A report from the recent UISG plenary meeting, by Sr Maureen Murphy FMSJ
This was the third conference of the International Union of Superiors General I had attended as a congregational leader and by far the best. I was one of over eight hundred leaders of Women’s Religious Congregations from more than eighty countries who gathered in the basement of a large hotel in Rome. The theme of the conference was “Sowers of Prophetic Hope” and the following subjects were covered in depth with speeches which were streamed live on the UISG website and videos on Youtube:
· A Vision for the Future of Religious Life
· Sowers of Prophetic Hope for the Planet from a Biblical Perspective and the Presentation of the UISG Campaign Sowing Hope for the Planet
· Living Interculturally as a sign of prophetic hope
· The Call to Inter Religious Dialogue
After each presentation by highly qualified female speakers there was table conversation between the ten Sisters at each table divided into language groups around the large hall. Translation was provided in thirteen languages. This provided opportunities for lively discussions as many topics are lived out in different ways in our various cultural contexts. A sentence summarising the content of the presentations was produced by each group and fed back to the plenary.
Reports were given on the work of the Executive Committee in the past three years and these included growing contact with various Vatican dicasteries, attendance at Synods and the projects run by UISG - especially Solidarity in South Sudan and Talitha Kum, the anti trafficking initiative, which was celebrating the ten years of its existence with a very graphic exhibition of photographs showing Sisters of all nationalities working very much with the most vulnerable people on earth.
In the short breaks between sessions, old friends found one another and new relationships were formed. Language was no barrier because regardless of where we originate we all speak the same language of love and we all aim to serve.
On 10th May, the last day of the Conference we made our way in taxis and buses to St Peter’s where Cardinal Braz de Avis celebrated Mass for us and we then made our way to Paul vi hall for an audience with Pope Francis. He entered the hall to cheers and choruses of singing especially from the Sisters from South America.
Before sitting at the table provided for him to sit with the President of our Executive Board, Sister Carmen Summut, Pope Francis asked for the big winged armchair provided for him to be exchanged to a simple dining chair - the same as the one provided for Sr Carmen. A sure sign of humility and equality. Discarding the long speech he had written - which he gave to Sr Carmen to circulate to us because he said it was boring and he would rather just speak with us - he welcomed us and thanked us for our loving service all over the world but emphasised that we should serve but not be in servitude particularly to clergy. If we want to cook and clean we should do so for the vulnerable and sick not for priests who can employ people to do such work - while we evangelise by our presence.
Asked about the report commissioned to look at the possibility of women deacons Pope Francis told us that the theologians are still at work but we need to pray that they can come to a consensus. The previous day he had issued a Moto Proprio about child abuse and he mentioned this in the context also of the abuse of Religious. A question asked by a Sister from South Sudan pleading for the early appointment of new bishops to replace those who retire because their leadership is essential in inter religious dialogue and the search for peace received a reply that it was very important but finding the right people who are capable of leadership and fluent in languages was often difficult.
Before leaving the hall Pope Francis was introduced to the Executive Board members and the delegates from around the world representing the Sisters in their various countries. As the delegate for the UK I felt enormously privileged to shake the hand of this humble and simple man who asked each one of us to pray for him.
Meetings of the delegates continued on Monday and Tuesday the following week and we elected the new Executive who in turn chose the new president, Sister Iolanda Kafta, from Poland.
We left feeling that we had experienced something beautiful and life giving and it is up to us now to share the content with our own Sisters and local Conferences of Religious in whatever ways we can in order to become Sowers of Seeds for the Planet and prophetic witnesses of hope.
Sister Maureen Murphy, fmsj