The challenges of consecrated life in Japan and Korea

Rome (AsiaNews) – "Regardless of differences in origin and charisma, I was struck by how participants were united in seeking new paths for the future," said Fr Alberto Di Bello, Superior Provincial of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) in Japan. Together with a local nun, Fr Di Bello is representing the Conference of Japanese men and women religious at the World Congress on Consecrated Life in Rome. Some 850 men and women religious from around the world are meeting there from November 22 till the 27.

"We all feel we are living in a time of crisis," Father Di Bello said, "but we are not letting it get to us. We share the same desire to give more space to prophetic initiatives and to free ourselves from overly rigid structures so as to be able to serve where the Spirit calls us."

Speaking to Asia News, Father Di Bello gave his impressions of the event.

"I know that going back to Japan will remind to be more docile to the Spirit. Our Church is used to meticulous planning to the point of excess, trying to control everything. In this meeting we realise we ought to ask questions and dare take new paths: less organisation and more imagination," without being too personal.

Father Di Bello added that "in Japan, men and women religious face the challenge of collaborating more closely with the bishops to bear witness more effectively. Since the top hierarchy of the Church is local we must work more closely with them and the entire Church if we want religious life to sink deeper roots."

Sister Veronica Mi Kyung Song is a young South Korean nun from the Congregation of the Daughters of Saint Paul. "The key point to renew religious life," she said," is to start again from Christ as the source of living water. Only this way can we quench humanity's thirst".

Does a religious life still speak to the religious? "Yes!" Sister Veronica insists. "I see it in Korea. In my country, Christians are a minority but religious consecration is seen as something positive, of value. Koreans respect very much those who are consecrated. Our witness reminds them that there is something 'beyond'. Even in the hearts of those who do not believe in Christ, there is desire to know what comes after this life . . . And our message becomes significant to the extent that it expresses our 'difference' vis-à-vis the world."

"The problem today", she warns, "is that even in Korea, religious life is threatened by secular values that globalisation is spreading around the world. Such values make us forget the bases of our identity. For this reason engaging the world in dialogue and being open to others should not mean closeting what is specifically ours." (GF)