We certainly are aware how changing of plans and the accompanying uncertainty has affected us all. We are members of a congregation, stretching and crossing the borders of the United States, Bolivia, Jamaica and Brazil. The decisions we make have ramifications for all of us. We are most grateful to the Leadership for their willingness to put their respective lives on “hold” and to continue their current positions. We understand your concerns, as we all discern our roles going forward, particularly as we listen for God’s call, and try to discern what is being asked of us at this time. Life as we know it is being defined by a “new normal” and so far, this is not clear to us. Many of us are “vulnerable adults” and as we work to stay well, we are concerned for the congregation which we love and the mission which we serve. When the Chapter theme was chosen we had no idea how appropriate it would be: Behold I Am Doing Something New…Listen! Surely this is a time of a dramatically “new” and with heart and mind, eyes and ears we are being asked to Reflect, and to Listen! As the fruit of our Chapter, we will be asked to Act, but that “Action” must be grounded in virtue and values. We have the opportunity to use this pre-Chapter time of preparation creatively and productively.
The Role of Communal Discernment
Why is the practice of communal discernment so critical at this time? The answer becomes clearer when we look back to the years following Vatican II when all religious institutes were asked to reclaim the charism of their founders and move into the modern world. Over these past 50+ years, we have probed more deeply into the call to religious life and its meaning in the world today. New questions are emerging that flow from a more contemplative prayer life and our lived experience. Questions like, “Is there a Charism of Religious Life that is foundational and deeper than the specific charism of a particular institute? Are we in the midst of an emergence of a new form of religious life that is more fluid with less boundaries? What is the God of the Future telling us through our common experience of being older and smaller? What is the Spirit nudging us to?
These questions, and many more, require deep contemplation, intense listening to the Spirit and to one another. Searching to find answers that will lead us for a while requires not only individual discernment but a communal discernment involving all of us—including our associates and partners in ministry. We intuitively recognize that deep prayer and deep listening are the fundamental principles that will guide our direction for the future. Communal Discernment is the way we move together as One Body, discovering together who we are becoming and why we are here.
Planning for Assemblies in 2020 and 2021
While navigating our recent experiences of lockdown, social-distancing, and other precautions during the COVID-19 health crisis, we also are deeply questioning ourselves about the social unrest and protests surrounding racial injustice and violence. Yet, in the midst of these global pandemics we are being challenged as Franciscan women of hope and 20-20 vision to move forward courageously and creatively with our General Chapter and Leadership Election in 2021.
We will resume our Chapter journey with virtual Assemblies in September, October and November as an international dialogue among our Sisters, Associates and Partners in Ministry across our four countries. Together we will have opportunities to unpack our awakenings and learnings during this unprecedented time. Perhaps we may reshape the Chapter Focus Areas of Interculturality, Integral Ecology and Leadership, which were previously defined during our last Assembly gatherings. Do we have more explicit ways to address them, what is the “new” that God is asking of us as a Congregation? Also, on the agenda for these Assemblies will be the discussion and decision regarding the number of Councilors to be elected; we may also have an Actuarial Study for presentation at that time. More details about Assembly registration will soon be available.
The Calling Forth of Names
In early 2021, the process for Calling of Names for Election will resume, followed by the March, April and May Assemblies. Perhaps by then, these will be personal gatherings, which will focus totally on the Communal Discernment related to the Election process.
Trust in God and One Another
“Behold, I Am Doing Something New…Listen!” is the theme of Chapter. Clearly, we are in a “something new” moment and we need to listen—to God and to one another. Most of all we need to trust that God is with us. As Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 16:14, we must choose to stand fast in faith.
While living in this time of pandemic and social upheaval, we have a wonderful opportunity to creatively explore the “something new” that we are being invited to embrace.
With gratitude and love,
The Chapter Planning Committee