By Devin Watkins
Consecrated men and women across Latin America and the Caribbean kicked off an online Congress on religious life on Friday, which runs through the weekend.
Organized by the Latin American Confederation of Religious, the 3-day event is focused on the theme of journeying “Toward an Inter-congregational, Inter-cultural, and Itinerant Religious Life.”
Inculturation and the Gospel
Pope Francis helped boost the event with a video message screened at the start of the conference.
He focused his remarks on the importance of inculturating the Gospel and maintaining a joyful countenance.
“Inculturation” is a term often used in theological circles to describe the practice of adapting Christian faith and practices to local cultures.
The Pope noted that consecrated religious have the special task of inculturating the faith. “It would do us much good to discover that unity is not uniformity but a multifaceted harmony,” he said, adding that the Holy Spirit is the author of harmony.
Pope Francis said religious men and women can help foster theology which “can be adapted to local situations and be a vehicle for evangelization.”
“Let’s not forget that a faith which is not rooted in a culture is not authentic,” he said, urging them to “enter into the life of the people of faith, with respect for their customs and traditions, while seeking… to evangelize culture.”
When such inculturation fails to take place, said the Pope, Christian life “ends up with the oddest and most ridiculous Gnostic tendencies.”
He said misuse of the liturgy is one example. And he urged conference participants to “inculturate the faith and evangelize culture.”
Overcoming nostalgia for the past
The Pope went on to point out that consecrated life “provides expertise in communion” since it is “itinerant and a promoter of fraternity.”
Yet, he lamented, religious communities often fall back on counting members and pinning their hopes on survival.
“It is a good idea to renounce the criterion of numbers and efficiency, since otherwise it can turn religious into fearful disciples, trapped in the past and suffering from nostalgia,” he said. “This nostalgia is fundamentally the siren song of religious life.”
Joy in Christ
Then the Pope offered the men and women religious of Latin America and the Caribbean an antidote for soul-killing nostalgia—joy.
“Be with the holy people of God, respect, evangelize, and give witness to them, and leave the rest to the Holy Spirit,” he urged.
Joy, added Pope Francis, is the greatest expression of life in Christ and the “greatest witness we can offer the holy people of God whom we are called to serve and accompany on their pilgrimage toward the encounter with the Father.”
Sense of humor
The Pope also said peace and a sense of humor are graces that accompany a sense of joy.
“To be with Jesus is to be joyful,” he noted. “It has the capacity to give holiness a sense of humor.”
In conclusion, Pope Francis invited participants in the online Congress to look to Mary, “so that you might always be men and women of encounter and fraternity.”