WASHINGTON, D.C. — Even though Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli Tutti is not aimed specifically at vowed religious, those in religious life can link its themes to the Second Vatican Council, a leading Vatican official told the Conference of Major Superiors of Men.
The value of Fratelli Tutti “is to be found in the firm decision to follow up and implement the teaching of the council: Universal fraternity and social friendship are for today’s world a ‘sign of the times,'” said Czech Cardinal Michael Czerny, undersecretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, in a Jan. 21 online address to CMSM.
Nor does this start and end with “Fratelli Tutti,” Czerny said. “In 2014, on the 50th anniversary of ‘Perfectae Caritatis,'” Vatican II’s Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life, “Pope Francis convened a Year of Consecrated Life,” with the goal of “reflecting on the relevance of consecrated life and the challenges it must face in the third millennium,” he added.
“Lumen Gentium,” Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, was “directed at placing religious life in a broader and more complete ecclesiological framework,” Cardinal Czerny said. One way it did so was “by declaring that the mission and spiritual life of religious is “consecrated to the good of the whole church.”
By declaring that the church is the “people of God,” “Lumen Gentium” “was also reflected in consecrated life, through the underlining of the ‘rights’ of the consecrated person, such as the right to education, to psycho-affective maturation, to gender equality, to the enhancement of personal talents, to respect for the person,” Czerny said.
“Consecrated persons acquire a different freedom in the way they relate to themselves, to material goods, and to others,” he added. “The consecrated life constitutes for religious a way of ‘engaging’ with history, of living in time.”
Vatican II also recognized the “charismatic nature” of religious life “as a way of participating in the response of the Christian people to the history of salvation,” he said.
In Pope Francis’s observations of religious life, “one perceives his personal experience as a religious, as a Jesuit,” said Czerny, himself a Jesuit. “Yes, he takes realistic snapshots of the most urgent problems, but he also shows that he knows, in depth, the most hidden fragilities.”
Pope Francis “highlights how the vocation to the consecrated life does not arise from a shrewd cost-benefit calculation, but is a free gift that springs from the overabundant love of God and arises from ‘a life-changing encounter,'” he noted.
“In light of Fratelli Tutti, this means collaborating in the creation of social bonds characterized by friendship and fraternity, acting in the fabric of civil coexistence as a link among the various subjects that make it up,” Czerny said.
“Promoting a healthy ‘culture of encounter’ is the prerequisite for achieving a social pact in which no one is denied rights and opportunities. Religious, then, become artisans of a ‘culture of encounter’ whenever they stand in defense of human rights and oppose the ‘throwaway culture,'” he added, quoting from Fratelli Tutti.
The theme of fraternity “constitutes one of the main threads that run through the magisterium of Pope Francis,” Czerny said. “The significant reality of consecrated life finds in fraternity the prophetic anticipation of a world in which unity is achieved in the safeguarding of mutual differences. True fraternity does not homogenize, but allows us to remain ourselves together with others.”
He added, “What Francis recommends to everyone applies above all to consecrated persons: dialogue, as a means of seeking the truth together. … The contribution of religious to the church’s mission of evangelization and dialogue is fundamental, but today more than ever the real challenge facing them is to participate actively in the inculturation of the faith.”
For Pope Francis, Czerny said, “it is not just a matter of knowing others better, but of reaping what the Spirit has sown in them as a gift for us as well.”