FULL TEXT: Cardinal Braz de Aviz’s address at opening of AMRSP virtual convention
MANILA— Heres the full text of the keynote address of Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, on April 28 for the 2021 AMRSP Joint Online Convention:
Dearest Sisters and dearest Brothers:
May the Easter joy increase with this meeting! Thank you for inviting me to share with you these words on the occasion of 500 years of evangelization in the Philippines. It is a source of great joy to meet by these means that allow us to be present and close in another way, due to the situation we are experiencing all over the world. A celebration like this cannot be postponed. The creativity of the Spirit illuminates ways of encounter so that, in the midst of difficulties, we celebrate life and hope.
To celebrate 500 years of evangelization in the Philippines is to celebrate the coming of the Christian faith to the Filipino people whom God has blessed forever and ever. Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium states:
“In these first two Christian millennia, countless peoples have received the grace of faith, brought it to flower in their daily lives and handed it on in the language of their own culture. Whenever a community receives the message of salvation, the Holy Spirit enriches its culture with the transforming power of the Gospel” (116).
The circumstances in which the proclamation of the Gospel arrives may be debatable; however, the immense grace of knowing Jesus, his Gospel, and his revelation of the Father and the Spirit have flourished in Filipino life and culture. “In everything God works for. our good,” says St. Paul in the letter to the Romans. And through the harsh reality of colonization came the reality of God’s compassionate love that always comes to meet us. Since then, the Philippines has been a country very blessed and committed to its Christian faith.
Already King Philip II, who had been advised to leave the Philippines for economic reasons, did not do so because he realized that the seed of the Gospel was being very fruitful in those lands thanks to the work of the missionaries: “so that the many Christians who live in those lands and the fruit that faith has produced may not be lost”. The missionaries who arrived in the Philippines were true religious who not only evangelized but also promoted the inhabitants of the archipelago humanely and “offered a humanistic and technical formation, with the institution of schools of all levels and universities, as well as the realization of assistance centers everywhere” (Fr. Gioele Schiavella, osa).
During this convention, religious life in the Philippines wants to “revisit the narratives as a people and as an association in order to see clearly the traces of God accompanying our history” (Fr. Gioele Schiavella, osa). How important it is to revisit, to go back to the origin, to go out to the encounter, to listen, to contemplate the footprints of God throughout these 500 years. More than ever it is good for us to do this exercise as Church and as religious life. As we revisit, we can discern together and as Pope Francis says in Fratelli Tutti, we can dream together and together continue rowing in communion, and “go to the depths”, as you so well put it.
Religious life in the Philippines has received a gift, the gift of “the joy of the Gospel” and it is time to affirm it and explore ways of self-giving. The Bishops in the Philippines invite us to “look to the future and the mission for the next 500 years” with a pastoral and missionary outlook. To look to the future, it is necessary to remember the past so that religious life can better understand its present and look forward “with the same missionary zeal that made it possible to receive the Christian faith” in the Philippines. “What you have received freely you must give freely”.
At the same time, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Association of Religious in the Philippines, which has been walking in synodality during this time, strengthening the witness of the Gospel in the midst of the People of God. The two Conferences of Major Superiors join forces and seek ways to respond to the challenges of history and the calls of the Spirit.
In the Year of Consecrated Life, Pope Francis wrote to consecrated men and women: “I hope that every form of consecrated life will ask itself what God and humanity today are asking. The journey you have made so far is fully in harmony with Pope Francis’ invitation to live synodality and it is our wish for the future:
“It is my desire that, in this our time, by acknowledging the dignity of each human person, we can contribute to the rebirth of a universal aspiration to fraternity. Fraternity between all men and women. ‘Here we have a splendid secret that shows us how to dream and to tum our life into a wonderful adventure. No one can face life in isolation… We need a community that supports and helps us, in which we can help one another to keep looking ahead. How important it is to dream together… By ourselves, we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built together’. Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all” (FT 8).
Synodality responds above all to the desire of Jesus, that “all may be one.” This desire for communion has its source in the intra-Trinitarian community, which is unity in the diversity of Persons and is expressed in the life of the Church through synodality, which has as its fundamental characteristic the circularity between the sensus fidei, the common priesthood of the faithful and the discernment of the pastors. We are rediscovering the meaning of “synodality” thanks to Pope Francis who reminds us of the identity of the Church: People of God on the way. Sons and daughters of God the Father, brothers and sisters walking together with Jesus, united in the Spirit.
This synodal movement invites religious life to live a synodal conversion as Evangelii Gaudium says, which is an urgent need that concerns the whole Church and therefore religious life in its being and doing, which opens spaces for participation and builds fraternal relationships at all levels. A religious life capable of looking at itself in its present reality, in order to change its way of walking and to recognize the challenges of history, of creation, to be able to walk in greater harmony with the women and men of today. A religious life that “explores paths” and favors new structures to walk more in rhythm with the cries and hopes of reality, to walk in rhythm with the Spirit.
Synodality is a constitutive dimension of religious life, as it is of the whole Church. During the pandemic we have been able to take a closer look at some of our structures, attitudes, postures, ways of living the mission, which have need of conversion. The situation of confinement, the limitation of travel, the impossibility of meeting together as before, and above all the loss of so many brothers and sisters, has helped us to appreciate more the value of walking side by side. We cannot save ourselves alone.
In this context of the pandemic, Philippine religious life celebrates this common effort to accompany the People of God, so blessed in the Philippines and also so tested throughout its history. The first Augustinian missionaries, followed by the Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits, stood next to the people to infect them with joy of the Gospel and to share with them the gift they had received, both spiritually and humanly speaking, attentive to the reality they encountered when they arrived in these lands. They had received it freely and shared it freely. In the same way today, religious life in the Philippines knows it possesses this same gift and wants to continue sharing it freely but in a new reality, with new opportunities and challenges.
A characteristic note of the religious in the Philippines is their concern for and commitment to the poorest. They have been neighbors to so many people who have been unjustly condemned, even today, without any kind of process; they are close to the poorest and their presence and help is significant especially during the natural disasters that the country has gone through.
In addition to solidarity, religious life in the Philippines is also joyful, with that joy that characterizes the Filipino people and that has grown over the past 500 years as it has encountered the “joy of the Gospel”. Pope Francis, in the homily he delivered at the Holy Mass of the commemoration of the 500 years of evangelization said:
“Five hundred years have passed since the Christian message first arrived in the Philippines. You received the joy of the Gospel: the good news that God so loved us that he gave his Son for us. And this joy is evident in your people. We see it in your eyes, on your faces, in your songs and in your prayers. In the joy with which you bring your faith to other lands. I have often said that here in Rome Filipino women are “smugglers” of faith! Because wherever they go to work, they sow the faith. It is part of your genes, a blessed ‘infectiousness’ that I urge you to preserve. Keep bringing the faith, the good news you received five hundred years ago, to others. I want to thank you, then, for the joy you bring to the whole world and to our Christian communities. I think, as I mentioned, of the many beautiful experiences in families here in Rome – but also throughout the world – where your discreet and hardworking presence became a testimony of faith. In the footsteps of Mary and Joseph, for God loves to bring the joy of faith through humble, hidden, courageous and persevering service” (Sunday, March 14, 2021).
As Religious always look to the future with the joy that is expressed in closeness, solidarity, commitment to the People of God. “With your joy, you will help people to say of the Church (and of religious life), ‘she so loved the world!’ A Church that loves the world, a Church that gives herself to the world is beautiful and attractive. May it be so, dear brothers and sisters, in the Philippines and in every part of the earth,” Pope Francis also said.
This joy is undoubtedly the fruit of a religious life lived in fidelity and authenticity, the fruit of attentive listening “both to the cry of the earth and to the cry of the poor” (LS 47). It grows through care for the mission, by establishing fraternal relationships in the congregations and in the apostolates they carry out, and above all it grows by going further, with missionary outreach. Evangelii Gaudium says: “This joy is a sign that the Gospel has been proclaimed and is bearing fruit. Yet the drive to go forth and give, to go out from ourselves, to keep pressing forward in our sowing of the good seed, remains ever present. The Lord says: “Let us go on to the next towns that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (Mk 1:38). Once the seed has been sown in one place, Jesus does not stay behind to explain things or to perform more signs; the Spirit moves him to go forth to other towns” (21).
Through the reports that have reached us from the last Assemblies of the AMRSP we perceive a religious life with a very ecclesial heart, which welcomes with enthusiasm the Pope’s invitations and allows itself to be challenged by them. You promote among yourselves the prophetic witness of the Gospel of joy among the poor, in the accompaniment of young people; you have built inter-congregational and inter institutional networks to better serve the mission, you have promoted a formation in eco spirituality in the light of Laudato Si’, you have opened spaces to work for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, aware that one finds “life by giving life, hope by giving hope, love by giving love” (Pope Francis, Letter to Consecrated Men and Women, 2014).
A concrete fruit of the evangelizing power with which so many religious congregations have carried out their mission in the Philippines throughout these 500 years, are the countless vocations that make it possible for the Philippine Church to go out on mission today. What you express in some of your documents is true: “We, consecrated women and men, go forth with young people with burning hearts, with renewed hope and joy, proclaiming: The Lord is truly risen!”
We bring all this to light because to celebrate a Jubilee means to make grateful memory, and from this memory to project the future and explore new ways to give the gift.
Pope Francis speaks of a new evangelizing stage, “full of fervor and dynamism”, which should be characterized by missionary outreach, with the awareness that we are the Church, the People of God, where the poor, dialogue and peace are central concerns (cf. EG 17). To undertake this new stage, to explore new paths, it is necessary to enter into the dynamics of evangelical discernment which is “an approach of the missionary disciple, which is nourished by the light and strength of the Holy Spirit” (EG 50).
When we look back, we inevitably perceive also what must change today in order to recover the original freshness of the Gospel by seeking new ways, creative methods, other forms of expression, more eloquent signs, new words (cf. EG 11).
It is a matter of “putting everything in a missionary key” (EG 34), transforming structures, more expansive and open, in a constant attitude of going out and favoring a response from all the People of God (cf. EG 27).
The true newness that religious life in the Philippines wants to explore will not only be the result of human reflections. and efforts, but the initiative of God. It is the newness that God himself inspires and provokes, through which He is guiding us in many ways. The task before you as religious life in the Philippines is not an easy one, but a demanding and challenging one. It is a task that “asks for everything, but at the same time offers us everything” (EG 12).
Exploring ways of giving means dreaming together what the next 500 years will be like. It means looking to the future with hope, because only “Hope is bold; it can look beyond personal convenience, the petty securities and compensations which limit our horizon, and it can open us up to grand ideals that make life more beautiful and worthwhile” (FT 55).
Exploring paths of self-giving also means starting afresh, because each day offers us a new opportunity to make a new beginning. Religious life can very well take advantage of these spaces of co-responsibility that initiate and generate new processes and transformations (cf. FT 77). It is significant that for 50 years you have been nourishing this space of co-responsibility, concretely through the Association of Men and Women Religious of the Philippines, where every two years you sit down to share the road you have traveled, to dream in communion. This space has been giving you a sense of identity and belonging and significance in the mission. We encourage you to consider the possibility of joining together as Conferences, thus reinforcing the strength of your witness in a society in need of reference points of communion and widening this space of co-responsibility in which, in fact, you already navigate together. This could be a concrete fruit of the 50th anniversary celebration.
We invite you to continue to send correspondence to this Dicastery, so that we can accompany you more closely and above all, take advantage of the richness that as religious life you offer to the religious life of the whole world.
May the “creative and passionate” effort, as your Bishops rightly say, with which you carry out your evangelizing mission in the midst of the People of God, continue to be sustained by the presence of Jesus, the Holy Child of Cebu, who in this image of a Child always speaks of rebirth, of freshness, of new life. Since the beginning of Evangelization this image has accompanied your beloved People and will continue to do so through freshness, creativity and the opening of new paths to pass on the Gift. May Our Lady of Guadalupe, who has wanted to dwell in Philippine lands since her missionary dawn, the Virgin who travelled the sea to bless the people with her gaze, continue to make you experience her maternal presence, and may her agile step be an impulse for this new missionary stage.
The harvest is ripe, the vast missionary field awaits you all. As religious life, continue to serve God and humanity. What you have received freely, give freely!
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