Kuala Lumpur, 25 January 2016
Feast of the Conversion of St Paul
Prot No 983/16/M
Dear Religious in the Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu,
I am indeed very grateful for the kind invitation that you extended to me for the celebration of the closing of the Year of Consecrated Life. While I am unable to be physically present with you, through this letter, I wish to assure you of my spiritual presence and support.
Over a year ago, Pope Francis opened the Year of Consecrated Life inviting each religious congregation to rediscover the joy of being a religious by remembering and recounting “the glorious history” of each religious congregation and by looking to the future realising that a great history is still to be accomplished. I am sure that you have undertaken this journey by embracing more deeply your specific charism, by living the present with passion, and by looking to the future with firm hope and enthusiasm (from the Letter of Pope Francis on the Year of Consecrated Life).
Simply put, the year was a time of immense scrutiny enabling you to rediscover and to live authentic Christian joy arising from the Gospel, which in itself has the capacity to fulfill the yearnings of all men and women. It was a special moment in which religious throughout the whole Church were called again to “wake up the world” by recommitting themselves to the evangelical counsels which are true signs of the prophetic mission of the Church. This year also gave the opportunity for religious to develop and deepen their spirituality of communion leading and teaching the whole Church to become more and more a school and home of communion.
And there was another expectation of the Holy Father for this important year in the life of the Church. He wrote explicitly in his Letter on the Year for Consecrated Life: “I invite you to come out of yourselves and go forth to the existential peripheries. ‘Go into all the world,’ these were the last words which Jesus spoke to his followers and which he continues to address to us (cf Mk 16:15). A whole world awaits us: men and women who have lost all hope, families in difficulty, abandoned children, young people without a future, the elderly, sick and abandoned, those who are rich in the world’s goods but impoverished within, men and women looking for a purpose in life, thirsting for the divine” (Letter 11, 4).
In fact, dearest religious, this has been and will always be the outstanding contribution that you make to the Church, namely, to go where others have not, could not or even would not go, that is, to the peripheries where so many of our brothers and sisters live forgotten, marginalised or put aside due to indifference.
As I always say without exaggeration: “Where would the Church be without religious? Where would many societies and countries be without religious, and where would so many individuals be without religious?”
Is this not exactly what the whole Church is now experiencing during the grace being received from the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy which began a few weeks ago, a special time for all of us to rediscover that we are who we are, bishops, priests, religious, Christians (!), because God has touched us and chosen us through his mercy and to become ourselves more effective ministers of mercy, bringing to others the healing and soothing balm of the mercy of God?
It is a time of renewed encounter with the Father and with the world. Yes, when Pope Francis opened the Holy Door of the Basilica of St Peter’s in the Vatican on 8 December 2015, he said, referring to the significance of the Second Vatican Council: “Before all else, the Council was an encounter. A genuine encounter between the Church and the men and women of our time. An encounter marked by the power of the Spirit, who impelled the Church to emerge from the sholas which for years had kept her self-enclosed so as to go out again, with enthusiasm, on her missionary journey. It was the resumption of a journey of encountering people where they live: in their cities and homes, in their workplaces. Wherever there are people, the Church is called to reach out to them and to bring them the joy of the Gospel. After these decades, we again take up this missionary drive with the same power and enthusiasm.”
These words should resonate within the hearts of all believers, but in a special way they should be recognised as another description of religious life, which is itself a life of encounter. God has encountered you by calling you to live the evangelical counsels as testimony to your perfect love of him and others, and you, through your specific charism never cease to encounter people wherever they may be found, precisely to bring to them Jesus, who is “the face of the mercy of God” (Misericordiae vultus, 1).
Therefore, dearest religious, as we “close” the Year of Consecrated Life, may the fruits and grace that you received during this journey of joy lead you to take up with enthusiasm that “missionary drive” of going to meet people who are hungering and waiting to experience the unconditional love and mercy that the Father has for all in need.
Sincerely yours in the Lord,