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Carmelite Sister Carmen Teresa from Nicaragua greets Pope Francis during a meeting with superiors and other delegates from Discalced Carmelite monasteries during a meeting at the Vatican April 18, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Longing for the past will not save contemplative religious orders from closing their monasteries or experiencing shifts in vocations, Pope Francis said.

Discerning how to adapt the structures of a centuries-old religious order to the modern age “means not relying solely on human strategies, defensive strategies, when it comes to reflecting on a whether a monastery should be saved or abandoned, on community life or about vocations,” the pope told the superiors and other delegates from Discalced Carmelite monasteries who were meeting in Rome to review their order’s constitutions.

“Defensive strategies are the fruit of a nostalgic return to the past; this does not work, nostalgia does not work,” he said.

Welcoming the group to the Vatican April 18, Pope Francis urged the Discalced Carmelites to instead adopt a “Gospel hope” that “makes us capable of looking to the future with those roots we have received.”

“That is called preserving the charism (with) the thrill of moving forward, and that does work,” he said.

While the mission of the Discalced Carmelites will remain the same, the pope asked that members of the order, established in the 16th-century, find new avenues to strengthen and lead others to their charism of contemplation.

He said that the order has the task of “finding new languages, new paths and new instruments to promote with greater enthusiasm the contemplative life that the Lord has called you to embrace.”

“When a Carmelite works well, he or she attracts, isn’t that right?” he asked. “It is like a light with flies.”

By revising their constitutions -- last approved in two forms by St. John Paul II in 1990 and 1991 -- the Discalced Carmelites should not “protect ashes” but “nourish a fire” that warms the church and the world, the pope said.

Pope Francis noted that while this principle applies to the restructuring of all institutes of consecrated life, cloistered religious orders have the particular challenge of managing their separation from the world in the process.

Yet the pope said that the “dynamism of contemplation” serves as a “ladder that elevates us to God not to separate us from the earth, but to make us live it deeply, as witnesses of the love (we have) received.”

Citing the foundress of the order, St. Teresa of Ávila, Pope Francis said that each person’s mystical union with God “transforms all of our life without separating us from daily occupations or suggesting an escape in spiritual things.”

By intentionally dedicating time to prayer and silence, “contemplative life does not run the risk of reducing itself to a form of spiritual inertia, that distracts (one) from the responsibilities of daily life,” he said, but rather it “ continues to provide the inner light for discernment.”

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