A Spark in a Dark Nights; Women Religious Draw Inspiration, Hope from Each Other at Rome Gathering
Fox, Thomas C., National Catholic Reporter
ROME * Some came to see the gathering as a spark in a dark night, kindled to flame, and eventually into a torch bright enough to guide spirits forward. These were metaphors some of the 800 international women religious congregation leaders from 87 countries used to explain the process and results of a five-day conference on religious life, held here May 7-11.
The women examined the twin themes of mysticism and prophecy, having gathered under the aegis of the International Union of Superiors General, a canonically sponsored organization that bonds more than 600,000 women religious worldwide. The organization holds its plenary assembly every three years in Rome.
After the women left they issued a conference declaration May 18 expressing their collective commitments for the next three years. Among these were the promotion of "constant dialogue between the Word of God and the events which happen in our world," the creation of "a new style of mystical and prophetic life, open and hospitable, inclusive, respectful of differences and acknowledging the richness of other cultures and religions," and living nonviolently and in harmony with the cosmos. Their statement also spoke of identifying "the 'nights' of the church, of society and of our congregations," and engaging in "truthful dialogue" with the hierarchy "at all levels in order to achieve a greater recognition of the role of women." (See sidebar below.)
Following the conference, a council of delegates elected a U.S. Franciscan to be the organization's next president. They elected Mary Lou Wirtz, a Daughter of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, who takes over from the Scottish-born president, Sister of Notre Dame de Sion Maureen Cusick.
Cusick expressed her delight with the gathering, saying it was an amazing experience, "a gift of the Spirit."
"Everyone who has spoken to me said it was fantastic," said Cusick as the conference closed. "I feel we have given them more courage. Many of them came despondent, despondent because of the mess the church is in, holding in the balance the denial of the official church, the abuse of then-power, the abuse of leadership."
She went on: "They've gone away with their heads high. They all said it feels different. We [women religious] need to be proud of who we are. I feel we have given them more courage."
Sr. Jane Blabolil, a Sister of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis in Steven Point, Wis., said of the conference, "To me it was a Pentecost. I felt the Spirit was filling the room."
Sr. Kathleen Kluthe, president of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee, called it a "truly energizing" experience. "We were so united in expressing our strong desire to deepen our contemplative life--to deepen our inner call to be mystics and prophets."
She said that as a result of the gathering the world's women religious have bonded more closely together. "We connected with one another in significant ways. We want to stand together in facing common challenges."
Sr. Nancy Schreck, president of the Sisters of St. Francis in Dubuque, Iowa, said that there was "a tangible shared desire to deepen the mystical aspect of our lives in order to renew the prophetic dimension core to the identity of religious life."
Months back, looking for a theme for its 2010 conference, the International Union of General Superiors surveyed-its membership and "overwhelmingly" heard back, staff said, that there was a desire to explore the themes of "mysticism and prophecy." Conference organizers chose those themes, which speakers repeatedly described as "two sides of the same coin."
For the first two days the women listened to talks on those subjects by men and religious and by an American rabbi. …