it is a structure of the Church which calls all to holiness.
3) There was a strong affirmation of the value of all forms of consecrated life in and for the Church. However, the bishops did not seriously consider why religious life in Europe and North America, the affluent cultures, is in a state of rapid decline, nor did they ask why some few congregations, like Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity and the Legionaries of Christ, are thriving and have an abundance of vocations. The reasons are not hard to find, but mentioning them involves some negative criticism and the bishops wanted to be positive. We can now hope that the Holy Father will say something about this in his forthcoming Apostolic Exhortation.
All in all, however, the Synod was a positive event for the Church and should contribute to the growth and renewal of consecrated life around the world.
Reverend Kenneth Baker, S. J., has been the editor of HPR since 1971. He has covered the last nine Synods of Bishops in Rome. During the month of October 1994 he was in Rome during the whole time of the Synod on the consecrated life. Here he presents a global overview and summary of the Synod just as he has done for the previous Synods.