In the past two years I have been able to discover at how many places very different initiatives around religious communities are being developed or are already being realized. These are initiatives that elaborate on existing orders and congregations, these are new initiatives that go back to original order founders with their specific spirituality. These are modern interpretations of beguinages. There are communities in centuries-old German Stifte which want to be more than just keepers of historical heritage. There are groups of lay people which want to inhabit vacant monasteries as new communities. Religious and lay people together test all kinds of forms of cooperation and / or living together. There are communities which organize themselves around specific themes. Experiments are being carried out with fully digital monastic communities. In short, there is much more life than I ever thought possible and what lives there is richer and more varied than I could ever imagine. Of course there are all kinds of problems, of course there are conflicts, of course things go wrong and it is relatively small groups of people who are involved in all these initiatives. But the versatility and potential of all these communities is large and promising. And more and more we begin to discover each other as companions, across borders of churches and countries, hopefully towards a communion of communities.
We will have to be realistic; as individual organizations it will be very difficult in the future to be visible, findable, understandable. I said before that there is a lot of potential in more intensive exchange and cooperation, but that many religious organizations reflect and work on their future mainly on an individual basis.
In the course of the discussions I became convinced that the view on the future should not be limited to individual communities or organizations. The concept of ‘spiritual family’ offers a different perspective. By a spiritual family I mean all congregations, lay organizations, study centres, etc., that share a certain spirituality. For example, will there be a Franciscan presence in the Netherlands in 30 years’ time? Or a Vincentian presence? An Ignatian? When the answer to that question becomes the responsibility of all institutions and organizations within a family, then the perspective, the discussion broadens enormously. Is this idea a desperate regrouping of the last reserves of religious forces? A postponement of 20 years or so of an irrevocable end to an outdated religious life model? I am convinced it is not! This belief is rooted in the encounter and exchange with so many people who reflect on and experiment with modified or new forms of religious community life.
In the beginning I said that we would like to present you today a kaleidoscope of impressions from our project. I have not tried to give all kinds of concrete examples, to describe the many pieces of glass in the kaleidoscope; as mentioned, much of it will be available later on the website. The four conclusions I have mentioned are to me like the essential background light that first makes the patterns in the kaleidoscope visible. Today I would like to invite you to look through the kaleidoscope. For me the images in the kaleidoscope have become a sign of great hope, for me it has become the Soul of the Project. Amor Towles, author of that fascinating book ″ A Gentleman in Moscow” gives this wonderful description of the effect of a kaleidoscope and I would like to conclude with that. I quote:
″ At the bottom of the tube of a kaleidoscope are coloured glass shards in a random composition; but thanks to a ray of sunlight …, when one looks inside one finds a pattern so colourful, so extremely complex that it seems certain that it has been designed with the utmost care. And then, with a slight twist of the wrist, the shards begin to shift and form a new pattern – a pattern with its own symmetrical shapes, its own colour complexity, its own conjecture of a design.”