We’re on a single transformative journey
A look back at my three years of service as President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) evokes memories of our collective experience as humans, traveling through the “pivotal” years that saw us move on from the 2010s. and enter the 2020s.
It was an era that saw our nation endure a mass uprising against continuing racial injustice following the heinous police killing of George Floyd, and then a bloody insurrection in the nation’s capital following treacherous calls for annul the results of a fair presidential election. Around the world, we have seen the cataclysmic effects of climate chaos with epic wildfires and record-breaking heat waves, devastating floods and deadly droughts; the disastrous impact of a superpower’s war of aggression on a neighboring sovereign state; and a global pandemic that has disrupted lives and livelihoods across the planet, resulting in the death of 6.5 million women, men and children to date, including 1 million in the United States alone. United.
In one form or another, the LCWR and our member congregations have been engaged in these momentous national and global events, none more intimately than the COVID-19 pandemic. As each of our leadership teams woke up to the shocking reality of the peril this contagious virus posed to our vulnerable members, the LCWR provided a sacred virtual space for members to come together to share their experiences, concerns and ideas. . We owe such a debt of gratitude to our national office ministers who so quickly saw this need for contemplative convocation, hosting a virtual platform to connect with that quickly became our modus operandi.
We held our first virtual LCWR assembly in August 2020, experiencing inevitable early IT glitches which were quickly resolved by our wonderful Nix partners, allowing us to come together as a group of over 900 attendees from our isolation islands. . A key discussion focused on the results of a survey conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate that revealed common capacity and leadership challenges that we all face now or in the near future. This has led to the launch of a national conversation on discerning the emerging future of religious life that has unfolded over the past two years, releasing a vibrant and hopeful collaborative energy among us, despite the painful demographic realities.
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, LCWR entered into critical conversations with the National Conference of Black Sisters, or NBSC, and pledged to embark on a five-year journey to challenge systemic racism and white privilege. We named it A Spiritual Call within a Call, recognizing that this (really lifelong) journey is spiritual in nature, raising existential questions about the LCWR and our identity as American religious. We said we would identify “the steps that invite us on this journey—the deep revelation of truth, reconciliation, repentance, and the work of reparation needed for the Spirit—rouah to inspire transformative change.”
This led us, at our second virtual Assembly in 2021, to engage in a ritual of repentance on behalf of the Conference where we publicly acknowledged our complicity – as members of a church deeply involved in the origin and the perpetuation of our nation’s sin of racism, of congregations that have engaged in sinful practices of white supremacy, and of a Conference whose whiteness has not been examined. We, the three presidents and the executive director, bow “before God and all who have been grievously hurt by our blindness, willful ignorance, and unexamined white privilege as religious women down to the present day” to offer deep apologies and pray to God for forgiveness. We stood “at the foot of the cross with broken hearts, ‘where all human suffering and misery is touched by something that uplifts it, redeems it and makes it whole'”, as Mahatma Gandhi said to Howard Thurman.
The call also led us to make structural changes to the LCWR, offering seats at the National Council table and key council committees to members of the National Conference of Black Sisters and AHLMA (Asociación de Hermanas Latinas Misioneras en América) whose presence has already had a profound impact on the Conference and our collective way of thinking and being.
As the world began to emerge from the worst of the pandemic, Pope Francis called for a synod for a synodal church. It was envisioned as a “journey together” in a listening mode aimed at “planting dreams, sparking prophecies and visions, allowing hope to flourish”. The pope invited religious from around the world to share the fruits of their own synodal conversations, in addition to engaging with others. To that end, the LCWR has hosted five virtual listening sessions for members, using a process of contemplative dialogue modeled on Pope Francis’ invitation to meet, listen and discern. The LCWR synthesized the contributions and submitted them to the International Union of Superiors General (UISG/USG), which brought together contributions from religious conferences around the world, as well as to the Vatican.
The 2022 Assembly in St. Louis, my last as President and first in person since being elected to the 2019 Assembly in Phoenix, was centered on “Mystical Wisdom: Following the Call of the ‘spirit.“Our speakers have helped us see the interconnection of mystical wisdom with the transformative shift in consciousness that humanity so urgently needs right now. We are in the watershed decade of preventing catastrophic global warming for generations. We face the urgent task of dismantling the threats to democracy and the evil of white supremacy that are intertwined in such deadly combustion, as the January 6 assault on Washington so clearly demonstrated. call for a deep movement towards a right relationship with each other and with our earthly community with each other and our earthly home as God loves us.
We are on a unique journey of transformation as we experience the epochal change taking place this decade in religious life. It has multiple dimensions. But it is the same call of the Spirit, inviting us to effect the evolutionary shift of consciousness so vital to the unfolding of abundant life. “It is a deeper movement,” as Carmelite Sister Constance FitzGerald said in her talk, “into the interior of the universe.”
And it is from the depths of this vast interior that we nuns – fewer in number but deeper in mystical wisdom and the abundant love of God – are called to give the best of our remaining and enduring lives.