Renew and not reinvent formation of religious men and women

By Br. Alfonce Kugwa

CMRS Members and Bishops pay attention as Fr. Robert Igo explains about the need to renew formation of religious men and women.

The Conference of Major Religious Superiors (CMRS) is destined to resume a formation programme at Wadzanai Training Centre in Harare as a way of enhancing formation of those who commit themselves to religious life. The programme which was previously held at Holy Trinity College had been briefly halted and now will open as residential formation programme.

Speaking at the CMRS Annual General Meeting recently held in Harare, the CMRS President, Fr. Chiedza Chimhanda said the formation programme which was briefly suspended would be resuscitated in order to equip formators with better skills necessary for vocation discernment. He said this programme is key in responding to the changing needs in the religious formation landscape.

Fr. Chiedza Chimhanda SJ, CMRS President.

The Programmes Officer for CMRS, Sr. Veronica Masikinye LCBL, confirmed that the programme will open in August 2020.

“The programme will focus on training of formators for nine months, training of spiritual directors and retreat givers for one month, preparation for perpetual vows for all congregations for one month and theology week for superiors, formators and all religious for one week,” Sr. Masikinye said.

Addressing religious superiors and bishops attending the CMRS AGM under the theme: New Wine in New Wineskins; The Consecrated Life and its Ongoing Challenges since Vatican II on16 January 2020, Fr. Robert Igo said formation was critical and at the centre of religious life but surprisingly formation seems not to change people’s lives. Fr. Igo stressed that formation was about vocational discernment and knowing Jesus Christ. He said the purpose of formation is about transforming people to become disciples of Jesus and not only to label them with titles of congregations. The Benedictine Monk challenged religious congregations to consider seriously the formation of their members so that they become representative of what they stand for.

Bishop Paul Horan listens to the contribution by a Holy Cross Sister.

“Formation is a process and not an event. Where people miss out is that religious formation is different from academic or professional training where one enters a college with the intention of attaining a professional qualification. Instead, formation is never ending and all religious men and women need to constantly adjust and readjust to different situations and conditions of their faith experience,” said Fr. Igo.

Archbishop Alex Thomas follows the discussion in one of the groups.

While most congregations rely on those trained in formation schools in different parts of the world, Fr. Igo bemoaned this practice arguing that formation needs people who are made to be formators and not those who are only trained for the job saying this does not bring out the best results. Fr. Igo highlighted the need for the formation of formators whom he said deal with vocations that come from broken backgrounds and would be a cause of brokenness of religious communities if they are not well groomed.

Fr. Robert Igo shares challenges of formation in religious communities with CMRS members.

He said: “Most vocations today come from broken families and this makes formation so difficult. If those people are not properly formed, they become a source of brokenness of our religious communities. It is like putting a group of people together and start calling them a community although they do not know Jesus.”

The issue of formation has become a thorn in the flesh for many congregations today.

Fr. Igo challenged religious leaders in Zimbabwe to think about the concerns raised by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life which include individualism in living religious vows; lack of consistence in terms of human, spiritual and academic development with many people emphasising academic and professional qualifications at the expense of their vows and spiritual life; danger of forming only court hangers, people who only look good outside and lack of formation of heart.

Religious superiors discuss ways of improving formation in their congregations.

Fr. Igo called all religious superiors and leaders of congregations to renew and not reinvent the formation of religious personnel in Zimbabwe emphasizing the need for ongoing formation for those finally professed. He also encouraged religious men and women to be models who can attract vocations through their way of life.

Fr. Robert Igo told religious superiors to renew and not to invent formation.

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