Religious in the local church

Religious in the local church.

A mutual rapport, promoting faith and encounter with God

(translated by Patrick Rogers,  from the Latina diocesan website, The talk was entitled I religiosi nella Chiesa locale. La comunione reciproca via che rende possibile la fede e l’incontro con Dio  )

The role of consecrated religious in the local church was the theme of a lecture by Mariano Crociata, Bishop of the dioceses of Latina-Terracina, during a training course for Superiors General, held in Rome earlier this year (Jan. 2015). The speaker was Secretary-General emeritus of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), and the course was sponsored by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic as part of Pope Francis’ Year of consecrated life.  Bishop Mariano showed keen awareness of the value brought to the Church by men and women who live by the evangelical counsels, and we think it worthwhile to summarise the main points of his lecture here.

The need for the Consecrated Life. The work of religious in the apostolic and pastoral level is “first-hand” or at grassroots level in many kinds of activity, from teaching catechism, serving as chaplains in various fields, schools, works of charity, to name only the best known. But all of this hard work is done within well-defined local environments, from the diocese to go down to individual parishes, and each of these different situations always brings into question what the relationship between the religious and the local Church of today. From the start, Msgr. Crociata affirmed that “it must be said, in line with the magisterium of the Church, that the consecrated life is necessary to the life and holiness of the Church.” The statement agrees with the evolution of thought about the consecrated life in the ecclesiologoca; study and in the documents of Vatican II, especially Lumen Gentium (44), where the nature of religious life is clarified as a “consecration” that is both ecclesial and apostolic. The Council emphasized the sign-value of the religious life and its location within the charismatic dimension of the Church rather than its hierarchical structure.

In the diocese as in a family. Bishop Crociata drew attention to the document Mutuae Relationes, 1978, as “an expression of the widely felt need to give shape to the relationships that the Council’s teaching and subsequent experience had shown to be the new tasks and roles of the Church and religious institutes. He said that “religious, even if they belong to an institute of pontifical right, should feel part of the diocesan family and accept the duty of necessary adaptation to the local reality.” He pointed to the need for religious to defer to the bishops and, conversely, the bishops’ task of encouraging and guiding the religious life. Involvement in the evangelizing work of the Church is at the same time a commitment by the religious and the responsibility of bishops.

Alliance between bishops and religious. Going further  into this theme, bishop Crociata said that “the bishops appreciate consecrated men and women as valuable allies for the pastoral planning of the dioceses, who help to avoid any dull uniformity or localist inwardness. While maintaining the criterion of the unity of the faith, the local church is also interested in enhancing and promoting the gifts of one and all for the best outcome of catholicity.” Clearly there is a complex mechanism of reciprocal rights and duties between religious and the local Church, based on the “recognition of the respective theological identity.” Bishop Mariano continued: “The religious life cannot be required to alter its constituent characteristics of rule and lifestyle, even for pastoral reasons. On the other hand, the local Church cannot accept the establishing of pastoral activities impervious to the responsibility of diocesan or parish coordination, for this would introduce divisions and contradictions in the ecclesial community.”

A religious who is also a priest. The bishop referred to the historical evolution of male religious life that has resulted in today’s reality, that a consecrated religious is often at the same time a priest. The combination of roles can lead to difficulty in reconciling “different requirements resiging within the same person.” The priest by nature belongs to the presbyterate which is gathered around the Bishop. The priest who is a religious has certain needs arising from the rule of his religious life, but must still respect the communion of the presbyterate with the bishop, even when it comes the pastoral service of a religious priest.

Apostolate and ministry. Crociata then addressed some confusions that can arise around apostolic and pastoral ministry. “There can be some confusion about the proper competence over the pastoral activities of the Church community – if for instance the rite of Christian initiation were regarded by religious as a free exercise of the apostolate. Moreover, even initiatives regarding training, catechetical proposals, meetings for prayer and testimony must be seen as part of a life shared in full communion with the Church. On the other hand it would be oppressive if, in the name of the uniformity of the Church’s pastoral action, every form of variety in the sharing of faith and Christian life inspired by the charism of the religious family were to be repressed.

Apostolic works. This was a problermatic topic recently prominent in the news media. “There is no doubt that this issue can be thorny the specific charism of an institution brings into play an investment of staff and resources sometimes  seemingly without limits. Of course, some aspects must rightly be left to the exclusive competence of the institute with its own autonomy under the competent superior of the Congregation; nevertheless, often the local context must be respected, with the area and with the ecclesial fabric where the congregation resides. Certainly the relationship with the local church must be nurtured in the ordinary course of business carried on by a religious institution.” Monsignor Crociata stressed the “absolute need to keep in mind the logic of the Gospel and the Church context which must prevail when such choices are to be made.” Equally, ” it is important not to remain prisoners of the vicissitudes related to the works of a congregation, or risking to lose sight of the meaning of the charism and of ones vocation within the Church.”

The value of communion. Among his final considerations, Bishop Crociata highlighted the need to recover the relationship between religious life and the local Church making it truly “new” and not just something based on a timely and necessary juridical regulation, as has happened up to now. The key, he suggested,  is to “receive as a gift and as a task to cultivate the communion of religious life in the horizon of the ecclesial community holds the key condition for the implementation of a genuine and full of one with the other. A vital expression of sincere communion is the desire for mutual understanding, along with dedication to the Church’s single mission, namely to proclaim and bear witness to the Gospel, in which religious and all consecrated persons find the permanent wellspring of their unique vocation and their shared charism of consecration.”

Fidelity and witness to the shared life. Bishop Crociata’s lecture ended on a particularly significant theme: ” the present time has especially need of commitment of all of us, in fidelity to our specific vocation, fulfilling the unique mission of the Church to promote the faith and human encounter with God.  All this must contribute to witnessing the centrality of Christ in the life story of believers, as something promised for every person and for the whole of humanity. Finally, he noted that the condition of consecrated fraternity it is “the most eloquent sign of the revelatory quality of religious life” in contrast to the sense of individualism so dominant in today’s society.

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