(Vatican Radio) In the history of the Church, religious orders and congregations have been at the forefront of evangelisation. For the New Evangelisation, they are also expected to do their part.
“Religious orders have been a part of evangelisation throughout the history of the Church,” said Fr. Robert F. Prevost, O.S.A., Prior General of the Order of St. Augustine (Augustinians). “I think when we talk about evangelisation, and when we talk about the mission of the Church, the recognition of the multiple kinds of service and lifestyles that there are in the Church is of benefit to everyone.”
During the course of the Synod, emphasis has been given to the role of the laity in the New Evangelization, leaving some to ask what role religious congregations are called to play.
“Others may say that part of the problem is that we’ve grown tired in the service that we have provided for the people. I think that is some of the criticisms we may hear from religious life,” said Father Gregory Gay, C.M. Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians). “We are growing old, and in many places there is less vocations…, and yet in other places there is life. There is dynamism.”
Both Father Prevost and Father Gay are representatives elected by the Union of Superiors General to attend the XIII General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation.
“Obviously, the Synod is a Synod of Bishops,” explained Father Prevost. “The bishops are the pastors of the Church, the teachers, and yet in the very makeup of the Synod the presence of numerous members of consecrated life has also added a rich dimension to the whole experience.”
Members of various religious congregations, both male and female, are also serving as Experts and Auditors, allowing them to advise the bishops, as well as participate in the small group discussion.
Sister Gill Goulding, CJ, is a professor of theology at Regis College, University of Toronto. She is serving as an Expert at the Synod.
"I think the role the religious have to play [in the New Evangelisation] is probably very much the role they have always played, and that is that prophetic witness,” she said. “It is the witness of the vows – poverty, chastity and obedience. It’s the witness of the willingness to go to where one is sent, to embrace a mission that one is given, even though it’s something that you would not necessarily have ever thought of…It’s that sense of the riskiness of our faith.”
She told Vatican Radio the key to the New Evangelisation is the encounter with Jesus Christ.
“It’s not about just how can we do new plans, new programmes, new strategies for those over there, or indeed for those outside the Church,” she said. “But it’s a sense of re-calling ourselves to that basic relationship that we have with the Lord…What drew me into religious life? What is that bond of love, and faith, and hope that gives me the enthusiasm and the energy to do what I do?”
Fr. Prevost told Vatican Radio his order is excited about the New Evangelisation.
Religious life is “something that’s very much alive, and very needed, and for which I think there is still great need in the Church,” he said. “It’s an exciting kind of opportunity to say, we as Augustinians, we as religious are a part of this, and together we are working with this wonderful mystery that is the Church – all of God’s people – in wanting to share that very joyful message that we receive from our Faith in Jesus Christ.
Sister Goulding said the New Evangelization is something which brings to life a central message of the Second Vatican Council.
“It’s back again to that call from Vatican II: The universal call to holiness,” she said. “And it’s not a universal call to holiness because I need to follow x-number of rules, but it’s a call to respond in love to the Lord who loves, and that in its essence is what lies at the heart of the New Evangelisation.”
Listen to the extended interview by Anne Schneible with Fr. Robert F. Prevost:
Listen to the extended interview by Charles Collins with Fr. Gregory Gay:
Listen to the extended interview by Charles Collins with Sister Gill Goulding: