When he served as bishop of Brasília, Cardinal João Braz de Aviz used to spend most of his time visiting the over one hundred parishes within his competence. “I have always been with people, since the years in the seminary. Now I spend my time with the religious: I take part in the retreats, in the Chapters, recurrences, formation meetings. But I miss the contact with people.” Cardinal Braz de Aviz, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, has headed the organization of the Year of Consecrated Life.
Your Eminence, you are a diocesan priest with responsibilities over thousands of religious…
“When I was appointed by Benedict XVI I thought it would be an impossible task. However, I didn’t come to Rome to teach, but to learn. I immersed myself in the work of the Congregation, I listened and worked with everyone to find solutions to problems. Constant dialogue with the Secretary is fundamental.
The Year of Consecrated Life has ended, it was the first in the thousand-year long history of the Church. Are you satisfied?
I am grateful to God, who continues calling us to the consecration, and to Pope Francis, who has accompanied us, encouraging us to view the future in the awareness of the changes that need to be made. In Europe and in rich Countries it was largely assumed that historical charismas were reaching an end. In universities in particular, the catch-phrase was “learn the art of dying.” Indeed, many monasteries are shutting down, many Orders have to share their charisma, there is a persistent crisis in vocations along with a veritable ageing of the religious. However, the perception of having reached the end of a story has changed. Now there is hope, and this is the most beautiful fruit of the Year. We mustn’t remain attached to previously conquered positions or loose our way when facing huge difficulties that we come across in various circumstances.
Is it the case of the Franciscans Friars of the Immaculate?
Many people feel disturbed over the news of vows written with their own blood, branded with fire… We are working tenaciously given the serious occurrences. The terrible vow written in blood was dissolved by Pope Francis. Stefano Manelli was dismissed. The economic issue is in the hands of the Italian judiciary. Formation was entrusted to the Pontifical Universities and the approved centers. There are three commissioners that are guiding the Institute towards a process of normalization. This will only happen if there is a change: not everyone, however, agrees.
We are confident that something is on the move. For sure, Stefano Manelli has been dismissed.
How will you preserve the spirit of this Year?
We haven’t kept the exact count, but we have travelled a lot with the Secretary and visited at least 30 thousand consecrated persons in the world. The purpose was not so much to verify the living conditions, as to share our path and spread the words of the Pope to the world. All of this has led to a strong understanding. We must continue to keep up this relationship and go towards consecrated persons, wherever they are.
Is consecrated life migrating from Europe to Asia?
In Korea 100 thousand people are baptized each year. God is always new. He creates a garden from the desert. The contemplative dimension of life is typical of Asia. Secularism and the religious depletion of the Western world haven’t arrived there yet. A certain form of relativism and capitalism are gaining ground, but the religious experience remains a priority. Also China is remarkably opening up. And so is India. In Taiwan, for example, the four main universities are led by Catholics, and the government is in favour of this because Catholics transmit values they consider favourable for their culture, which are not aimed at direct conversion. It’s an evangelization of testimony and presence.
Does consecrated life need to go in mission in order to gain new thrust? This is what the Pope wrote upon his return from Mozambique. I was a thousand kilometers away from Maputo, in a mission actively operating for the past 60 years. I witnessed the beautiful presence of consecrated persons from four charismas who work with young people, children, sick people, drug-addicts. In an extremely poor society, where the sale of women and children is still legal, the Gospel is the light. If God calls people to these places then consecrated persons must be coherent in the proclamation and in life. I have understood how important it is to go out in the missions.
We would have overcome many crises inside our Institutes if we had served the missions. We did, but not enough.
Could the new forms of consecrated life that started to develop after the Council be an answer to the vocation crisis?
God continues calling us and we don’t know what the Spirit is creating. These new forms are united by the charisma. Often these Institutes welcome the entire spectrum of life: lay people and clerics, men and women, the married and the unmarried. And this is the something new.
Ancient Congregations are discovering that they hadn’t worked enough with lay people as their founder has wanted. Many are being “saved” thanks to the laity.
However, these new realities require further steps such as increased maturity in man-woman relations or a different way of exercising authority.
The document “Mutuae relationes”, on the relationship between the religious and the bishops is being rewritten. What are the novelties of this edition? The revision of the document follows two principles, which are: spirituality of communion and the co-essential dimension of hierarchy and charismas. It’s the lesson passed down to us by Saint John Paul II. The Holy Spirit doesn’t ask the bishop permission to create vocations over a charisma. Naturally, the time comes when the founder must submit himself, with filial love, to the bishop, so he may be sure of operating for God. Sometimes this is a painful process, but it’s the only feasible path. Also the Pope prefers a Church that has accidents to a motionless Church.