Still early in the Easter season, I pray we come to recognize the presence of the living Lord walking with us in the Eucharist and in our communities.
Last week, I attended an online meeting of religious in Canada, sponsored by the Canadian Religious Conference (CRC). There were 118 participants at this meeting. The theme was "Consecrated Life in Canada." This meeting was the next step in a process that began before the pandemic, involving the gathering of statistics of consecrated life, sharing online resources from the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and discussions with leaders of religious orders. Most of the participants in this most recent meeting were women religious. I was the only SDB. I’d like to share a few of observations about this impressive gathering.
First, some of the statistics. To the surveys about consecrated life today, 167 communities representing 9,300 religious responded. The average age of this group is 82.5 years. Half of the members are over 85. In the past five years, among those who enter religious life, one third have remained. About three percent were born outside of Canada. The vast majority of religious in Canada are in Quebec. In 10 years, trends indicate that there will be about 2,500 active religious in Canada.
Of course, the data need to be interpreted. For almost half of the meeting, we were divided into small groups so we could share our understanding of the statistics as well as the experience of our own religious communities. Well aware of the vulnerability of religious life, we had a sincere desire to listen to the Spirit speaking through reality and a renewed trust that God is still present and active in our lives. The analysis of the statistics centered on four points: mission, leadership, assets/ heritage, and services from the CRC. It seemed to me that, as the discussions progressed, more questions than answers were raised. It also occurred to me that the themes of GC28 give us direction when faced with some of these serious issues. Our provincial chapter in July will give us the opportunity to review how we are implementing GC28 and thus renew the Salesian charism in Canada and the USA.
I will offer a superficial summary of some of the key points brought forth in the meeting organized by the CRC. Regardless of the changes in the numbers, the purpose of consecrated life remains the same: we are to be the living memory of Jesus Christ. Ministries, to remain relevant, must continue a process of renewal, in dialogue with the current reality, not holding on to the way we have always done things. We no longer minister to the laity, but now are co-responsible with the laity in the mission. We must examine our attitudes and practices as more religious from other countries come to serve in Canada and USA. The discernment and accompaniment of religious in initial formation requires attention. Those in consecrated life can consider how to further the mission, even when no religious community is present in the ministry. We can benefit from collaboration with national organizations such as the CRC (or the CMSM in the USA) and learn from the experience of other religious. Leaders of consecrated life find themselves in a new place, facing new challenges. These were just a few of the topics touched upon. You can understand why more questions than answers were raised.
Throughout this engaging meeting, the participants returned to the source of hope, the knowledge of Jesus Christ who makes all things new. For me, it was a confirmation that God is guiding the Salesian Family toward renewal, and Mary is watching over us as she did Don Bosco.
On Sunday, May 1, we will celebrate Religious Brothers Day. We thank our Salesian brothers for their commitment to Christ and the young as consecrated Salesians. We can also use this occasion to promote the vocation of the Salesian brother. It is worth noting that after the canonization of our founder, St. John Bosco, it is Artemides Zatti, a Salesian brother, who will be canonized next. Additionally, Sunday, May 8, is World Day of Prayer for Vocations. You can find some resources from vocations.ca and the USCCB. Please take advantage of this day to invite many young people to listen to the call of the Good Shepherd to follow Him as ordained ministers and consecrated persons. May we all give joyful witness to our vocation as Salesians.
Fr. Tim Zak