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OPENING MESSAGE XXII General Chapter Solemnity of St. Benedict Menni

Dear Chapter Sisters,

Invoking the Holy Spirit, the loving father of the poor, a gift in his splendid gifts, we have entered this hall that houses our Chapter community.

As our Founder said on the occasion of the first General Chapter, we want "everything that is done to be inspired by the Divine Spirit, from whom all good descends and without whose divine breath there is nothing supernatural in us, nor do we have light to guide us to eternal life".

To each one of you my sisterly greetings, full of Joy and Peace. A greeting that also wants to reach the sisters and other members of the Hospitaller Community, and other people who accompany us in person and through the transmission via internet.

Today, April 24, 2024, we begin the XXII General Chapter of our Congregation of the Hospitaller Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, under the theme "Clothe yourselves with the bowels of mercy. Prophetic signs of hope and of God's closeness to suffering humanity".

We do so during this Easter season, which invites us to discover the risen presence of the Lord with us and in our midst, and on the Feast of St. Benedict Menni, our Founder, father and master of hospitality. These are coincidences that bring light and consolation as we begin this event, so central to the Congregation's journey.

In the Constitutions we state that "the General Chapter is the body that represents the whole Congregation and exercises collegial authority over its life and mission. It is a paschal event, an event of charismatic renewal and apostolic projection that we must live in a spirit of faith and fraternity seeking, in an attitude of discernment, what is pleasing to the Lord.

These words lay the foundations for the event we are initiating: representativity and collegiality.

Representativeness expresses the "congregational sense" that all the sisters who are part of this Assembly assume. It is not a matter of representing different cultures, structures or congregational realities, but of knowing that we are "one body" in search of what God wants today for the future of the Congregation. As ex officio members, by election or invitation, we represent all the sisters; this requires from each one of us a great capacity to listen, to be in tune with what the others feel and live, and to have a universal outlook.

Collegiality underlines the dimension of "co-responsibility in the exercise of authority" in the life and mission of the Congregation. We are all called to offer our dreams and visions (cf. Joel 2:28), our experiences and wisdom, our proposals and challenges, our intuitions and confirmations; also our questionings, disagreements and concerns; with all this, walking together, in synodality, and from the same dignity as daughters of God, sisters in hospitality and chapter members, we place ourselves at the service of God's will.

The Constitutions also affirm that the Chapter is a "paschal event, an event of charismatic renewal and apostolic outreach".

A paschal event that evokes and actualizes the mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus; that places us in an exodus dynamic, towards a renewed living of the hospitaller charism, from that "letting ourselves be clothed with the bowels of mercy" and projects us towards an apostolate of compassionate closeness to suffering humanity.

It is a paschal event, lived at Easter time. Easter illumines the whole life of Jesus, his very mystery of passion and death; from this re-reading, the first Christian communities proclaim the kerygma of our faith: "the Lord is risen". This time we are living, which prolongs Easter for 50 days, brings a very special light to our Chapter journey, because the encounter with the Risen Lord transforms and changes our life, our gaze, our feelings, our words, our gestures and our commitment to the mission.

The Gospels that we hear these days give us many testimonies of this: Mary of Magdala, who wept looking for the Lord in the tomb, Jesus transforms her into a messenger of his resurrection (cf. Jn 20:11ff); men who did not trust the testimony of women, he transforms them into disciples who run to the tomb and, seeing that it was empty, believed (cf. Jn 20:1-9); a disciple in need of guarantees and assurances, into a Thomas, confessor of a confident faith (cf. Jn 20:19-31); to a fearful and closed community, in a group of men and women full of joy and peace, messengers of the good news (cf. Jn 20:19); to a group of fishermen disillusioned after the night's efforts, in a community that trusts the Master's word and welcomes the overabundance of fish (cf. Jn 21:1-14); the two Emmaus disciples who walk discouraged, into disciples with a heart on fire for the word they have heard, running to announce to others that the Lord appeared to them and that they recognized him in the breaking of the bread.

The same chapter motto refers to this Easter season, which Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, contextualizes in the invitation to live the new life of those who "have been raised with Christ" (cf. Col 3:1): put on the new condition (cf. Col 3:10), aspire to the good things that are above (cf. Col 3:1), put off the old man (cf. Col 3:9). "If you have been raised with Christ [...] "put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, gentleness, patience" (Col 3:12).

But in the Chapter's motto, we also hear expressions from our Constitutions that refer us to the essence of our vocation and charism: "hospitality configures us to the compassionate and merciful Christ of the Gospel" (2); "by the charism we are called to be witnesses of the infinite mercy of God, incarnating hospitality" (3); "we follow Christ [...] who passed through the earth as a divine Samaritan of humanity doing good to all and healing the sick" (5); "hospitaller spirituality [...] commits us to be for others an expression of his mercy" (8).

We can say that the Chapter motto, which emerges in the discernment during the pre-capitular stage, focuses us on the essence of our Christian and Hospitaller vocation. "Clothe yourselves with bowels of mercy" is what God wants of us as Sisters and of all those who participate in the Hospitaller mission, certainly with different forms of concreteness. This imperative must be the principle and goal that inspires the journey we are beginning, the horizon from which to move and the criterion for discernment, the constant call to a transforming conversion.  

A subtitle completes the motto, with elements that have been appearing strongly throughout this whole process, and that must continue, as small lights that guide our journey and qualify the motto: "Prophetic signs of hope and of God's closeness to suffering humanity". Prophecy, hope, closeness, suffering humanity, with all that each one of these words evokes, must be interpreted from the point of view of that covering of the bowels of mercy to which we are called.

We said that, according to the Constitutions, the Chapter is an event of charismatic renewal and apostolic projection, but both must be interpreted in the light of what we have lived during the six years we are ending; in this reality, seen from a grateful heart, we find many signs of hospitality practiced, according to the motto that has encouraged our journey.

We are aware that nothing of what we have lived would be possible without the precious collaboration of those who make up the Hospitaller Community: sisters, collaborators, volunteers, benefactors, friends and, above all, the people we serve; collaboration that has become very visible in the preparation of this Chapter, in which, for the first time, we have counted on the contribution of our addressees.

We also discovered many challenges that, from a lucid, wise and synodal discernment, call for bold and creative responses, within the horizon of the Chapter's motto: Clothe yourselves with bowels of mercy.

The Purpose of the Chapter attempts, in a very summarized form, to capture these two elements of blessing and challenge. This is how we express it:

"We feel blessed and impelled by the dynamism of renewal generated by the revision of Constitutions, which has helped us to return to the charismatic sources and to make a rereading of the spirituality that is incarnated in everyday life. 

The Spirit urges us to rediscover the beauty of our consecrated life in the Church and to enter into a process of transformation that will make us witnesses to the compassion and mercy of Jesus in fraternal communion and hospitable service.

We value and appreciate the different forms of collaboration and co-responsibility in carrying out the mission in a changing world.

Challenged by the new situations of poverty and psychological suffering that make human life more vulnerable, we want to respond together with our charismatic style, being a significant and prophetic presence in the world of health care, daring in new projects and consolidating processes of identity in the hospital works.

From this Purpose emerge the five nuclear Lines that will be the object of our reflection, dialogue, discernment and decision; in two of them, a group of collaborators and hospital laity will also participate, who will be incorporated around mid-May. We remind you of them:

  1. Mercy, a healing embrace!

  2. Mercy, source of communion!

  3. Mercy, expression of the Samaritan Church!

  4. Mercy, evangelizing force!

  5. Mercy, love without limits!

These are essential dimensions of our life and mission that we want to analyze, in a spirit of faith and fraternity, seeking unity in diversity, from the motto that binds everything together.

We will address other topics along this chapter journey:

  1. The new text of the Directory which, as we know, we have to study and approve, after the revision process carried out, which responds, on the one hand, to the revision of the Constitutions and, on the other hand, to the adaptation to the current reality of our life and mission;

  2. Presentation of the Memoirs of the Sexennium and Reports of the Provinces, as that "touching" the reality where God is carrying out his works;

  3. the process of electing the Superior General and Councilors who will guide the Congregation in the coming years;

  4. post-chapter, or implementation, suggestions and agreements.

In the prayer for the Chapter that we have prayed throughout these months, we asked that "the celebration of the XXII General Chapter be for each sister, and for the whole Hospitaller Community, a new Pentecost".

It will be so, if each one of us cultivates those attitudes that the Constitutions ask of us: "the spirit of faith and fraternity seeking, in an attitude of discernment, what is pleasing to the Lord".

In this sense, I update what I said to each one when I convoked the Chapter: To you, sister, who are part of this chapter community, I invoke the divine Ruah upon you, so that you may know how to listen with humility, speak with courage and practice discernment in the search for God's will; so that, configured with the sentiments of the Heart of Jesus and clothed with his heart of mercy, you may be docile in obedience, responsible in collaboration and creative in the vision of the congregational future.

We place our Chapter assembly under the benevolent gaze of Mary, whose intervention was decisive in the foundation of our Institute; may she obtain for us entrance and permanence in the Heart of the Son so that we may live in Him and reproduce His sentiments, may she clothe us with her bowels of mercy.

As our Founder told us, let us go to Mary, "She is our Mother, she desires it strongly; she will be our intercessor for this; she will make up for all that we lack. Finally, my daughters, let us throw ourselves into Mary's arms and she will lead us to Jesus, our highest Good, our Love, our Life, our Glory, our All."

Dear Sisters, to the protection of our Founders, St. Benedict Menni, Maria Josefa and Maria Angustias, we entrust the celebration of this XXII General Chapter, which I now declare open.

Thank you

Anabela Carneiro

General Superior

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