Although a brief meeting with the union was planned, the Holy Father spent an estimated three hours in a question and answer discussion with participants.
According to the Holy See Press Office, the first questions to the Pope dealt with the mission and identity of consecrated life. “A radical approach is required of all Christians, but religious persons are called upon to follow the Lord in a special way: They are men and woman who can awaken the world,” the Pope said.
“Consecrated life is prophecy. God asks us to fly the nest and to be sent to the frontiers of the world, avoiding the temptation to ‘domesticate’ them. This is the most concrete way of imitating the Lord.”
While acknowledging that vocations in young Churches are “bearing fruit”, the Holy Father also stated that the Church itself must re-evaluate its “inculturation of charism.”
Citing the example of the Servant of God Matteo Ricci, Pope Francis told participants that the Church must ask “forgiveness for, and looking with shame upon, apostolic failures caused by misunderstandings in this field.” Ricci, a 17th century Jesuit priest, was one of the founders of the Jesuit Mission in China.
“Intercultural dialogue must press for the introduction persons of various cultures, expressing different ways of living charism, in the governance of religious institutes,” the Pope stressed.
Regarding the formation of religious, the Holy Father called on the Union of Superior Generals to avoid all forms of hypocrisy and clericalism. Formation, he said, is not a watch dog but rather, “an artisanal craft.”
“It’s aim is to form religious persons with a tender heart, not acid, not like vinegar. We are all sinners, but not corrupt. Sinners are to be accepted, but not the corrupt,” he said.
Other questions asked by the Holy Father were on the subject of brotherhood and the relationships between those in consecrated life and their particular Churches. The Pope also emphasized the importance of the educational mission of schools and universities.
“The pillars of education are transmitting knowledge, transmitting methods, transmitting values. By these means, faith is communicated. The educator must measure up to those he educates, and must give careful thought to how to proclaim Jesus Christ to a changing generation,” he said.
Before concluding the meeting, the Holy Father thanked participants for their years of service to the Church and announced 2015 as a Year dedicated to Consecrated Life.
“Thank you for what you do and for your spirit of faith and your service,” he said. “Thank you for your witness and also for the humiliations through which you have had to pass.”