Interview with Vida Nueva – Spain
[Original - English]
The pandemic has forced all of us to face an unprecedented global crisis, turning upside down many of our planned projects and programs. We have had no choice but to respond creatively to the consequences of the pandemic for today as well as for tomorrow. I embrace this situation as an opportune moment to explore new ways of making Assumption presence and mission more meaningful and relevant. The real challenge is to discern the “new forms” of the Assumption charism that will make us a source of positive energy and prophetic hope for a better world. As the saying goes, “when the roots are deep, there is no reason to fear the wind.” This new way of life makes God’s healing presence, God’s justice and compassion more visible in these trying times.
I do not consider myself an expert in leadership in religious life, but I understand leadership as our participation in the project of God. Leaders are called to empower the members to be at the service of God’s mission. Based on John’s Gospel, I have been proposing a covenant-friendship model of leadership as the best paradigm of animation in religious congregations. Leadership is understood as a loving service rendered among friends and disciples of Jesus (Jn 15:13-17). This Johannine model of animation brings an aspect of reciprocity to leadership roles: we serve “one another” as covenant partners in God’s mission. In such an atmosphere, relationships are mutual and collaborative rather than hierarchical. The charism of leadership, rather than control from above, inspires teamwork and whole-hearted commitment. It is an animation from within to build up a community for God’s mission of creating a more humanized world. Leaders then do not feel their mission burdensome, but their animation becomes a grace-filled experience of giving life in abundance to all its members. While this friendship model provides space and freedom for each member to make her or his unique contribution, it also calls for accountability. It implies integration of firmness with compassion and justice with mercy. It is not easy, but not impossible when we “walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8).
I am inspired and challenged by Pope Francis’s way of animating the Church. He is concerned about the wellness of all peoples of God. The poor and marginalized, including women, have a special place in his heart. His desire for greater participation of women in the decision-making process is evident in his recent appointments of women to positions previously held exclusively by men. While I appreciate every step Pope Francis has taken, I feel that we still have a long way to go to ensure the rightful place of women in the Church. I have full confidence that we will get there, slowly but surely. My experience as a member of the Federation of the Asian Bishops Conference has been quite extraordinary, an experience of communion in which cardinals, bishops, theologians are reflecting together without any hierarchical order. Each one has his/her place, and each one’s voice is listened to with respect as disciples of Jesus. I was a participant at the Synod of Bishops on New Evangelization in October 2012 without the right to vote, and I look forward to the day when all participants will have the right to vote in the Synod. I would say women should play the role of “opportunity seekers” in the Church and take every opening as a favourable moment to make their unique contribution to its life and mission.
Religious life will never die, but it will undergo radical changes in the process of its natural evolution. Much has been changed in religious life since I made my first vows with declining numbers, aging profiles, diminishing apostolic presence in educational and other institutions. There seems also to be an identity crisis for some, a crisis in finding meaning in consecrated life in our changing cultural, religious and socio-political contexts. An important question is how to make sense of what has been transpiring over the past decades, and how to preserve a realistic and resilient hope in redefining the identity and mission of the consecrated life for our times. A society that is more interested in building walls than bridges, polarized and prone to violence, needs the charism or charisms of consecrated life. Our international community characterized by the Gospel values of inclusivity, forgiveness, justice, and mercy will be a prophetic sign of hope for our times.
Even though the Christian population is less than 2.5% in India, the church makes a significant contribution in the building up of the nation. I do not know whether India is or will be the future of the Church, but we have developed a contextualized theology that responds to the concerns of our people and the challenges of our times. As a Superior General from India, I have the golden opportunity to share with the whole Congregation – the fruits of my theological formation, our radical option for the poor and marginalized, the richness of our multi-religious and cultural contexts, and our integral and holistic spirituality.
I think both the Rites – Eastern and Latin – enrich one another. The Eastern Churches do have vibrant, joyful, and participative liturgies. We grow up by breathing in the air of faith and have a sound faith formation for a period of twelve years starting from the age of four. For example, on the last Holy Saturday, my little niece who is just nine years old called me to ask: “Is the Resurrection of Jesus real?” This is the kind of faith tradition that we have inherited. I think the more rooted we are in our faith, the deeper we can be in communion with the peoples of other religious traditions with mutual respect and reverence. We also have a long tradition of harmonious inter-religious living in Kerala (South India).
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