We felt caught up in a great wave of revitalizing energies for the mission during the braodcasting of the Direction Statement concerning the 31st Chapter of the Congregation. Yet, we were prepared – already within days of the conclusion, our chapter members had shared with us the intensity of that experience: “I felt more connected with the Congregation, (all together in one room) despite not being physically present, each sister felt close to me, fully involved in accepting and sharing what was unfolding, accepting a radical transformation in themselves and in the congregation.”
That wave appears to us as a great gift, resulting from a long process of engagement in the 31st Congregational Chapter “In Depth-Radical Transformation” generated and guided by the women’s “intercultural” team assembled at the General Level: a team of Sisters and lay professionals, passionate for justice and the Common Good: “An enormous effort has been made to create a deep and contemplative mindset that will permeate the entire virtual ICA experience, grounding us in our Chapter theme, ‘Drawn by Love, Passionate for Justice and our call to radical transformation’.”
The power of this deep and contemplative mindset was also recently addressed by our newly appointed Congregational Leader, Sister Joan Maria Lopez in an interview, suggestively titled “Dare to Consider the Mission in a New and Creative Way”:
“Being part of this committee – charged with exploring new ways to take the congregation into the future – has been very transformative for me.
It is no coincidence that Sister Brigid Lawlor’s talk at the recent First Pre-Chapter Assembly for the Unification of the Provinces of Spain, Italy-Malta and Portugal went in the same direction. This talk ” was a valuable opportunity to clear our minds about the new model of governance for the Congregation, supported by Vision, Mission, Spirituality and Charism.”
Perhaps it is precisely the density and depth of the process of creating the New Governance Structure that “presents itself” like a wave of emotion, in the intangible frame of the Direction Statement. Every line of it, especially the first page, is imbued with this, pregnant with values, meanings and future agreements: “We embraced Radical Transformation and to act justly in our relationships at all levels.”
This framework appeared to us as yet another call that sheds a whole new light on the six Calls to Action outlined in the Document of the 31st Chapter. Indeed, they imply a preliminary call to spiritual and civil mobilization in the dark times we live in, addressed to the Sisters, to the partners of the mission, and to the many worlds in which they will travel, committed to make/re-make novelty, “that they may have life, and have it to the full!” (John 10:1-11).
It seemed to us that this new light comes only partially from the explicit reference to the paragraph in Laudato Si’. Encyclical letter on care for our common home, now ravaged by wars that also closely involve Europe:
“As never before in history, common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning. Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life.” 
The “light” of this new beginning is the light of Grace! For us of the Good Shepherd, it even comes from further back. It comes from our centuries-long history, which in “epochal turning points” has shown its peculiar generativity: it is precisely in times of upheaval that St. John Eudes, in the 17th century, and St. Mary Euphrasia, two centuries later, gave birth to “new beginnings” – the former opened up unprecedented spiritual and social paths, the latter renewed them, strengthening them, with the creation of a brand-new governance structure, the Generalate, through which she brought into the world a flourishing multitude of missions, almost all over the Earth.
Today, with the Direction Statement, Sisters and partners of the mission commit to “implement the New Governance Structure having mission at the center, fostering communities characterized by inclusivity, reconciliation and healing. […] Trusting in the grace of transformation we pledge to respond to the new that is emerging. […] Courageously and wholeheartedly, we commit to the Calls to Action” thus specified:
- NEW GOVERNANCE STRUCTURE
- INTERNATIONAL FORMATION TEAM OF THE CONGREGATION
- UNIVERSAL CULTURE OF JUSTICE
- STRATEGIC PLAN
- FINANCE RESOURCES
So perhaps it was not by chance that we associated the wave of emotions aroused in us by the Direction Statement with an 1831 painting by Katsushika Hokusai, Under the Wave off Kawanaga: at that time, the artist was revolutionizing the symbolic and spiritual painting standards of the time. Mount Fuji – one of the most important religious elements of all Japan – watches over the storm in the background of the large canvas, perhaps it is the night that is gradually disappearing to make way for dawn, for a new beginning.
It is the year 1831, the same year in which St. Mary Euphrasia, after the expiration of her superiorate in Tours, “was sent back to Angers to resume, continue and complete the work of the Good Shepherd. No one could have imagined that, with her, an overwhelming “second beginning” would break into the history of the Congregation, the fruit of the action of the Spirit and of the combination of the old and the new.
However, at a closer look, St. Mary Euphrasia came into the world under the star of the “new” in the stormy times of the French Revolution: two years after being condemned to exile on the island of Noirmutier, in 1796, the Pellettier family gave birth to a little girl, Rose Virginie, who arrived “as the daughter of the new world, the daughter of the promise, the ‘only’ child until the return of her five older siblings” who had remained in Soulland, entrusted to their grandparents.
She, the future Saint Mary Euphrasia, entered the Order founded by Saint John Eudes in Tours in 1814, in which she recognized a prophecy that would fulfil her whole life: to make visible to girls and women the Mercy of God who welcomes, caresses and forgives everyone, especially the most vulnerable in society, imitating as much as possible the ardent charity of the hearts of Jesus and Mary. ( Spirituality).
From Angers, Mother Pellettier, together with a small group of Sisters who understood, shared and supported the Generalate, a sort of “new wineskin” that activates a structural change in the way monasteries are organized, will give rise to a “great wave” of spiritual fruitfulness and apostolic generativity.
“The legacy of John Eudes – the first creator and holy institutor of the ‘Refuges’ for the salvation of young girls – was taken up with filial devotion by Mother Pellettier who, drawing ‘ex theasuro nova et vetera’ warmed it with her holy flame; she imprinted it with her organizational genius; she developed it to perfection and spread it throughout the world, as far as the most remote missions, adapting it in every climate to the spirit of a rigidly cloistered institute, synchronizing it to the urgent and growing needs of the times.”
Today, caught in the wave aroused by the 31st Chapter, our generation of Sisters and partners in mission holds the honor to generate “a new, third beginning in our history”, engaging us in the implementation of the New Congregational Structure, in the wake of a renewed in-depth listening to the human and spiritual heritage of the founders, while exploring “the power of the Transformative Community, as an instrument of peace and reconciliation, when it embodies contemplative presence in a collective perspective”…as summarized in the acronym “HOLD”, hospitality, oneness, love and diversity: four virtues to be exercised to “participate with others, for the common good, in solving the problems”…of our humiliated humanity.
If we are more able to feel the beating heart of St. John Eudes and St. Mary Euphrasia, we will feel an original energy emerging that will allow us to “respond to the new that is emerging”, with the awareness that “the future will be spiritual or it will not be”.
If we know how to welcome and share the legacy of the Founders with the energy that comes from “meeting” them in a more regular and dynamic way both personally and in the community, we will dare to take them with us and within us, “communicating” them through more and more coherent, credible, relevant and synergic ways.
…then we will succeed in not backing down in the face of our human, conjunctural and structural fragilities and of the “burden of injustice, suffering and violence that affects the poorest and most vulnerable: women, young people, children and migrants whom globalization reduces to social categories, only seen as ‘disposable items’ and no longer as persons, with their dignity and rights”.
While in local communities, in the Regions and in the whole Congregation we will take on the Calls to Action, on a personal, community, organizational and institutional level we will keep in mind some personal, interpersonal, spiritual and professional qualities that “circulated” within the Committee that guided the processes of the “great wave”:
– ability to acknowledge each other, with courage and openness to the value of the contribution of both parties;
– wise reconstructions interweaving spirituality and human sciences, vision and management;
– valorizations of diversity from the point of view of contexts, registers and contributions emerging from the articulated process of discernment activated;
– appeal to the cultural and artistic, as well as spiritual, heritage of humanity;
– continuous connections between reflections and actions aimed at making life thrive, following Jesus the Good Shepherd in the age of the “third beginning”.
An almost impossible challenge?
What Sister Mary Edith Olaguer, the new Contemplative Councilor of the Congregation’s new Leadership Team, shared with us in the interview published in the recent special edition of the Journal of the Good Shepherd is also true for us.
“Quoting Jean Eudes, Sister Ellen Kelly (one of my role models) said: “Never before have we had, and perhaps never again will we have, such an opportunity; …so make the most holy use of this opportunity for grace.”
As the Editorial Board, we aim to make “use of this opportunity” throughout 2022 by continuing our periodic “Conversations on the Direction Statement” hoping to complement them with insights, observations, critiques, and questions sent in by anyone engaged in radical transformation, at any level/place in the congregation.
We will share the fruits of the integrated Conversations on the Website and through social media, so that together we will lay the foundation for updating at least two sections of the Italy-Malta Unit Website: Our History and Spirituality.
The blossoms that will come out of the six Calls to Action also call us to make this “third beginning” more attractive in order to give continuity to the charism and sustainability to the mission by involving more and more worlds!
I don’t know where, I don’t know how, but everything
will stay: from life to life
then again from death to life
like waves on the bluffs
of a river with no end.
Father Davide Maria Turoldo
(to be continued)