Pope Francis has called for a Year of Consecrated Life, a great time of grace and renewal spanning over a year: from the First Sunday of Advent, November 30, 2014 to the Feast of the Presentation on February 2, 2016. The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life issued a beautiful letter last February entitled “Rejoice!” which gathered the teachings of Pope Francis on religious life and introduced the goals and aspirations of this initiative.
Across the Province, our sisters honored the opening of the Year of Consecrated Life on November 30th with special liturgies and by making pilgrimages. The three largest pilgrimage routes were to two American religious (New Jersey and Pennsylvania), to a number of Canadian saints and blesseds (Montreal), and the pilgrimage…to the Holy Land, made by several of our sisters from Phoenix, Arizona with the parishioners of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Shrine.
Pilgrimage to the Holy Land
The foundation of the consecrated life is a deepening of our baptismal promises so as to conform ever more closely to Christ, the Poor, Chaste and Obedient One. During their pilgrimage to the Holy Land, our sisters from Phoenix (and Sr. Hope from Avondale) were able to visit the River Jordan, the Mount of the Beatitudes, and the Holy Places of Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Though they brought many intentions with them, but above all they made this pilgrimage for the fruits of the Year of Consecrated Life for the Religious Family in our Province and around the world, as well as for all consecrated men and women and for all those called to the consecrated life.
Pilgrimage to Various Canadian Saints
Another pilgrim group traveled to Canada to visit the places and relics of many saints there. The sisters prayed at Midlands where many of the relics of the North American Jesuit Martyrs are venerated (St. Jean de Brebeuf among others). Also the pilgrims visited Ste. Marie, the Jesuit village among the Hurons where another Jesuit was martyred, and St. Ignace II, the site of the martyrdom of St. Jean de Brebeuf, SJ and St. Gabriel Lamant, SJ.
In Montreal, they prayed to St. Joseph at his shrine built by St. Andre Bessett, CSC whose heart is buried there. Also, the sisters asked the intercession of Jeanne le Ber (1662-1714), a saintly recluse, and St. Margurite Bourgeoys (1620-1700). In Montreal, there are a number of very beautiful churches including Notre Dame and St. Patrick’s. May the holy saints of Canada bless that land with many more holy vocations to consecrated life!
Pilgrimage to Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, SC (1901-1927) and Servant of God Fr. Walter Ciszek, SJ (1904-1984)
In the United States, sisters of the houses of formation and apostolic sisters from Philadelphia went on a new pilgrimage to the recently beatified Blessed Miriam Teresa, SC. Beatified in October 2014, Bl. Miriam Teresa was a Sister of Charity of St. Elizabeth at Convent Station, New Jersey who wrote a number of works during her short religious life, including spiritual conferences which her spiritual director asked her to write and which he delivered to the other novices as if they were his own. Only after her death was it revealed that she was the true author of these striking reflections on the path to holiness.
Since Blessed Miriam Teresa spent most of her religious life as a novice, and only professed vows a few weeks before her death, our sisters in formation also were reminded that holiness in the consecrated life is nothing “to wait for”! It is not only the universal call of all the baptized, but in a particular way it is the sole objective of those who are called to the radical self-gift of the consecrated life. The Sisters of Charity received our pilgrim sisters with great generosity and kindness, including offering us a talk about the life of their blessed and providing our group with lunch. The group also made a pilgrimage to St. John the Baptist, Byzantine Catholic Church in Bayonne, NJ where Blessed Miriam Teresa was baptized.
Blessed Miriam Teresa, who died at 24, has been likened to St. Therese of the Child Jesus for her intense spiritual life, great spiritual care for priests (her brother was a priest), and the eloquence of her writings. For our pilgrimage, we may say to have visited “new 20th century American Co-patrons of the Missions”…Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, like St. Therese, and Servant of God Fr. Walter Ciszek, SJ, another Jesuit of the extreme mission like St. Francis Xavier!
Our sisters have a great devotion to Servant of God Fr. Walter Ciszek, SJ — whose thirtieth anniversary of entrance into eternal life is celebrated on December 8, 2014 — and so made the pilgrimage for the second time out to Wernersville, Pennsylvania where he completed the second half of his Jesuit novitiate and where he is buried.
The snowy setting fit well with the passages from He Leadeth Me that we read by his grave about the mystery of God’s Divine Providence accompanying him through his many years in Russia…where he spent years of dangerous apostolate as a priest after nearly fifteen years in forced labor camps in Siberia proceeded by five years in Moscow’s notorious Lubianka prison.
For missionary sisters, the example of trusting in God and of building on the foundations of one’s years of formation are extremely important. During his years in solitary confinement, Fr. Ciszek describes how he simply reverted to the Jesuit novitiate schedule of prayer, Mass, work time, “spiritual reading” (from memory!), the Holy Rosary, and an overall spirit of discipline and conformity to God’s will.
Praying in the Wernersville chapel also reminded us that the prayers, graces and resolutions made there were what provided Fr. Ciszek with the strength to endure all that come about in his mission to Russia.
May these two local American saints — one of the mission abroad and one of the mission of prayer — bless and protect all those in formation so that we too may allow our lives to be fully conformed to God’s will.
Opening Mass of the Year of Consecrated Life at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, DC
On Sunday, November 30th as the Church celebrated the First Sunday of Advent, His Eminence Donald Cardinal Wuerl presided over a celebration especially honoring the opening of the Year of Consecrated Life. Some of our sisters joined the schola of consecrated men and women which had been formed to accompany the Shrine Choir for the occasion. (Our photos as like those of proud parents…fuzzy and distant, but proud to see “our singers” join such a distinguished choir!)
In his homily, Cardinal Wuerl invited all those in consecrated life to take up again the call to be “builders of the Kingdom” in loving service to Christ and His Church.
May this Year of Consecrated Life be a blessing for the Church in the United States, and for the Church around the world! Please join us in praying for this year and visit our site again for more resources about the Year of Consecrated Life.
Our Lady, Mother of Vocations, pray for us! May all those saints who have found their vocations and their path to sanctification through the consecrated life, pray for us as we set out on the same road that they have trod!