Our Religious Call to an Intercultural Way of Life

Editor: This article was recently written by our La Salette Superior General and, although addressed to La Salette Religious, applies well to our common baptismal call to all God’s people that “all may be one” (John 17:21); edited for length.

01 1898 pilgrims to the holy mountainPilgrims to Holy Mountain in 1898
Something significant has been happening right before our eyes: many religious communities in the first world, including our own, have become or are in the process of becoming international, as more and more of their members come from various parts of their respective congregations. To keep this unfolding phenomenon from giving rise to needless crises, fears or preoccupations, we must see it with the eyes of faith. Then, what we see is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

New Horizons for Us to Discover

The challenge facing all these communities, as well as our own, is how to prepare to boldly welcome new horizons for our future religious life, both in community living and in ministry. We will need to be open to new experiences of genuine communion, unimaginable not that long ago. Our world is rapidly evolving and, at this point, it is sick of exaggerated personalism and deeply wounded by never-ending divisions.

It’s a world fearful of those who seem different to the point of wanting to erect walls and barriers between people. It is in this world that we religious are called to build bridges, to foster dialogue and to show the way that leads to collaboration and working effectively at a common task together. It’s in this world that we are called to lead people to value whatever is good and creative in the other person so that together we might better live our gospel mission.

To Become Prophets of Reconciliation

Simply put, the challenge before us is to become prophets for a different kind of world, a world in which people are able to forgive, to reconcile differences and to love. Then, no longer will cultural diversity be optional but an everyday reality of life.
02 1919 pilgrims Swiss GermanSwiss-German pilgrims visit in 1919… Our international dimension is our starting point and it can lead to an intercultural way of living providing we are willing to commit ourselves to listening and dialoguing with others. As La Salette Missionaries, this way of living should come naturally to us as part and parcel of the DNA we inherited from the Marian event of September 19, 1846.

What we need to do is to make sure that, when we look at the other person, we see the differences that are there, but we recall that those very differences are gifts and sources of wealth for ourselves and for our entire community.

Inculturation has a role to play in an intercultural way of living, as the Venezuelan, Fr. Arturo Sosa, S.J., Superior General of the Society of Jesus, points out.

“There are two complimentary aspects to inculturation. First of all, we must become inculturated in our own culture and that calls for acquiring a critical appreciation of it. Without a proper inculturation in one’s own culture, there can be no real personal growth nor actual participation in its social dimensions. It is an essential condition allowing for the possibility of relationships in a diverse cultural context…

“The second aspect is inculturation in some other culture. It’s as if we were to move into another family. We come with who and what we are, and we enter into a whole other world of social relationships, relationships which give meaning to life, give rise to community and provide for the necessities of life. It’s always a dialogue between the culture out of which we came and the one into which we are moving… To arrive at the home of someone else, wholly intent on making one’s home there, is the incentive that allows us to draw from our own culture what we will need to eventually become fully part of the new culture.”

“Abram” Became “Abraham” When He Placed His Life in God’s Hands

03 1964 Fr Jules Morard leads pilgrimsPilgrims from Senegal and New Guinea visit the Holy Mountain in 1954
What we are talking about here is an experience often found in the bible. Abram, for example, was living peacefully in his own home, quite content being with his own family and the people who made up his extended household. After hearing a call from the Lord, he leaves his country and heads for a cultural unknown, strengthened by his enduring faith in God and fully open to whatever new experience this journey might offer. He did not cling to the personal tranquility he had been enjoying nor to the reassuring stability his own culture provided…

The call of Vatican II to return to our foundational sources is a call to an ever more creative faithfulness to the very dynamic of the Incarnation that Jesus underwent, as well as to a genuine openness to meet head-on the challenges each moment of history might place on our path, as we pursue our mission as vowed religious. We are an integral part of the Church for whom evangelization is its very reason for being…

This brings us to this simple description of an intercultural way of living:

“It’s a reciprocal exchange between cultures which has the potential to transform and enrich all those involved… Inculturation has led religious life to experience a multi-cultural way of living as the normal state of congregations and communities around the world. The very fact of living peacefully in a multi-cultural setting is the fruit of authentic inculturation and represents a significant step forward in the lived experience of vowed religious.” (Arturo Sosa, S.J., Interculturation, Catholocity, and Consecrated Life, Meeting of Union of Superiors General, 2017).

Revealing Our Intercultural Attitudes – Near and Far

Every day, we can witness for ourselves the international dimension of our own La Salette Congregation. There are La Salette Missionaries on all the continents. And yes, sometimes, our intercultural way of living is not all that evident. It’s not a given. It remains a major challenge as we look to our future.
04 Centenaire 1846 1946 La Salette MissionariesLa Salettes gather to celebrate La Salette Centennial, 1846-1946
It’s the same challenge now facing our entire Church and our whole world. We can safely say however that it is being built up ever so slowly. But if we truly want it to become a concrete reality among us, each one of us will have to foster genuine openness to all those who are from another culture, so as to see them as they are and listen to them attentively. This we need to do as we plan and work together, always respecting our respective differences even as we collaborate…

On the wider congregational level, it is fair to say that there has always been some intercultural life since the day we began to spread throughout the world. Presently that’s the case in Haiti and Canada (Madagascar and USA), in Tanzania (Philippines and India), in Mozambique (Brazil and Angola), and likewise at our Shrine at La Salette in France.

The latter has truly become a kind of laboratory for intercultural community life and ministry, with its distinctly new way of bringing many cultures together to live in the same community and to share the joys and concerns arising from a common ministry. Let’s also call to mind the collaboration between Poland and Switzerland, as well as between Italy, France and Madagascar, and again between the Philippines, India and the United States.

Our international gatherings have certainly been prime moments when the members of the congregation have had the opportunity to see for themselves that intercultural living, far from being a mere utopia, is actually feasible and clearly has the potential to open up new horizons for the future of religious life and ministry…
05 MassLa Salette religious and laity gather for 2016 Laity Encounter

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