KEEPING THE FLAME BURNING

b) Heroic contribution to the life of the Local Church. It is true that Religious Congregations enjoy certain autonomy from the local Churches where they work, especially when they are of “pontifical right” as you are; but you know as much as I do that this autonomy is far from being absolute. You must, therefore, be “very much involved” in the pastoral life of the dioceses in which you have established your presence. This is both an obligation as required by the Magisterium as well as a strategic means of keeping yourselves ever active and relevant. At times, it may require you doing some unremunerated assignments; never mind, the Eucharistic Lord will sustain you, and it will be to your credit that you are a part of such venture in the overall mission of the Church. In this regard, always bear in mind the conciliar Decree of Vatican II in Christus Dominus nos. 33-35. Of particular importance is no. 35 (3) which states: “The privilege of exemption whereby religious are reserved to the control of the Supreme Pontiff, or of some other ecclesiastical authority, and are exempted from the jurisdiction of bishops, relate primarily to the internal organization of their Institute”, and not to the work of the apostolate and evangelization in the local Church. This is further highlighted by the ‘Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith’ that Consecrated life “is not a reality external to or independent of the life of the Local Church; rather, it constitutes a particular way of being in the midst of the Local Church which is marked by the radicalness of the Gospel and which possesses its own specific gifts” (CDF. Iuvenescit Ecclesia: Sept. 16, 2016, n. 21, par. 2). I know of a number of “once existing but no longer existing” EHJ Communities; perhaps, that could have been avoided had we set to make the most of the message of this point.

c) Maximizing the potentials of Inter-institute Collaboration. Inter-Institute collaboration, a subject that has received wide magisterial delineation and elaboration, is required not only: a) where there are limited number of candidates for initial formation; b) where there are insufficient formators and lack of teaching personnel; c) to promote positive integration between the life of the Religious Institute and the culture of the formandis where formation is carried out outside their cultural settings; but as the Holy Father states, it also has the advantage of making “the most of specific charisms, developing communion and the awareness of complementarity in fraternity, and extending the horizons of charity to the Universal Church and the entire local Church” (Pope John Paul II. July 11, 1986). It makes for cross-pollination of pragmatic ideas among Religious Congregations to nourish in the Sisters the “attitudes of fraternal co-responsibility”. This is especially the case where an EHJ Sister, for instance, has to work or live with other Sisters as a result of studies or by reason of a common task/apostolate from the local Church. For this reason, ‘Vita Consecrata’ urges Religious Institutes to “help one another in trying to discern God’s plan in this troubled moment of history, in order to better respond with appropriate works of the apostolate” as they seek “to make use of the accomplishment of the best members of each Institute” (Pope John Paul II. V.C: March 25, 1996, no. 53). I like the words of St Bernard on the same matter: “I admire them all. I belong to one of them by observance, but to all of them by charity. We all need one another; the spiritual good which I do not own and possess, I receive from others”. Yes, we are part of the NCWR with its over 60-member Congregations; are involved in the Joint Novitiate Programme in Ibadan; once headed the directorate of the NCWR National Secretariat in Enugu, and are on the team of Formators in the NCWR Institute for Formators in Jos; we must now intentionally strategize to maximize our gains from such Inter-Institute programmes and initiatives.

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