LCWR speaker says times call for ‘partnerships, companions in mission’

HOUSTON (CNS) — The national board of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious said an approach of “respectful, honest, open dialogue” about “matters at the core of our life” was what led to an agreeable conclusion this spring to the Vatican’s doctrinal assessment of LCWR and mandate for reform.

“Our greatest desire now is that the positive outcome of these years of intense work at building relationships, establishing trust, inviting questions, and creating spaces for honest conversations — even on topics that can be divisive — will serve as a source of hope to others within the church and the world,” the board said in a statement.

It was released after the close of the annual LCWR assembly, held in Houston Aug. 11-15.

About 800 delegates attended the assembly and on the afternoon of the last day they met in executive session to discuss the doctrinal assessment of LCWR by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and its mandate for the organization’s reform.

LCWR officers and executive directors who served from 2014-2015 reported on the steps leading to the mandate’s conclusion, as well as on their April 16 visit with Pope Francis at the Vatican.  Joining them were former LCWR presidents who had served in office since March 2009, when the doctrinal assessment began.

“We were pleased that we could commemorate the conclusion of the CDF [doctrinal congregation] mandate with our members during this assembly,” the board said. “The members were heartened by the reports of the frank and honest conversations held between the bishop delegates of CDF and the LCWR officers that helped CDF come to a more accurate understanding of the conference and its mission.”

The board mentioned Sister Sharon Holland’s presidential address at the beginning of the assembly.

The outgoing president, a Sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, said the Vatican’s investigations and resulting the tensions stemmed largely from a “cultural chasm … caused by two groups that did not know each other’s assumptions.”

Over the past three years, the board said, the efforts by the three U.S bishops overseeing the process and LCWR officials “to engage in dialogue on critical questions of faith, spiritual practices, and religious life that had not been previously discussed with such depth and candor led to a significant narrowing of this gap.”

The board recognized Archbishop Sartain’s commitment to “wholehearted participation in this process and we are grateful for the time, energy and openness he invested in the work of building bridges” between the doctrinal congregation and LCWR.

The agenda for the Houston assembly — which had as its theme of “Springs of the Great Deep Burst Forth: Meeting the Thirsts of the World” — a series of reflections, keynote addresses, resolutions and elections.

In a reflection delivered at the opening of the assembly, former LCWR executive director Sister Janet Mock, a Sister of St. Joseph, set the context for the gathering, acknowledging the suffering endured by people throughout the last year — globally, as well as in Houston, a city recently besieged by floods.

“It is within this context — in this city, in our country, our church and our world abounding with beauty and promise and challenges beyond measure, that we, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, meet, called by grace,” she stated.

Later in a keynote address titled “Surprised by Joy: Springs from the Great Deep Illuminating Religious Life,” Sister Janet said the realities facing communities of Catholic sisters today in what she termed “uncommon times” call for partnerships and companions in mission.

“What you must offer, however, is your charism and the wisdom that has come from the years your sisters have practiced the congregational virtues that shape your charism,” Sister Janet said. “The way you will move into the future must be influenced by those rich gifts which you still have to offer — and must for the good of the world.”

Later Sister Janet later received LCWR’s 2015 Outstanding Leadership Award. She was the organization’s executive director from 2011 to 2014.

Father Stephen Bevans, a Society of the Divine Word priest, delivered a keynote in which he discussed “thirst” as a grace, as a yearning for something more and a yearning that can lead to growth.

He described four thirsts: for the water of integrity; for the wine of hope; for “the nectar of justice”; and for “the elixir of beauty.”

He noted that only the church that serves the cause of the poor and suffering can be considered “the true church of Christ.” This true church, Father Bevans said, strives for integrity, offers hope, and practices and cherishes beauty.

LCWR members from the Houston region led participants in a justice action focused on the plight of immigrant families seeking a new life in the United States after escaping from violence and death in their home countries.

Participants viewed the testimony of three mothers — from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala — who had been held with their children and hundreds of other families in the for-profit detention facility in Karnes City, Texas.

Over an informal lunch, about 400 religious sisters shared information about their ministry to immigrants and explored strategies for ending family detention and establishing justice for immigrants.

During the assembly, LCWR members also affirmed a resolution where they committed themselves to examine the root causes of injustice and their congregation’s complicity in injustice, and to work to effect systemic change as they seek to establish economic justice, abolish modern-day slavery, ensure immigrant rights, promote nonviolence, and protect Earth and its biosphere.

They also recommitted themselves to working to abolish the death penalty. During the days of the assembly, the state of Texas had two executions scheduled. The Aug. 12 execution of Daniel Lee Lopez was carried out; the second, of Tracy Beatty, had been set for Aug. 13 but was stayed.

At the conclusion of the assembly, president-elect Sister Marcia Allen assumed the office of LCWR president for 2015-2016. She is president of her religious community, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kansas. Sister Mary Pellegrino was chosen president-elect. Currently, she is the congregation moderator for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden, Pennsylvania. The assembly also elected Franciscan Sister Mary Beth Gianoli as secretary. She is a leadership team member and congregational secretary of the Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenburg, Indiana.

LCWR has nearly 1400 members who are elected leaders of their religious orders, who represent approximately 80 percent of the 50,000 Catholic sisters in the United States.

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