A lot of people are paying attention to the annual assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in St. Louis this week.
Previous meetings — which are usually more business-focused or aimed at continuing education for the sisters who represent 80 percent of U.S. congregations — have not attracted a lot of press coverage and have not even drawn the crowds from its own members as this gathering has.
The Aug. 7-10 assembly is being covered by reporters from religious news organizations, local and national media, and even Ms. Magazine.
During an announcement at the meeting Aug. 8, an LCWR official urged the sisters to be patient with hotel staff since many adjustments had to be made to accommodate 900 participants, 300 more than usual. The sisters also were told about the media presence and reminded not to talk with reporters about the process of discerning the Vatican’s assessment of their organization since that will continue to unfold in numerous executive sessions only for LCWR members throughout the four-day meeting.
LCWR officials plan to announce their response to the Vatican’s doctrinal assessment and its call for reform of the organization during a mid-day press conference Friday. Franciscan Sister Pat Farrell, outgoing president, said Aug. 7 that the outcome of the discussions, led by two facilitators, might not even be a decision but simply “the next best step.”
The organization’s canonical status is granted by the Vatican, which said reform of LCWR is needed to ensure its fidelity to Catholic teaching in the areas of abortion, euthanasia, women’s ordination and homosexuality.
Meanwhile, in group sessions, the theme of songs and prayers has been about letting go of preconceived ideas or fears and trusting the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The women religious also have been given time for silent prayer and reflection.
Barbara Marx Hubbard, the main speaker Aug. 8, essentially urged the sisters to embrace the notion of change and growth reflected in biblical passages that speak of rebirth and “making all things new.”
Hubbard is an author, speaker and educator known for promoting a view called “conscious evolution,” which the LCWR assembly participants seemed to get especially when she spoke about women religious being catalysts for change in a world that needs it.
At a press conference after the talk, LCWR representatives continued with the theme of how they have always adapted to changing needs by talking about how many orders were founded simply to respond to unmet needs around them.
Sister Nancy Conway, a Sister of St. Joseph from Cleveland, told reporters: “Religious congregations were founded when an aspect of the Gospel was not flourishing. The Holy Spirit worked among founders to address that dimension.”