A very warm welcome to you all to this beautiful city of Rome, the eternal city, Italy’s global and cosmopolitan capital encompassing nearly 3,000 years of art, architecture and culture.
The General Chapter 2019 has begun with our Opening Mass and the commitment of each one of the participants. It takes place every six years and is a very significant event in the life of the Institute.
We are gathered here as an international and intercultural group, coming from four continents and representing many different backgrounds and experiences, but with a shared charism and history. This is a truly remarkable gathering, supported by the prayer of the whole Institute and our many friends and colleagues. Each one here has a unique and vital contribution to make. So, let us celebrate who we are and enter into the work of the General Chapter by being creatively present, lovingly engaged and courageously active.
The Book of the Institute (no. 96) makes it very clear that the main purpose of a General Chapter is to be an instrument of renewal for the Institute and an opportunity to reflect on and articulate the charism in fresh and compelling ways:
“The General Chapter is a collegial assembly which represents the Institute in its unity and diversity. It provides a special opportunity for conversion when, under the action of the Holy Spirit, the whole Institute reviews its life and renews the dynamism of its charism within the Church, while at the same time seeking to preserve its spiritual heritage. It draws up definite objectives so that the Institute may better accomplish its mission in the present day world.”
The Chapter is a ‘faith-event’, which means that faith permeates all that happens from the first day of preparation to the end of the Chapter. This faith is exercised through discernment. The discernment process requires a spirit of inner freedom in each one of us and a high level of trust in one another. Each person is invited to be attentive to what is happening within herself and to trust that God will speak to her through others also.
This time in the life of the Institute is God’s time for us. It is the space where all that has gone before us reaches its peak, and all that is in front of us begins to reveal its possibilities. Through our faith we also know that it is the time to recognise God’s incarnate Word with us, the Spirit breathing in and through us.
Pope Francis gave a talk recently where he said that the future has a name, and the name of the future is Hope! We are called to hope in the vision of God for the future. We are religious women called to communion, consecrated women called to the discipleship of Jesus, to be sacraments of the presence of God in our world. We hope with the prophet Jeremiah, “Yes, I know the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for peace not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope”(Jer.29:11). This vision of hope for the challenges and suffering of the present to become a future filled with life requires that we enter deeply into the mystery of our consecrated lives.We will journey to the promise of hope by remaining steadfast in our faith and in our identity as women religious and as Infant Jesus sisters.
Our vision of hope is embedded deep in the heart of our charism. We are a people with a vision, a vision of the love and compassion of God for all creation. As Infant Jesus sisters in our provinces, vice-provinces and districts, whether we are young or old, many or few, we are witnesses to compassion. Our prophetic vision is in our hearts, hands, and feet. The places we walk, the people we encounter and the way we accompany them, and how we pray, tell the story of compassion as we follow Jesus.
The choice of theme for the Chapter, ‘Listen! I am sending you on a new path’ is the result of a process of reflection, sharing and collaboration that involved the whole Institute. It was finalised at the Council of the Institute last year in Kuala Lumpur. It is the fruit of an attentive look at today’s world with its needs and calls. What is important is the call of God to Listen! to the voice of the Spirit at all times - before, during and after every decision and every action we take. This is what discernment is all about. There are many choices to be made in our lives and we need discerning hearts.
We have inherited a great tradition from Nicolas Barré, Mother Mathilde, our first sisters, our first missionaries, and all of those Infant Jesus sisters who have gone before us, many of whom we have known personally, whom we have loved and who have inspired us. We can all remember those sisters who have been an influence either on our vocation as IJs or at special moments in our lives. We thank God for them all. Let us hold them in our hearts and know that they are with us as we journey and search for the new path on which God wants to send us at this time in our history.
The quest for the future must begin by remembering. To understand the future we need to take time to remember. We need to enter into the mystery of our memory, even though it is sometimes selective, sometimes painful, and sometimes hidden. We need to tell and retell the stories that made us: our pioneer stories, our founding stories, our stories of renewal and conflict; we will find the seeds of our hope there.
We tell stories to know who we are! Can we be brave enough to retell our stories of compassion and courage? When we trust in our own stories, in our voices as women, when we stand in our faith with the gift of hope, we will join all those quiet women and men who are gently, simply, lovingly restoring creation, restoring peace and restoring human dignity.
We need the gift of compassion found in the stories that have inspired our courage as consecrated women over the centuries. These stories began long ago with Jesus and the women he encountered. Women who teach us to treat women like Jesus did, respectfully and lovingly. Women who teach us to take counsel, like Jesus did from Mary, his mother, who advised him at the wedding in Cana. Women who teach us to find wisdom in women, like the Samaritan woman at the well, and to accept the challenges of the Syrophoenician woman, just as Jesus did. Women who call us to notice suffering like Jesus did when the woman with the haemorrhage touched him. As women of hope and compassion, let us embrace the call to love, trust, and challenge the women and men who journey with us.
As we live this time together at the General Chapter, the times of prayer, the silence and the discernment process will call us to an inner exploration of what the Spirit is awakening in us. Let us look to the past with gratitude and let us live the present moment with passion so that we can move forward with hope.
May we have a very fruitful General Chapter and may it bring abundant life to each one of us and to all our sisters and lay friends who are with us on this new and exciting journey.
If you wish to read this in French, please click here: Message d'ouverture
f you wish to read this in Spanish, please click here: Palabras de Apertura