MONTREAL (CNS) – In the past few years, Benedictine Father Simon-Pierre Arnold has warned aging and declining religious congregations that it would be a mistake to try to “mend an old fabric with new cloth” or “pour new wine into old wineskins.” He reiterated this message in a speech to heads of Canadian religious communities.
Religious must “urgently think of new ways to be present in the world,” the Belgian-born monk told the general assembly of the Canadian Religious Conference, which gathered 25 men and 252 women religious leaders in Montreal May 26-29.
Calling himself “a little monk-theologian who has lived in Peru for more than 40 years,” Father Arnold said he wanted to share his “intuitions, worries and utopias” about the future of consecrated life.
“We must return to the Gospel; we must return to our minority, marginal … and prophetic origins,” he said. Such a mindset will force the men and women religious to “criticize, as does the pope, our own clerical excesses. We’ve become so obsessed by the perpetuation of the church structures and institutions that we’ve stopped being attentive to the people cast in the margins.”
He reminded participants that religious orders “were born on the margins of the world, in the desert. … Jesus and the world still await us there.”
Canada still has about 14,000 men and women religious; 69 percent of them live in the province of Quebec. However, these religious institutes are facing a hasty decline of their membership, an “irreversible process,” Father Arnold said. There are many ways to face this challenge, he added.