The UISG (International Union of Superiors General) conference that took place recently in Rome, was an experience of global religious life in all its diversity and solidarity. 870 Superiors General who represent approximately 500,000 women religious around the world gathered for 5 days of input, sharing and a meeting with Pope Francis. Sister Kathleen Conan RSCJ represented the Society as Superior General and three other RSCJ were able to join this significant conference: Margaret Phelan as an English interpreter, Juliet Mousseau as one of a panel of younger religious who spoke to the conference, and Anne Corry as Minutes Secretary.
In her welcome address, the President of UISG, Sister Carmen Sammut MSOLA, reflected on the theme of the conference: Weaving Global Solidarity for Life. She quoted Laudato Si in which Pope Francis invites us to a solidarity in favor of the future of our planet and of all peoples, a solidarity from the heart, which shows itself in our actions. She said “We need to come with an open mind, an open heart and an open will. As we listen to each other, we need to suspend our judgments, to redirect our attention, let go of the past, of what is familiar, lean into the future that wants to emerge through us, and let it come.”
The conference heard speakers from the ‘periphery’ such as Sister Mary Sujita SND who has worked in rural villages of North India and challenged the group with this thought, “I wish we could ask the poor to give us an honest evaluation of our consecrated life as they see and experience it.” She used the term ‘prophetic sting’ to describe our mission at the periphery. In spite of these challenging words she said, ‘Why would we be afraid of the future when we know God is busy shaping our future just as God shaped our past beyond our expectations?’ The journey to the peripheries was continued by a panel of speakers representing Talitha Kum, the Sicily Migrant Project and Solidarity for South Sudan, all of which are sponsored by UISG.
The panel of six younger religious women had 10 minutes each on the topic ‘What excites me about religious life now and into the future?’ Each one spoke of a common desire to respond to a call of love. Their energy, hope and spiritual maturity were very evident but no-one minimized the challenges and risks of such a call. Juliet’s talk made us proud.
The ‘conversation’ with Pope Francis was a highlight of the conference. The Pope’s arrival into the hall was accompanied by the spontaneous singing of Ubi Caritas and the atmosphere was filled with affection and respect. Sr Carmen Sammut greeted Pope Francis on behalf of everyone as ‘our brother’. For one and a half hours, the Pope responded to questions submitted from women religious around the world. The questions which he had read beforehand related to topics such as the role of women in the decision-making processes of the Church; perceptions of women religious as ‘political activists’; issues of money and poverty. ‘Discernment’ was a recurring word through all the Pope’s answers. He spoke of the importance of evaluating all circumstances with dialogue and prayer. The questions put to the Pope were honest and serious and he answered them with great sincerity.
All the conference talks are available on the UISG website.