Below is a Zenit translation of Pope Francis’ address to participants in the General Chapter of the Marian Clerics of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Saturday in the Vatican. The General Chapter is underway in Rome from February 5-25, 2017:
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Dear brothers, I am happy to meet with you on the occasion of your General Chapter and I greet you warmly, beginning with the Superior General, whom I thank for his words. In you I greet the entire congregation, committed to serving Christ and the Church in twenty countries of the world.
I learned that one of the main purposes of your General Chapter is to reflect on the laws and rules proper of your Congregation. It is an important work. In fact, “imperative for every institute today is the need for renewed reference to the rule, because enclosed in it and in the Constitutions is an itinerary to follow, qualified by a specific charism, authenticated by the Church” (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata, 37). Therefore, I exhort you to carry out that reflection with fidelity to the Founder’s charism and to the spiritual patrimony of your Congregation and, at the same time, with hearts and minds open to people’s new necessities, the new challenges, but remember: one cannot go forward without memory. It is a tension, constantly. If I want to go forward without the memory of the past, of the history of the founders, of the great, even of the sins of the congregation, I cannot go forward. This is a rule: the memory, this “Deuteronomic” dimension proper of life and which is used always, when a religious congregation and the constitutions must be updated.
May the example of your founder, Saint Stanislaw of Jesus and Mary, canonized last year, be the light and guide of your path. He fully understood the meaning of being a disciple of Christ when he prayed with these words: “Lord Jesus, if out of love I bind myself to You, who will tear me away from You? If I am united to You in mercy, who will separate me from You? May my soul adhere to You; may your most clement right <arm> receive me. May the most unworthy member also adhere to his Head, and this small particle suffer with the entire suffering Holy Body” (Christus Patiens, III, 1).
In this perspective, your service of the Word is testimony of Christ Risen, whom you encountered on your path and were called, with your style of life, to take the Church wherever He sends you. Christian testimony also requires commitment with and for the poor, a commitment that has characterized your Institute since its origins. I encourage you to keep alive this tradition of service to poor and humble persons, through the proclamation of the Gospel with language that they understand, with works of mercy and prayer for the deceased – that simple closeness to people like us. I like that passage of Paul to Timothy (cf. 2 Timothy 1:5): guard your faith, which you received from your mother, from your grandmother …; from the simplicity of the mother, of the grandmother. This is the foundation. We are not Princes, sons of Princes, of Counts or Barons; we are simple people of the people. Therefore, we come close, with simplicity, to those who suffer most: the sick, the children, the abandoned elderly, the poor … all. And this poverty is at the center of the Gospel: it is the poverty of Jesus, which is not sociological poverty.
Another significant spiritual legacy of your Religious Family is that which your fellow brother Blessed Giorgio Matulaitis left you: total dedication to the Church and to man to “go courageously to work and to fight for the Church, especially where there is the greatest need” (Journal, p. 45). May his intercession help you to cultivate this attitude in yourselves, which in the last decades has inspired your initiatives geared to spreading the Institute’s charism in poor countries, especially in Africa and in Asia.
The great challenge of inculturation asks you today to proclaim the Good News with comprehensible languages and ways to the men of our time, involved in processes of rapid social and cultural transformation. Your Congregation boasts a long history, written by courageous witnesses of Christ and of the Gospel. You are called to walk in this line today with renewed zeal to push you, with prophetic freedom and wise discernment – <with> both together! — on apostolic paths and missionary frontiers, cultivating a close cooperation with the Bishops and the other components of the Ecclesial Community.
The horizons of evangelization and the urgent need to witness the evangelical message to all, without distinctions, constitute the vast field of your apostolate. So many are still waiting to know Jesus, man’s sole Redeemer, and not a few situations of injustice and moral and material hardship question believers. Such an urgent mission requires personal and communal conversion. Only hearts fully open to the action of Grace are able to interpret the signs of the times and to receive the appeals for hope and peace of needy humanity.
Dear brothers, on the example of your founder, be courageous in the service of Christ and of the Church, responding to the new challenges and to the new mission, even if humanly they can seem risky. In fact, in the “genetic code” of your Community is found what Saint Stanislaw himself affirmed from his experience: “Despite the innumerable difficulties, divine goodness and wisdom initiate and fulfill what we want, even when, according to human judgment, the means are inadequate. Nothing, in fact, is impossible for the Almighty. This was shown to me in a most clear way” (Fundatio Domus Recollectionis, 1). And this attitude – which comes from the littleness of the means, also from our littleness, also from our unworthiness, because <we are> sinners, comes from there, but we have a great horizon – [this attitude] is precisely our act of faith in the power of the Lord: the Lord can, the Lord is capable. And our littleness is in fact the seed, the small seed, which then germinates, grows, the Lord waters, and thus goes forward. But the sense of littleness is in fact the first leap towards trust in God’s power; go forward on this path.
I entrust to your Mother and Patroness, Mary Immaculate, your journey of faith and growth, in constant union with Christ and with His Holy Spirit, who renders you witnesses of the power of the Resurrection. To you here present, to the whole Congregation and to your lay collaborators I impart my heartfelt Apostolic Blessing.
[Original text: Italian] [Translation by Virginia M. Forrester]