Waking Up the World Through Our Witness

December 2014

Brother David Henley, Glenmary vocation director

"That the old saying will always be true: 'Where there are religious, there is joy.'"—Pope Francis

As 2014, Glenmary's 75th-jubilee year, comes to a close, the Church has given us a reason to continue celebrating. Pope Francis has declared that 2015 is the Year of Consecrated Life. In his apostolic letter on the occasion of this year, Pope Francis challenges Glenmary and all communities to "wake up the world" by giving witness to the world by living out our prophetic and radical style of following the Gospel.

In this letter, he shares his three aims for religious communities during this year: "to look to the past with gratitude," "to live the present with passion," and "to embrace the future with hope." Glenmary has certainly begun this process during our 75th-anniversary year and will continue by trusting in the guidance of the Holy Spirit for our community as we move into the future.

Pope Francis expects that all religious communities recognize we are called to be "people of communion!" He says we need to "have the courage to be present in the midst of conflict and tension, as a credible sign of the presence of the Spirit, who inspires in human hearts a passion for all to be one." Regarding communion, he specifically stated that "we need to ask ourselves about the way we relate to persons from different cultures, as our communities become increasingly international. How can we enable each member to say freely what he or she thinks, to be accepted with his or her particular gifts, and to become fully coresponsible?"

I believe that recognizing how we relate to persons from different cultures is certainly important in Glenmary, as it is in other U.S. religious communities. A recent study of cultural diversity in religious life in the United States by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) found that "those who have entered religious institutes in the past 10 years are more diverse, reflecting the increasing diversity in the U.S. Catholic population as a whole." However, although religious communities have recently welcomed more candidates from more varied backgrounds, we still need to promote a greater degree of multiculturalism in these communities: the study states that "the Catholic Church in the United States is much more diverse than is the population of most religious orders."

Glenmary currently has 15 men who have been accepted into our formation program. Each one has a unique vocation journey and background, and they represent six different nationalities. Living in formation houses and attending classes with people of different cultural backgrounds has been challenging at times. But because of this experience, Glenmary's students have grown and learned about themselves and others.

For some of the students, their Glenmary experience has been the first time they have lived in an international community and have encountered people from diverse backgrounds. One Glenmary student admitted that he panicked when he first learned he was going to live in a house with people from so many different places. But since he has been a student, the stereotypes have been broken down and "my fears have slowly disappeared."

All the Glenmary students commented that some of the biggest challenges of living in a multicultural setting have revolved around food, language, prejudices, biases, misinformation, unrealistic expectations, miscommunications, and different perceptions of time.

At times, the students said, their multicultural living experience has caused them to feel tension, an increased need to apologize, and an inability to understand specific customs. One of our students who had moved to the United States stated that living in a new country, participating in new customs, facing new challenges and meeting new people did cause him to feel exhausted and overwhelmed at times.

Glenmary students live in a multicultural community, but they have found it to be a supportive place to learn and have come to recognize the value of being part of such a community. Various students commented that meeting and living with people from different backgrounds have helped them to become "more accepting of others."

They have also said living in diversity has taught them humility, respect, trust, courtesy and tolerance. Insights from other students have given them a "fresh outlook" on their own cultural values. By sharing their own stories and family backgrounds, they have found "interesting surprises and insights" into why they do what they do. They have been amazed at similarities they share, even though they may come from different continents.

Building mission requires communion, which means that missioners must be present in the midst of "conflict and tension" and are called to be a "credible sign of the presence of the Spirit, who inspires in human hearts a passion for all to be one." Formation and training as Glenmary priests and brothers prepare them for these roles in the mission field.

Mission Land, USA, is full of people from diverse cultural backgrounds. The current life experiences of Glenmary's future missioners are preparing them to go out to mission areas on the peripheries, where they will share the joy of the Gospel with everyone.

Read previous columns by Brother David.