National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  September 12, 2003

Leaders of men's orders examine vocation in shadow of crises

Louisville, Ky.

In times that are troubled by war, terrorism and the sexual abuse crisis, the men and women of Catholic religious orders are called to provide visible examples of “God’s transforming power,” British Dominican Fr. Timothy Radcliffe told the annual gathering of the U.S. Conference of Major Superiors of Men.

Meanwhile, Marist Br. Sean Sammon told the group, the crisis in the church since the end of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) has not been the “apparent lack of vocations in many parts of our world. The real crisis has been the crisis of significance and of spirituality.”

He said the concerns of religious will “begin to be resolved when we start simply and self-consciously to be ourselves once again.”

Sammon, general superior of the Marist Brothers, said religious must formulate “a unique and fresh identity for our institutes and give of ourselves fully to the task of revitalizing our way of life.”

Since Vatican II, Sammon said, “we have been unsuccessful in explaining to ourselves and to others just who we are and what we cherish and hold dear.”

One problem over the past 40 years, he said, is that “we’ve been talking to ourselves rather than to the wider church.” He said the renewal of religious life “has to be done today with lay people.”

About 210 leaders of male religious communities met in Louisville Aug. 6-9.

Radcliffe, who served as master general of the Dominican community from 1992 to 2002, talked to the group about two crises that have changed people’s worldviews: the events that have unfolded since Sept. 11, 2001, and the sexual abuse crisis of the Catholic church.

“Maybe today, living in the shadow of these two crises, we can find an answer to the questions: How do we in religious life make visible a different sort of power? How do we bring alive people’s dreams again? That, I believe, is what we are called to do.”

He suggested religious men and women look to the example Jesus provided at the Last Supper. “Jesus Christ was in the midst of a crisis of power and at the end of a dream,” he said. “Faced with the brute power of arms, Jesus replies with the power of meaning, a powerful sign, a powerful gesture.” That most hopeless of moments, Radcliffe noted, was transformed into a moment of hope for all humankind.

“Part of our vocation is to make visible another sort of power, that of meaning,” he said. “We must show signs of the power of what we do.”

During the assembly’s business sessions, participants approved two resolutions. The first asked the U.S. administration to normalize relations with Cuba and promised greater solidarity with those in the Cuban community and closer ties with religious conferences in Cuba and Latin America.

The resolution also called on the men’s conference to establish relationships with Cuban-American organizations to raise awareness of human rights abuses in Cuba.

The second resolution directed the conference to create dialogue about the upcoming legislation on free trade with Central America and its impact on the people of Latin America, especially on human rights, labor conditions and the environment.

Conference members also met in executive session to discuss further implementation of their August 2002 statement on the protection of children and young people.

The session included talks by Illinois Appellate Justice Anne Burke, interim chairwoman of the U.S. bishops’ National Review Board, and Kathleen McChesney, director of the bishops’ Office for Child and Youth Protection.

National Catholic Reporter, September 12, 2003

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