A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH
Women Religious in the New Evangelization

Part 1

Superior-general of the Religious of Mary Immaculate on Vocations and Formation

By Jose Antonio Varela Vidal

ROME, 1 AUG. 2012 (ZENIT)
Religious congregations are responding to Benedict XVI’s call to adapt their work and lifestyle to the challenges of the new evangelization.

Among those preparing for this are the Religious of Mary Immaculate, known also as those of “Domestic Service” because of the work they do with young girls who work at simple tasks.

ZENIT interviewed Sister Daría Fernández Ramos a short time after she was elected superior-general in a Chapter which has given her the mandate to lead the religious family founded by Saint Vicenta Maria in 1876.

ZENIT: How is your congregation responding to the Pope’s call to a new evangelization?

Sister Fernández: We regarded this event as a “kairos” in the Church. Before the Pope called the synod, we had already chosen the new evangelization as the main subject for our 22nd General Chapter. This subject expresses the concern of the hearts of all the sisters, about how to put the young people, with whom we work, in direct contact with Jesus, the true Gospel of the Father.

ZENIT: What should be the emphasis of the new evangelization?

Sister Fernández: What we seek, as our founder taught us, is that we encounter Jesus, aware that only He can transform a person; when one lives an experience of profound encounter with Jesus, one’s life changes; we see it in young girls, perhaps with the same desires of achievement and with great expectations, but if they have lived this experience, their lives have a more profound, fuller meaning.

ZENIT: There are other young girls who knock on your doors to enter. What does a young girl of today seek in her desire to consecrate her life?

Sister Fernández: The motives are diverse, as God touches the heart of each person according to her own individuality. There is a common denominator, the experience of God and great concern for the important social challenges. Some of them feel called to be apostles among their companions, as Benedict XVI desires. It hurts them to know that there are young people who don’t find meaning in their lives, and they feel sent to share what they have experienced; they feel called and sent. Prayer, the Eucharist and contact with the Word of God are important means through which Jesus comes to encounter, in different ways, the young person of today, also in the most difficult moments and in experiences of pain, when they have experienced meaninglessness and begin again on a new path.

ZENIT: For these times, what should be emphasized in the formation of novices?

Sister Fernández: The young girls who wish to join the congregation today come from different backgrounds and have very different values. They are attracted primarily by the social work that the Religious of Mary Immaculate carry out, of hospitality and promotion of women, especially in the human, joyful and selfless style with which we carry it out, which makes them think that that “way of seeing things and of living in another way” is based on Jesus’ Gospel and is something that is worthwhile.

ZENIT: There is always something to improve on, isn’t there?

Sister Fernández: These generous and determined young girls, with their own fragilities, need to be well formed to live their consecration fully. What is most important is a deepening in the faith, and the encounter with the Jesus of life and of history, which will help them to understand existence from the perspective of a Christian humanism, and to enter into a process of salvation for themselves and for the persons with whom they come into contact. An important basis for this formative process is knowledge of oneself, that each young girl become involved in her own process and that she develop her own identity from the charism received. The best help is to live this in a community where personal prayer, real fraternity and commitment to the Church and to the young girls of today is a palpable reality.

ZENIT: You mentioned the Second Vatican Council. What was the greatest richness it contributed to religious life, and what must yet be responded to?

Sister Fernández: I entered religious life precisely after Vatican II and I am a daughter of the Council. I think they were great challenges. Whenever I go to St. Peter’s Basilica, I venerate John XXIII for the great adventure into which he introduced the Church, and then Paul VI, who was the Pope of my youth, during my formation in religious life. One of the great challenges was to bring religious life closer to the world and to open the doors so that the richness of the culture of modernity could enter. Religious life opened up and got closer to the world, to “be in the world without being of the world,” as Jesus said. Another challenge was to return to the sources, to renew the charism, because the charism, as the Gospel, is always new. Today, after 50 years, we must continue to respond to the “signs of the times,” or to what God and young people continue to ask of us. As we said in our Chapter: the challenge is to live our faith and our being religious in a more consistent way. One of the pillars is the primacy of God in the mission.

ZENIT: Do you see other challenges?

Sister Fernández: Another great challenge is to be able to live the path of sanctity in common, because we believe that today fraternity is a sign in this world where relationships have become more difficult. We are called to live communion in diversity as sisters who love and help one another. And a third challenge is a new way of carrying out pastoral activity. To evangelize is to offer Good News but, how can we translate Jesus’ language for the new times? We have elaborated a pastoral plan so that young people will be able to enter into contact with their own mystery, discover the God of Jesus, and be able to find in Him the answers to the challenges.
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Part 2

Superior-general of the Religious of Mary Immaculate on Vocations and Formation

By Jose Antonio Varela Vidal

ROME, 2 AUG. 2012 (ZENIT)
Religious congregations are responding to Benedict XVI’s call to adapt their work and lifestyle to the challenges of the new evangelization.

Among those preparing for this are the Religious of Mary Immaculate, known also as those of “Domestic Service” because of the work they do with young girls who work at simple tasks.

ZENIT interviewed Sister Daría Fernández Ramos a short time after she was elected superior-general in a Chapter which has given her the mandate to lead the religious family founded by Saint Vicenta Maria in 1876.

Here is Part 2 of that interview

ZENIT: The New Evangelization has an emphasis on Europe. How can this pastoral activity be carried out in the Old World?

Sister Fernández: The path seems ever more difficult. When I think of Europe, in which there are so many Saints and where Christianity has been lived with so much fervor, it reminds me of the disciples of Emmaus who on facing the difficulty and failure of their ideals, fled. We know that it is more difficult to believe, to be a disciple of Jesus when one has been disenchanted. I think the only way to carry out pastoral activity is that which the Master carried out with those disciples, to go out to meet people, to be interested in their situation, to listen and to help them find the meaning of what they are living, illuminating it with the Word and expressing it in the Eucharist.

ZENIT: Does the methodology have to improve, perhaps?

Sister Fernández: I think there are several challenges. One regards the agents of evangelization themselves. Today witness is fundamental, we must be seen as convinced persons, and to manifest this in the way we live our faith, the way we live what we say, how it is seen in our works, how we combine our being with our doing. It must be truly seen that God is the center of our life, Jesus is our point of reference and Mary the woman we look at. Another challenge is fraternity; we sisters and the laity must be seen as united and committed in this task of offering people a home, a formation, a job. They are in need of meeting persons who believe in them, who rely on them. The third challenge is to let them be themselves and point them to transcendence, no matter what their religion, so that they discover that they have eternal aims.

ZENIT: How do you, who work in other continents, think that you can enrich evangelization in Europe?

Sister Fernández: I have just returned from Brazil; I lived there for several years and I see there the freshness, the desire to live, to discover new meanings to live, and to discover it in Jesus. Given my previous work, I have also been in Africa, Asia and even Cuba, and I have seen faith giving meaning to people. Faith is a gift that must be cultivated, which it isn’t easy to discover unless one lets go of one’s criteria, of the desire for the leading role that the world has today.

ZENIT: How is your Congregation developing at present?

Sister Fernández: We are a simple, not very large Congregation. We have 1,200 Sisters of 28 nationalities and we carry out our mission in 122 Houses in 21 countries of four continents, as we are not in Oceania. In addition to the Sisters, we have a group of 460 committed lay people in the Vicenta Maria (Molavim) Lay Movement, who live the charism as lay people in the world. We share with them spirituality and mission. In addition we have many volunteers, helpers, teachers, who support us in our mission, and this is a response to Vatican II, which discovered the mission of the laity. I feel proud of the Congregation because in the chapter of 1986 we lived this call and responded with this phrase: “We assume this collaboration joyfully, as a way of sharing the mission.” A year later, Christifideles Laici came out. The Spirit was already urging us to share the mission.

ZENIT: Do you have requests for new foundations?

Sister Fernández: We have many. We are looking at the possibility of founding in Africa, in Burkina Faso, in Mali; we also need to found in Brazil, especially in the North, in the Amazon area, to protect those young girls from exploitation. A center has just been opened in the Philippines. There are requests from bishops who would like foundations in America, in India, in Europe, but at present we cannot respond to all.

ZENIT: Are you promoting some causes of beatification?

Sister Fernández: Our founder Saint Vicenta María opened the way; she was canonized in 1975 by Paul VI. In this connection, we have opened the process of Sister Stella Iglesias Hidalgo, a Spaniard from Asturias, who was born near Covadonga on April 12, 1899. She was a daughter of a numerous family, she had to go out to work and, on coming into contact with the congregation, she asked to be admitted. She spent her life in Andalusia. All remember her for her love of the Eucharist and great apostolic zeal. She lived in silence and went unnoticed. She died on November 24, 1982, and it was her young girls, those she had helped, who began to visit her tomb. Then they requested that a prayer be written to ask for favors, so we can say that it was her own girls who initiated her cause. We hope that some of the graces that they say they have received through her, will serve as miracle for her cause.

ZENIT: And in other countries?

Sister Fernández: Then, jumping to another continent we have Sister María Peña de la Crúz, “A young girl for young girls,” as we call her today. She went to live in our house in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and discovered her vocation during spiritual exercises and dedicated herself completely to the apostolate, with great love for the Eucharist and the cross. She had great apostolic zeal for the young girls, especially the neediest, who at that time were young black girls. We also have one of Japanese origin; although we have not initiated her process, it is said she was very holy according to those who knew her. There are many lay young girls who have given witness of having lived their Christian life with great selflessness and radicalism. Among them is Dora del Hoyo, and many others who have been real apostles in families.

ZENIT: What message would you like to send to the religious of the congregation that read ZENIT, given the challenges of the New Evangelization?

Sister Fernández: That it is the moment to go forward with their “eyes fixed on Jesus.” To contemplate how he worked, how he loved, how he served. If we want the New Evangelization to reach the people of today, I don’t think we will be able to do it if we don’t keep in mind what Saint Vicenta María reminded us: “to contemplate Jesus when He went on the roads of Galilee.” And today Galilee is the whole world and, on these roads, it is only from Jesus, and counting on Him and supported by Him, who is always faithful, that we will be able to walk together, with our lay brethren, at the service of young people.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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