Sister General María Inés García opens the 28th General Chapter with an inspiring opening greeting

This July 16, 2023, marked the beginning of the long-awaited XXVIII General Chapter for our congregation. Sister General, Maria Ines Garcia, welcomed the sisters from around the world with a powerful greeting that resonated in the hearts of all present.

Below, we quote his words:

Welcome Sisters to this 28th Chapter on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. We are in this land of Vic together with Joaquina and many sisters who have preceded us in history. It is very impressive to know that we are heiresses of a charisma with so much life.

We have been summoned from far and near places to experience this universal Family event. It is a great grace to participate in this face-to-face meeting, to be able to look into each other’s eyes, touch and embrace each other. The chapter is a representation of the Vedruna Family in today’s world and in this history.

First of all, I thank you for being here, and I am certain that together we will be weaving this chapter community, day by day, in prayer, the Eucharist, listening, dialogue, work and assemblies. Also in the moments of informal socializing, at the table, in the corridors, asking for help and offering collaboration.

Weaving this chapter community is fundamental to achieve the objectives that have brought us here, that we become aware of the reality of our congregation, of the society in which we live, of the church of which we are a part. And for us to realize that our personal, community and congregational contribution is important for the present-future of the Kingdom of God.

A chapter is the work of the Spirit and we are invited to live it in humility to allow ourselves to be led by the Lord, to let God be God.

The chapter is about living the faith, life is a free gift that, in turn, calls for daring and creativity.

The chapter is a commitment to hope. God with his gratuitous love has been present and active in our history. He is at our side and invites us to go forward with a wide and open gaze.

We are living our consecrated life at a very complex moment in history. We know that we are in the midst of a crisis that we say can be an opportunity to be “born again” as Jesus told Nicodemus. We have this confidence and that is the way it should be.

But we ask ourselves: what does this mean? What will it be like?

We have had a special time, with the pandemic, and it has brought us a new awareness of our vulnerability. We were aware of our limits, but to grasp what can happen to us, in a short time that changes our lives so much, has been something different. We thought we were sure of ourselves and our possibilities.

Embracing the vulnerability we have experienced can be the beginning of a path of transformation. Religious life does not only need changes, which are also important, we need something more profound. We are at a crossroads, and we have two options. We can choose to reinforce our defenses and resist by remaining in the easy life or we can choose to embrace our vulnerability and together give birth to a new way of being.

What does it mean to embrace our vulnerability and its transformative potential?

We can congratulate ourselves for choosing a theme such as “being born again” for the chapter. A theme contrary to the predominant paradigm of our world today. Embracing our vulnerability speaks to the essence of humanity and the very heart of transformation. It demands that we embrace the totality of our being: the beauty and darkness of life, the full cycle of surrender, gestation and birth, and all kinds of anguish and love.

In other words, embracing our vulnerability is not a matter of whether or not we like being vulnerable. The question is: Can we discover its value?

What are we looking for? What is the deepest desire or most urgent longing as we plan for the future of our congregation and our own personal future?

Our future depends on our ability to make wise decisions. We need to recognize the collective vulnerability that we must all face and partner in this transformational work. Our future depends on our willingness to come together through intergenerational, interdisciplinary, interreligious and intercultural collaboration.

We are going through a dark time of uncertainty and bewilderment as the Church, and Religious Life in many places. When the night is darkest, the brightness of the new day is nearer. So it is up to us to revive our faith like Nicodemus and ask the Lord of life, how will this new birth be possible?

We cannot move into the future without honoring our past, our matriarchs and our traditions; but we cannot stay there. If we truly honor those who have brought us to this day, we must do for the next generation what our matriarchs did for us: we must make room for the new.

Profound and global changes

A great change is taking place in our planetary home. Do we not perceive it? A mixture of natural and man-made circumstances has brought our planet to a tipping point: global warming, rising sea levels, species extinction and immigration flows. To the climate crisis, we can add the pandemic, the festering wounds of racism and classism, human trafficking and slavery, economic injustice, violence, war, and the toxic and polarizing politics that are bringing all of us collectively to our knees.

In this world situation change is very necessary, but it is not enough. We are invited to inner transformation, which changes the meaning and purpose of our life. Making a journey, a pilgrimage with horizon and ground, with concrete steps to take.

In every crisis, there is a crossroads of grace.

Crisis precedes transformation We have all been here, where the earth shifts beneath us and brings us to our knees, only to be transformed, not simply changed. Let us recall for a moment a crossroads in our own life, one in the past or a current one. It can be a serious illness, a change of destiny, the death of a family member or close friend.

These “rock bottom” experiences are the point at which we are forced to admit that there is a serious problem and we need to ask for help. It is not a time to throw in the towel, but to recognize that, alone, we cannot achieve our own healing or open a new door to the future.

When we hit rock bottom, we begin to know what is really real, who is there with us and who is not, who believes in us and who does not. When we hit rock bottom and finally accept the situation we are in, we begin to ask ourselves questions for which there are no immediate answers, but answers that we must find.

Crisis can become a crossroads of grace, while it is a painful place, it can simultaneously be a profoundly liberating place in which to remain, if we allow it.

The good news is that religious life is not dying; it is being transformed, as it has been through many changes since the time of Jesus. The good news is that we are part of this great change! We are certainly working hard to make sense of the future and to plan for it.

The good news is that death, while part of this transition, will not have the last word. This cyclic transformation is natural in all living systems. Death is never the last word; it is always a new beginning. This is God’s promise: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even if he dies; and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).

The Religious Life will resurge. But there are tough decisions ahead, not quick fixes or easy throwaway solutions. All the options we have will require hard work. There is no escape. The only consolation is that God is with us and has never abandoned us. This is God’s covenant.

Our attention must be focused on two types of transitions. The first will be a personal one, life-changing transitions, past or present. The second will be the transition that communities and congregations are now facing. It will be opportune to take advantage of personal experiences as a means to help us understand what our communities and the Vedruna Family are facing now.

Some authors also call this a “threshold time, when we move from one time and consciousness to another. It is a “liminal” space where we can make “deeper connections with the divine”.

Grace flourishes in every nook and cranny of creation, but we are never so aware of its presence and so receptive to its ways as when we find ourselves at such a crossroads. Grace comes whether we ask for it or not, whether we are aware of it or not. When we reach a crossroads, individually or as a community, the pain we must suffer empties us. Emptied of all arrogance and stripped of our defenses.

At every crossroads of grace, there is a deeper invitation.

A crossroads of grace, for individuals and communities, is a place where God continually places before us choices between life and death. God gives us signs, he begs us to choose life, but these choices are always ours.

Religious communities are now at a crossroads of grace, a threshold between what was and what is yet to come. Here, at these crossroads of grace, there is a deeper invitation:

  • Choose life so that your offspring may live.
  • Choose life so that you can live more fully whatever time you have left.
  • Choose life so that you can contribute to the transformation of Religious Life and our common Home, revealing Christ in our world.

What is the inner work of transformation that helps create the conditions for grace to act and for life to flourish?

It takes courage and freedom to risk rejection when we open our hearts and share our true selves with others. It takes courage to surrender, and as we were saying in the chip work, to let go of the people and places we once loved, a way of life we once cherished, to make way for new life. It takes courage to reconcile, to offer and seek forgiveness. And for communities that choose to follow this path, to embark on this Exodus journey, they will need leaders who personally accept their vulnerability and help their sisters to do the same.

Cross-cultural studies on leadership make it very clear that the most important qualities of a leader are to be down to earth, honest, real and approachable. A credible leader is a person brave enough to risk the possibility of failure or appearing strange in the pursuit of something more noble. She will also be willing to generously share her gifts and talents, as well as her weaknesses, frailties and feelings. We are in need of compassionate as well as intelligent leaders. May they inspire us by their humanity. Isn’t that what Joaquina and many sisters did throughout our history?

There are three models of leadership portrayed in John’s Gospel: that of the Good Shepherd, that of service (washing of the feet) and that of covenant based on mutual love and friendship (John 21 – Peter’s designation).

The three symbols are very expressive and we need to live them. Perhaps we are more accustomed to the first two, the Good Shepherd and Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Today’s sensibility asks us to exercise ourselves more in the symbolism of “the covenant”. Where mutual love and friendship are experienced in reciprocity, equality and equity.

Embracing vulnerability is a paradox

Embracing our vulnerability is a paradox, like so many biblical teachings. The literal interpretation sounds crazy. His wisdom, for those who listen, is found piercing reality. “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:11). “The last shall be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16). “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).

Embracing our vulnerability, living the fullness of our humanity with an open heart, is what transforms us. Those who embrace it know its beauty, its creative potential; they know that being vulnerable is what makes us human and has the power to heal and transform hearts. Those who accept it in themselves can embrace it in others.

How are we and our communities embracing vulnerability and engaging in transformative inner work?

We are concluding

A great change is taking place on our home planet. Old stories are crumbling as new ones emerge. There is no going back to the way things were.

We are now at a crossroads of grace and we have a choice. We can react with fear and take the known path of least resistance or we can awaken and respond with courage in search of the true path.

It is easy to lose hope in times like these, when the challenges are enormous, complex and rapidly changing. Hope rests in people’s hearts or there is no hope. It is about carrying hope for each other, for those who no longer have hope and for our world where hope is in short supply.

The world needs not only hope, but our active participation as agents of transformation. What could be more necessary now than to embody wisdom in a world increasingly detached from truth, hypnotized by the media and manipulated by self-serving politicians?

We need the compassionate presence in our wounded world. We need models of living community in a world that seems more interested in building walls than bridges. What could be more necessary now than to embody the values of the Gospel: love, kindness, inclusion, reciprocity, forgiveness, justice and mercy in a world so polarized and prone to violence?

The world needs us now as leaven, and salt that God can use to transform the world. No matter the age, the mission or the circumstances, we can be a transforming presence.

By walking these paths we will have the opportunity not only to allow ourselves to be transformed, but also to contribute to the gestation of a new religious life, a new world that is in turmoil. We will put our mark on this great change and add a page to the continuing story of creation.

In this chapter, we are invited to be “born again” dreaming together the vision of our Vedruna Family on the horizon of the second centenary of the Foundation.

And encouraging each other in our hearts to let go of the burdens we carry and thus be able to welcome with freedom and joy whatever the Lord wants to give us.

We ask Mary in the Eucharist that we are about to celebrate, to accompany us on this journey to be disciples of her Son Jesus, in her own way.

Muchas gracias, merci, thank you very much, arigato, obrigada, gracies, eskerrik asko

You can download the greeting from Sister General, María Inés García