Fr. Gilles Routhier
MONTREAL – The Second Vatican Council and changes in society in the last 50 years have deeply affected the life of the Church and that of religious communities, 290 leaders of Canadian religious congregations were told.
The leaders gathered here May 24-28 for the biannual assembly of the Canadian Religious Conference (CRC) at which time they also chose a new executive.
"The Second Vatican Council was a new Pentecost for the Church," Father Gilles Routhier told the men and women leaders as he recalled the changed mentality Pope John XXIII introduced into the Church more than 50 years ago.
Pope John used the image of Pentecost in his speeches and issued many significant messages on this feast, said the vice-dean of the faculty of theology and religious studies at the University of Laval in Quebec City.
The pope had an intuition an era of human history was coming to an end and the world was on the threshold of something new, Routhier said. It was in this context that the council was convened 50 years ago with the goal of renewing the way the Gospel was proclaimed.
"Worrisome warning lights had started to appear on the Church's 'instrument panel' in the West by 1960," he noted, even though all seemed apparently peaceful in the Catholic world.
Citing changes in the Catholic culture of the time, Routhier said, "Something was broken and things had to be conceived differently. It could no longer be 'business as usual.'"
Many leaders reacted with fear to the emerging culture at that time. "Modernity had been experienced by the Church as a series of losses and dispossession, a loss of prestige and influence," Routhier noted. Pope John interpreted the age differently. Beyond the "culture of crisis common to the Catholic ethos of the time," the pope brought a "sapiential perspective."
He saw the world as a place where God is still being revealed and where people need to hear the Gospel in a new way. He thus encouraged Christians to discern the signs of the times, as Jesus himself recommended.
To recognize and understand the world in which we live, its expectations, its longings and to discern its deep quests and questions remains our challenge today, Routhier said.
Speaking more directly to life in religious communities, the second keynote speaker said religious need to recognize the world is constantly changing and religious have to adapt to new challenges.
Sister Patricia Wittberg, a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati, encouraged religious leaders "to recognize the time we inhabit." She described the diverse generations that coexist today in North America and what sets each of them apart. It is "hard work" to stay "mentally flexible" to communicate across cultural boundaries, she said.
"But Christ himself crossed all sorts of cultural boundaries, welcoming women, pagans, sinners," she pointed out.
Encouraging intergenerational dialogue, the sociologist told the religious leaders to "create opportunities" in their congregations to meet with students, parents, factory workers, atheists and devotees of the Tridentine Mass. We are called to listen and "to speak the prophetic word of God to them," she said.
This dialogue can help devise new forms of religious life for the 21st century, Wittberg said. Young communities can learn from the old, and older communities can benefit from the energy and imagination of the young.
A new executive and board was chosen. Replacing Sister Mary Finlayson as president is Norbertine Father Michel Proulx of St. Constant, Quebec. Elected vice-president was Sister Annette Noël, a Sistere of Providence, of Montreal and the secretary-treasurer is Basilian Father George Smith of Toronto.
Texts of the talks are on the CRC website: www.crc-canada.org/en.