Speakers at LCWR assembly urge sisters to embrace new challenges
Catholic News Service photo
Keynote speaker Barbara Marx Hubbard addresses attendees Aug. 8 at the 2012 assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in St. Louis. Hubbard spoke about "The Transformation of Consciousness and Religious Life Leadership."
Catholic News Service photo
Dominican Sister Mary Hughes, past president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, left, joins Franciscan Sister Pat Farrell, outgoing LCWR president, and Franciscan Sister Florence Deacon, president-elect, as supporters offer a blessing at a rally. Laypeople and religious held the rally during LCWR's 2012 assembly in St. Louis.
Catholic News Service
ST. LOUIS — A keynote speaker and a group of panelists addressing the 900 sisters at the annual assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious urged the sisters to embrace new challenges.
Speakers did not refer directly to the Vatican doctrinal assessment calling for a reform of LCWR, whose members are the 1,500 leaders of U.S. women's communities representing about 80 percent of the country's 57,000 women in religious congregations.
Instead, they spoke broadly about how the sisters can bring about change or specific challenges they should consider.
The St. Louis gathering was the first time the organization had assembled since the release of the April 18 Vatican assessment, which said reform was needed to ensure LCWR's fidelity to Catholic teaching in such areas as abortion, euthanasia, women's ordination and homosexuality.
Barbara Marx Hubbard, the main speaker Aug. 8, essentially told the sisters to embrace the notion of change and growth reflected in biblical passages that speak of rebirth and "making all things new."
Hubbard is an author, speaker and educator known for promoting a view called "conscious evolution."
She was led into the assembly, as were the next day's panelists, by a sister playing chimes and other sisters swaying and waving colored scarves.
She urged the women religious women seated at tables of eight in the dimly lit ballroom to recognize that life comes out of chaos and through particularly difficult struggles.
Hubbard pointed out that although she is not Catholic, she was drawn to the work of the sisters and called them "the best seed bed I know for evolving the church and the world in the 21st century."
"That may be a surprise to the world," she said. "But, you see, new things always happen from unexpected places."
Hubbard said many of her ideas about the world's continuous process of change or evolution stemmed from Catholic theologians such as Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio, a former professor of spirituality who is a research fellow at Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, and French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
At a panel discussion Aug. 9, speakers urged the sisters to continue the good work they do but to also reach out in new ways as mentors and spiritual guides to younger sisters and to young lay Catholic women searching for a place in today's church.
Tom Fox, editor and publisher of the National Catholic Reporter newspaper, urged the sisters to do what they have always done: "Preach the Gospel fearlessly." He also implored them to continue to give others hope and to share their insights and experiences with younger sisters.
Jamie Manson, a speaker, retreat leader and columnist for National Catholic Reporter, asked the sisters to consider how they might "widen their tent" and reach out to young Catholic laywomen who are "starving for spiritual direction."
"They need your wisdom, your guidance," she said.
Sister Jennifer Gordon, a Sister of Charity of Leavenworth, Kan., gave the perspective of a young sister. She recalled an LCWR regional meeting several years ago where the sisters were asked to consider why they chose this path of life if they were not living on the edge, taking risks and serving those on the margins of society.
She asked the sisters Aug. 9 to continue to take up that challenge, urging them to "interpret these turbulent times in the church and the world and guide sisters to the edge when the time is right."
"Please don't play it too safe," she said. "Nudge us to the edge; call us to move beyond our comfort zones into a margin of grace. We will follow your lead."