On 26 -29 June we were pleased to attend a symposium on the campus of Loyola University in Chicago (USA).  The symposium was organized by the Carmelite Institute of North America and entitled “Pope Francis points the way for Carmel” which dealt with the inspiration for Carmelites in the messages of Pope Francis.

Participants at the symposium included the Prior General, Fernando Millán Romeral, O.Carm., the provincials of the Chicago province, Fr. William Harry, O.Carm., (who reported on the activities of the Carmelite Institute) and of the North American Province of St. Elias, Fr. Michael Kissane, O.Carm. along with many Carmelite friars, Carmelite sisters, lay Carmelites from many different groups and other members of the Carmelite family. Cardinal Blase Joseph Cupich of Chicago presided over the opening mass.  The symposium was well represented by over 110 attendees.

Day One – Monday 26 June

Speakers for the day were welcomed by Edith Matlock, ED of the Carmelite Institute of North America, followed by the opening address by the Prior General Fernando Millan Romeral O Carm. Further talks were given by Vinco Mamic OCD (Biblical Backgrounds of Pope Francis’ letters) and Mary Evelyn Tucker, Professor at Yale University and well-known author and commentator on Laudato Si.

Fr Fernando welcomed all the Carmelite ‘Tribe’ and gave a special welcome to Damien and myself – the only participants from Australia!

Fernando commended the loyalty and spirit of collaboration between the O Carm and OCD branches of Carmelites in North America as a good model for the rest of the world.

He then went on to share his reflections on four encounters with Pope Francis highlighting :

  1. A direct message to Carmelites to share with the world it’s long tradition of prayer and taking a non-materialistic view of the world. This he said, is the heart of our witness – the contemplative life. As such we need to dedicate time in the day for this. ‘A Carmelite without this is a dead body’! We need to put Christ first – not something we talk about incidentally. Sometimes norms, rules, routines, systems, gadgets etc. get in the way of our communicating the message
  2. Sharing the Pope’s message from a Religious Generals’ meeting, Fernando encouraged us to look to the peripheries and reflect on how the Carmelite message can impact there. Where are the peripheries of Carmel for all those who have never experienced the presence of God? And those caught up in morals and doctrine? Maybe Teresa of Avila is a good model here.  Interesting to keep in mind too where the growth of Carmelites is – Asia will be the biggest part of the order in a few years which raises the question of inculturation and the challenge to live our charism energetically in a changing world.
  3. When we have challenges we need to ‘go back to our first love’ and constantly be open to ongoing formation in our life and faith and ‘fall in love again’ with our purpose and who we are as a Carmelite family.  We must continually renew and commit ourselves again to the life we want to live.
  4. In reflecting about the youth of our world we need to ask the question about whether our spirituality is elitist?  Are we reaching out enough and is what we are talking about real for all people? Fr Fernando encouraged us to mix with people, share the charism and reach out. To do this we need to be constantly discerning our pathway and ask what are we doing, how are we doing it and why are we doing things this way? Sometimes this means getting out of the tribe and risk being open! Above all communicate with a spirit of loyalty, generosity and joy!

Another very significant talk on Day One was with Dr Mary Evelyn Tucker who highlighted the importance of the link between religion and ecology. Governments worldwide are encouraging religious communities to be involved in ecological conversion as they know this support is needed. Dr Tucker is an editor of the well know film on Journey of the Universe –  which explores and reframes the human connection to the cosmos. In her talk, she highlighted the contributions of key scholars such as Pope Benedict – the ‘green pope’, Thomas Berry (communion of subjects), Patriarch Bartholomew (water issues), Metropolitan John Zizioulas (Gospel of creation), Hans Joachim Schellnhuber (we have capacity to stem tide of destruction in this time of 6th extinction period), Cardinal Peter Turkson (re-centering humans as part of the whole), Leonardo Boff (cry of the poor), St Francis of Assisi and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Pope Francis’ encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ gives a strong message for religious communities and all people to get involved. We need a new story to re-think progress – a cultural revolution to take the focus off materialism and renew the spiritual. We need a new global solidarity to search for the common good. There is no future without a shared future. We need to be deciding for 7 generations into the future and work on a covenant between humanity and nature, consciousness and conscience and the sacramentality of the earth.

Dr Tucker strongly stated that the diminishment of our planet is the biggest issue of our times – bigger than worrying about the diminishment of religious orders! Her talk finished with a quote from Einstein:

“Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.”

Irene & Damien