While communities whose members observe a “consecrated life” include religious and lay, the goal of each is the same: to follow and serve God by serving God’s people --- prayerfully and joyfully.
“There are many different ways one can consecrate one’s life to God,” says Rossana Goni, superior of the Marian Community of Reconciliation (or Fraternas), a worldwide community of lay women who came to Los Angeles three years ago to expand their apostolate.
“It might be as a religious life, or as a member of a lay third order [affiliated with a religious community], or as a lay apostolate like ours,” continues Goni, a native of Peru where the Fraternas community was founded in 1991 by layman Luis Fernando Figari. “But our mission is the same: to give our lives to God, to serve God and others.”
On Feb. 2 --- the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord --- the World Day of Consecrated Life will be celebrated throughout the world, having been instituted in 1997 by Pope John Paul II as a day of prayer for women and men in consecrated life. Because this day also is known as Candlemas Day, the day on which candles are blessed symbolizing Christ who is the light of the world, those in consecrated life are likewise called to reflect the light of Jesus Christ to all peoples.
In his 1996 Apostolic Exhortation “Vita Consecrata,” Pope John Paul called the consecrated life “a gift of God the Father to his Church through the Holy Spirit. By the profession of the evangelical counsels the characteristic features of Jesus — the chaste, poor and obedient one — are made constantly ‘visible’ in the midst of the world,and the eyes of the faithful are directed towards the mystery of the Kingdom of God already at work in history” (VC, n. 1).
Men and women “in every age,” the pope noted, have chosen this way of following Christ “to devote themselves to him with an ‘undivided’ heart. Like the Apostles, they too have left everything behind in order to be with Christ and to put themselves, as he did, at the service of God and their brothers and sisters…. They have helped to make the mystery and mission of the Church shine forth, and in doing so have contributed to the renewal of society.”
This March 25 --- the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord --- will mark the 20th anniversary of Fraternas’ canonical establishment by Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne of Lima. Worldwide, its 120 members now serve in nine countries in North and South America (Peru, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic), Europe (Italy and England) and Australia, with apostolates that range from diocesan ministry to youth camps.
In the U.S., they serve in the Archdioceses of Los Angeles, Denver and San Antonio and the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn. Their model and inspiration is Mary, the Blessed Mother, as they seek to live, like Her, “an authentic spiritual motherhood.”
Like religious orders, Fraternas’ members make perpetual promises of celibacy and obedience, and pledge to detach themselves of any temporal goods.
“We may work at particular jobs from which we draw salaries, but all of that is shared for the good of the community to allow our work to continue,” explains Goni, one of four members of the Fraternas living in West Hollywood near St. Victor Church. She herself has previously served in Peru, Denver and for the last seven months in Los Angeles.
“We are engaged in the world in a ministry of evangelization, serving in a variety of areas where we see a need,” Goni continues, adding with a smile that “It’s very different here, in Los Angeles, But it’s very good to be here, to serve and engage this community, to hopefully make God known, and if possible to encourage other young women to appreciate and live the fullness of life in following and serving God.”