Before the request of reforms in the Church on the part of Pope Francis and the diminishing number of religious in monasteries, consecrated life in Italy rolled up its sleeves and launched a reorganization process of the forces on the ground. The kickoff of the initiative will take place next week with the opening of the general assembly of the Italian Conference Major Superiors (CISM) scheduled to take place in Rimini November 14-18, focused on the theme of the reorganization of the Provinces in the light of the experience of many Congregations since the 1970s. “We should not think that the reform wanted by Pope Francis is to be confined to the offices of the Curia leaving aside our religious Institutes at national level, notably as regards the situation of the local churches in which we operate”, said Fr Luigi Gaetani, president of CISM, representing over 200 Major Superiors.
Are religious Orders undergoing a reorganization of their presence at local level?
We want to act in harmony with what Francis is asking of us.
We also have to face the present situation: we are witnessing a decline in the number of vocations coupled by the ageing of our confreres, but we are called to respond adequately to the needs of the ministry and further the religious works of our Institutes.
In the course of time we developed strategic decisions. The Provinces of various Institutes have identified best practices especially with regard to the management of charitable activity and within a set of vital areas of religious life, notably the priestly formation of youths, which is a shared responsibility. The same applies to permanent formation.
Are cooperation processes between Congregations being planned?
They are certainly welcome. Religious Orders can work together to ensure ecclesial service, notably in the field of charitable activity. Fruitful cooperation can equally involve the realms of healthcare and education between Institutes and at the level of the mission. The latest form of cooperation has been taking place in the diocese of Noto with regard to the reception of migrants. Such cooperation can be realized also at other levels.
What are the differences in the situations in the North and the South?
Popular religiosity is still widespread in the South, where it’s important to ensure a constant presence and avoid desertification.
The reorganization and merging of Provinces should not lead us to forget the peripheries. And the South is a periphery.
Conversely, the North is experiencing difficulties in terms of religious belonging. This situation is perceived in the decline in religious vocations or in the crises of the oratories. But there remains an organizational capability that ensures immediate response through our works.
Are there differences also in the number of vocations?
The South is still characterised by an impetus, albeit in a non-homogeneous manner. The Franciscan family, inter alia, registers a considerable number of vocational responses, also thanks to in-depth commitment in this area. But other Institutes are suffering a decline.
In the past four years religious vocations in Italy fell from 19 500 to approximately 18 thousand. Given this situation, how are charitable activities being run and how are new ones being promoted?
We are in the frontline of charitable activity and of support to all those living in conditions of extreme poverty. The appeal of Pope Francis was received with great generosity.
Despite bureaucratic difficulties we manage to make available our facilities. But who will guarantee in terms of penal or civil responsibilities? It was not a marginal issue, but we took action to find possible solutions.
Will the reorganization process involve also the relations with the dioceses?
This possibility is in the pipeline. But we first need to monitor the relations between consecrated life and the dioceses. The time has come to improve our organization processes in order to best respond to the needs of the Italian Church. We are experiencing a positive season in the relations with the bishops. Thus the rewriting of the document “Mutuae relationes” will be especially significant as a reminder of the communion that is being fulfilled inside a Church in a state of mission , and co-essentiality between the charismatic and institutional gifts. In fact, mutual relations must not be considered from a dual perspective – namely, the bishops and the religious – but rather as forming part of the relationship with the people of God, which is realized inside the Church, and not between two of her sectors.