Bishop's Interview: Celebrating the gifts of religious men, women

Editor: Pope Francis has declared a Year of Consecrated Life, which began on Nov. 30 and will run through February 2016. Why has the Holy Father decided to put such emphasis on consecrated life?
Bishop Vásquez: Pope Francis knows first-hand the importance of what it means to be a consecrated religious. He is a Jesuit; therefore, he values the wonderful charisms that the Jesuits and all of the religious communities bring to our church and to our world. Our Holy Father wants us to focus on religious and the beauty and gifts they offer the church. 
Last year, when Pope Francis met with the leaders of religious congregations around the world, he said. “The church must be attractive. Wake up the world! It is possible to live differently in this world … It is a question of leaving everything to follow the Lord … Religious follow the Lord in a special way, in a prophetic way. It is this witness that I expect of you. Religious should be men and women who are able to wake the world up.”
Pope Francis wants religious men and women to wake up the world to the reality of the Kingdom of God, which Jesus came to establish and we desire as we pray in the Our Father, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”  The Kingdom of God is described in the preface of the Solemnity of Christ the King as “an eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.”  Our religious men and women take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and point us to the reality of the Kingdom of God. 
Editor: With that in mind tell us what is meant by the term “consecrated life”?
Bishop Vásquez: Consecrated life is a vocation in which a person gives of himself/herselft completely and totally to God and in service of the church. Each religious community has a particular charism or ministry. For instance the Daughters of Charity have been working in hospital ministry in Central Texas for more than 100 years as a way to care for the poor. The Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist have a charism dedicated to educating the young. Each religious community is doing something for the good of the church. From the contemplative orders who are praying for us and for the church at all times to the missionary orders who are bringing Christ to the distant parts of the world, they are all founded in love and service to the church and they point us to a deep reality of God.
Editor: Many have said that consecrated life is a thing of the past and that religious life is not as attractive as it once was. What is your response to those critics?
Bishop Vásquez:
I would say that those people need to learn to appreciate religious life. Granted, there may not be as many religious vocations as there once was and certain religious communities have declined; however, there are many religious communities that are thriving. 
Consecrated life is not a thing of the past because consecrated life is essential to who we are as a church. Think of the history of the Catholic Church, of the Jesuits who went all over the world, of the Franciscans who came to the Americas to bring the Gospel, and the Dominicans who traveled to many parts of the world to educate and preach the Gospel. Yes, we may have some lows and some moments where there will be certain communities that will flourish and others will not. That is how the Spirit moves and how the Spirit continues to work through the church. We are blessed to have such dedicated men and women religious in our world.
Editor: How has the Austin Diocese been blessed by such men and women?
Bishop Vásquez
: Our diocese has a long history of religious that were present even before the diocese was founded. As I said before, the Daughters of Charity have served Central Texas for more than 100 years. We have also had the Holy Cross Priests, Sisters and Brothers who have worked here for many years. They founded St. Edward’s University, our only Catholic university in the Diocese of Austin. They also founded many parishes and schools throughout our diocese. 
We have been blessed with the service of many Dominican sisters over the years; they have served on the diocesan staff, worked in evangelization ministries and taught in our Catholic schools. Presently, we have several parishes that are served by priestly orders, such as the Paulists, the Conventual and the Third Order Franciscans, the Schoenstatts and the Missionary Society of St. Paul. 
We have orders of religious who have been in our diocese from its beginning and we have new orders who have just joined us. Nevertheless, I consider them a blessing to the life of the diocese. Hundreds of men and women religious have worked in different ways in our Catholic schools, in our parishes, in our hospitals and in service to the poor throughout Central Texas. My expectation and my hope is that men and women religious will continue to be part of the history of this great diocese for years to come.
Editor: How can families and parishes give more attention to those who serve in consecrated life?
Bishop Vásquez:
One simple way for families to become more familiar and knowledgeable of religious communities is to read about the lives of saints, such as St. Francis, St. Dominic, St. Louise de Marillac, and St. Vincent DePaul. Parents can also help their children understand what the saints are about, and help children appreciate their gifts that they brought to the church. 
Another thing we can do is to get to know religious men and women in our diocese. You can see them in our parishes. Visit with them, pray with them, celebrate Mass with them, or invite them to dinner. There are great opportunities for us to be able to get to know religious. 
People sometimes feel as though they would interfere in the lives of religious. However, the truth is that religious want to share their lives with us. I think religious men and women would love it if we asked them how they discovered the calling to religious life. There should be nothing complicated about forming a relationship or a friendship with religious men and women. I encourage everyone to initiate a conversation with a religious in this Year of Consecrated Life.
Editor: What is your prayer for all those men and women who faithfully serve the church?
Bishop Vásquez:
First of all, like the Holy Father has said we are grateful to consecrated men and women. We want to be grateful as a church, and we need to learn how to thank them for their many years of dedicated service in our church. Where would our church be if not for these men and women who have given up so much out of love for Christ? My prayer is that consecrated life will experience a renewal and flourish. May all men and women religious continue to be a witness to the Kingdom of God and help us place our hope in God and his Kingdom.

Numbers of religious currently serving in the Austin Diocese

Congregations of Women                                                      Number of Religious
AVI    Apostles of the Interior Life.......................................................3
CDP    Congregation of Divine Providence...........................................3
CSC    Sisters of the Holy Cross.......................................................  ..6
DC    Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent De Paul................................9
DDL    Daughters of Divine Love Congregation....................................2
ESEH    Eudist Servants of the Eleventh Hour........................................2
FHM    Franciscan Sisters Daughters of Mercy........................................8
FMA    Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco...............................................4
IHM    Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary........................1
MCDP    Missionary Catechists of Divine Providence...............................3
ME    Missionary Ecumenical...........................................................2
MSC    Marianites of Holy Cross........................................ .............1
MSDP    Missionary Servants of Divine Providence..................................1
OP    Dominican Sisters of Houston........................................ .............3
OP    Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.......................13
OP    Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa........................................ .............2
OP    Hermanas Dominicas “Siervas del Senor”........................................ 2
OSF    Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpeutal Help.............................3
OSF    Sisters of St. Francis, Congregation of Our Lady of Lourdes...........6
PCI    Pax Christi Institute........................................ ................................4
SFCC    Sisters for Christian Community........................................ .............2
SJB    Sisters of St. John Bosco........................................ .............1
SJS    Sisters of Jesus the Saviour........................................ .............1
SMIC    Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception.......................2
SNDdeN    Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur - Ohio Province..................1
SSND    School Sisters of Notre Dame....................................................1
SSS    Sisters of Sacred Sciences............................................................4
Brothers    
CSC    Congregation of Holy Cross......................................................42
Priests    
CSC    Congregation of Holy Cross......................................................7
CMI    Carmelites of Mary Immaculate........................................ .........1
CSP    Paulist Father........................................ ....................................7
ICM    Incarnatio Consecratio Missio........................................ ...........1
IMS    Indian Missionary Society-Ranchi Region..................................2
ISP    Secular Institute of Schoenstatt Fathers.....................................5
MF    Missionaries of Faith........................................ ........................3
MSC    Missionaries of the Sacred Heart........................................ ....2
MSP    Missionaries of St. Paul........................................ ...................3
OFM Conv.    Conventual Franciscan Friars........................................ 3
OMI    Oblates of Mary Immaculate........................................ ...........2
OP    Order of Preachers-Dominicans........................................ .......2
OSB    Missionary Benedictines........................................ .................3
SDS    Society of the Divine Savior........................................ ............2
SRC    Servants of the Risen Christ Monastic Community..................1
SS    Society of San Sulpice........................................ .......................1
TOR    Third Order Regular of Saint Francis........................................2
Total Religious........................................ .............. .........................179