Women Religious in the New Evangelization (Part 1)

Superior-general of the Religious of Mary Immaculate on Vocations and Formation

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By Jose Antonio Varela Vidal

ROME, AUG. 1, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Religious congregations are responding to Benedict XVI’s call to adapt their work and lifestyle to the challenges of the new evangelization.

Among those preparing for this are the Religious of Mary Immaculate, known also as those of “Domestic Service” because of the work they do with young girls who work at simple tasks.

ZENIT interviewed Sister Daría Fernández Ramos a short time after she was elected superior-general in a Chapter which has given her the mandate to lead the religious family founded by Saint Vicenta Maria in 1876.

ZENIT: How is your congregation responding to the Pope’s call to a new evangelization?

Sister Fernández: We regarded this event as a “kairos” in the Church. Before the Pope called the synod, we had already chosen the new evangelization as the main subject for our 22nd General Chapter. This subject expresses the concern of the hearts of all the sisters, about how to put the young people, with whom we work, in direct contact with Jesus, the true Gospel of the Father.

ZENIT: What should be the emphasis of the new evangelization?

Sister Fernández: What we seek, as our founder taught us, is that we encounter Jesus, aware that only He can transform a person; when one lives an experience of profound encounter with Jesus, one’s life changes; we see it in young girls, perhaps with the same desires of achievement and with great expectations, but if they have lived this experience, their lives have a more profound, fuller meaning.

ZENIT: There are other young girls who knock on your doors to enter. What does a young girl of today seek in her desire to consecrate her life?

Sister Fernández: The motives are diverse, as God touches the heart of each person according to her own individuality. There is a common denominator, the experience of God and great concern for the important social challenges. Some of them feel called to be apostles among their companions, as Benedict XVI desires. It hurts them to know that there are young people who don’t find meaning in their lives, and they feel sent to share what they have experienced; they feel called and sent. Prayer, the Eucharist and contact with the Word of God are important means through which Jesus comes to encounter, in different ways, the young person of today, also in the most difficult moments and in experiences of pain, when they have experienced meaninglessness and begin again on a new path.

ZENIT: For these times, what should be emphasized in the formation of novices?

Sister Fernández: The young girls who wish to join the congregation today come from different backgrounds and have very different values. They are attracted primarily by the social work that the Religious of Mary Immaculate carry out, of hospitality and promotion of women, especially in the human, joyful and selfless style with which we carry it out, which makes them think that that “way of seeing things and of living in another way” is based on Jesus’ Gospel and is something that is worthwhile.

ZENIT: There is always something to improve on, isn’t there?

Sister Fernández: These generous and determined young girls, with their own fragilities, need to be well formed to live their consecration fully. What is most important is a deepening in the faith, and the encounter with the Jesus of life and of history, which will help them to understand existence from the perspective of a Christian humanism, and to enter into a process of salvation for themselves and for the persons with whom they come into contact. An important basis for this formative process is knowledge of oneself, that each young girl become involved in her own process and that she develop her own identity from the charism received. The best help is to live this in a community where personal prayer, real fraternity and commitment to the Church and to the young girls of today is a palpable reality.

ZENIT: You mentioned the Second Vatican Council. What was the greatest richness it contributed to religious life, and what must yet be responded to?

Sister Fernández: I entered religious life precisely after Vatican II and I am a daughter of the Council. I think they were great challenges. Whenever I go to St. Peter’s Basilica, I venerate John XXIII for the great adventure into which he introduced the Church, and then Paul VI, who was the Pope of my youth, during my formation in religious life. One of the great challenges was to bring religious life closer to the world and to open the doors so that the richness of the culture of modernity could enter. Religious life opened up and got closer to the world, to “be in the world without being of the world,” as Jesus said. Another challenge was to return to the sources, to renew the charism, because the charism, as the Gospel, is always new. Today, after 50 years, we must continue to respond to the “signs of the times,” or to what God and young people continue to ask of us. As we said in our Chapter: the challenge is to live our faith and our being religious in a more consistent way. One of the pillars is the primacy of God in the mission.

ZENIT: Do you see other challenges?

Sister Fernández: Another great challenge is to be able to live the path of sanctity in common, because we believe that today fraternity is a sign in this world where relationships have become more difficult. We are called to live communion in diversity as sisters who love and help one another. And a third challenge is a new way of carrying out pastoral activity. To evangelize is to offer Good News but, how can we translate Jesus’ language for the new times? We have elaborated a pastoral plan so that young people will be able to enter into contact with their own mystery, discover the God of Jesus, and be able to find in Him the answers to the challenges.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[Part 2 will be published Thursday]