As we reach the end of the Year of Consecrated Life on
2 February, the World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life, Fr Richard Nesbitt met with Fr Christopher Jamison, Director of the National Office of Vocation, to ask him for his reflections on the highlights and lasting fruits of the year.
Fr Richard: Pope Francis called for this Year of Consecrated Life to ‘wake up the world’ and share the power of the Gospel through the witness of the lives of our consecrated brothers and sisters. In what ways do you think this has happened over the last year?
Fr Christopher: In England and Wales there have been a whole number of events to open up convents and monasteries to visitors. For example, in Westminster there was a ‘Nun Run’ enabling people to visit a variety of religious houses. In addition, several cathedrals held ‘Living Joyfully’ events at which religious came together to welcome young people to meet them. I think a lot of young people especially have been challenged to consider their own response to the Lord’s call in their lives.
Fr R: How would you describe the landscape of consecrated life in the UK at the moment?
Fr C: 2014 saw the largest number of women in 25 years joining religious congregations. This has been a steady rise over the last few years. The number of men joining religious communities has also risen in recent years. Overall, the number of religious is diminishing and some congregations will cease to exist, at least in Britain. But there are places where religious have reorganised themselves and are attracting new members. The landscape is re-forming into smaller communities each with a distinctive identity and some younger members.
Fr R: Could you share with us one or two personal highlights for you of the Year of Consecrated Life?
Fr C: In general, I’ve been delighted to see how this Year dedicated to celebrating the contribution of consecrated life to the Church and to the world really has helped people to see that Christ continues to call men and women to the consecrated life. Here are two specific examples:
The media went crazy when we published the statistics about women religious. All the main news outlets immediately ran the story and then later ran feature articles. We found it hard to provide enough sisters for interviews. The Catholic Communications Network calculated that nearly 2 million readers saw 68 articles in the print media alone and then BBC News added several million on top of that. Many of these media items mentioned the Year of Consecrated Life as part of the story.
NOV created a 30 minute film ‘Consecrated Life: religious men and women tell their story.’ It’s been viewed 12,000 times on YouTube and downloaded over 2,000 times on Vimeo. That also says a lot.
Fr R: What do you hope that the more long-term fruits and legacy of the Year of Consecrated Life will be?
I would say greater confidence among religious that their way of life will not die out even though some congregations will come to an end. It’s particularly moving to see brothers and sisters supporting vocation discernment work even though they accept that they will not receive new members. And also greater appreciation in the Church that consecrated life is an essential element of the Body of Christ.
Fr R: Thank you!
For more information see the NOV website: www.ukvocation.org
Fr Christopher will be the guest speaker at the February meeting of the Vocations Discernment Group for adults (18+). Friday 26 February, 7-9pm in the Hinsley Room, Morpeth Terrace next to Westminster Cathedral. For more info contact Fr Richard at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was first published in the February 2016 edition of the Westminster Record.