On September 19th, 2023, a small group of Consecrated Women began a path of discernment for a contemplative lifestyle. What does that mean for Regnum Christi? An interview with Johanna von Siemens.
Since 2008, some Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi have been experiencing a possible call to live the charism of Regnum Christi within a contemplative lifestyle. The 2020 General Assembly of Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi welcomed a corresponding petition, leaving the task to their general government to “reopen the discernment of a contemplative branch within Regnum Christi, involving those Consecrated Women who continue to express this concern” and to present the conclusions at the next General Assembly in 2026.
Nancy Nohrden (general director) invited the women interested in participating in this discernment process to undertake a journey together and to share their initial thoughts. A commission was formed, which proposed to have two experiences of contemplative life as a group, so as to favor prayer, reflection, and community discernment. The first experience was held in the summer of 2022 in Rignano/Florence (Italy). Thirteen Consecrated Women participated in this community discernment, in a climate of prayer, formation on contemplative life in the Church, community life, and exploring more deeply their understanding of this way of life.
The second experience, which will last two years, began on September 19, 2023. This lived experience is exclusively reserved for Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi who have been an active part in this discernment process from the beginning. With the permission of the Bishop of Zamora, Nancy Nohrden has established the community of Domus Marie de Santa María de la Montaña, in the Cultural Center located in Cotija de la Paz (Michoacán, Mexico).
One of the Consecrated Women is Johanna von Siemens (from Munich, Germany). In an interview with Karl-Olaf Bergmann, Communications Director of Regnum Christi Europe, she spoke about what this path of discernment means for her and for Regnum Christi.
Johanna, on September 19th, you began a path of discernment with a group of your companions about whether you will found a contemplative community within Regnum Christi. The path will last for two years. This is surely an extraordinary development in Regnum Christi. When and how did the path begin? How did you arrive on it?
Johanna: The whole thing began for me 13 years ago, at my 2010 spiritual renewal course, when I suddenly felt a very strong call in my heart during silent spiritual exercises. I had just been struggling with God for having too little apostolate and wanting to be more apostolically active.
I was then working in the Holy Land. Suddenly I felt this voice inside me that told me, “Regnum Christi needs more contemplative souls, more contemplative people.” This hit me very hard and turned everything upside down, even while I had just been thinking that I wanted to do more. First I had to come to terms with it: What does that mean, and what did the Lord want to tell me? Then I experienced such a great inner peace and also discovered that it goes beyond just praying a little more or something like that. But I didn’t know exactly what it meant.
Over the following weeks, I learned that there were others who experienced something similar. It is exciting because around the same time, one or two years before and after, several Consecrated Women around the world felt the same interior call personally, without knowing about each other. Some of them then began to connect.
During the Apostolic Visitation (2010-2011), Archbishop Ricardo Blázquez began to gather some of these Consecrated Women for the first time. I didn’t belong to this group. I felt that I didn’t belong in a founding group. The call I received went hand in hand with living hidden in seclusion and in no way in the limelight. This group met for about two months in Valencia and Madrid, among other places, and I stayed in contact with them.
However, at this time our community found itself in the middle of the crisis about our founder and in the process of renewal, after the truth about Fr. Maciel’s life became known. The priest who now accompanies us on the path of discernment, a Jesuit, told us that it is a classic Jesuit principle not to make any big decisions in times of desolation. Perhaps not everyone found themselves equally in a kind of desolation, but generally our community was. In retrospect, I think that wouldn’t have been the right moment for it yet.
At the last General Assembly of Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi (2020), we turned again to the General Council and asked whether the issue could be brought to the table again and whether a real path of discernment could begin. The General Assembly finally accepted the proposal and tasked the newly elected General Council with initiating this process of discernment.
Even in the midst of the biggest crisis our community went through, you and other fellow Consecrated Women, independently of each other, perceived interiorly that you were called even more strongly to a contemplative life in Regnum Christi. How did you live and experience the crisis then? How much turmoil did it cause in you personally?
Johanna: I must honestly say that this crisis only lasted a couple days for me personally. It shook me hard for a moment, but then I experienced a great inner peace and calm. Above all, the crisis meant a great relief for me, since we had so much pressure from perfectionism, demands, expectation, holiness, etc. As I saw how the figure of the founder crumbled, I thought to myself, “Jesus, if you can create something even with someone like that, then maybe you can do something with me.” This brought me great peace and tranquility. Besides, at the time I was working in the Holy Land and was thus a little removed from the situation. The topic of the contemplative life lived on in me.
In the past, being contemplative was already in the self-description of Regnum Christi. Even during the process of the revision of the Statutes (2014-2018), this was not put up for discussion. It also says in the new Statutes: “We are contemplative and evangelizing” (SRCF 20). What is it about for you? What is new about your idea; what is different from before? Was that not enough? Why does Regnum Christi need the contemplative aspect so much?
Johanna: First we must indeed ask God, since it’s his initiative. It is not a kind of social criticism toward Regnum Christi, as if they were doing it wrong and so we’re doing it differently. For those involved right now, it is yearning to follow a call from God.
An image that once came to me and touched me deeply is that of a tree which has roots that need to go deeper. Regnum Christi grows and already has the roots of the contemplative and the evangelizing, but these roots need to go deeper. I believe that is precisely the task.
All of us in Regnum Christi pray; every member is invited to intertwine their apostolate with prayer, and only from this can fruit come about at all, but these roots should go even deeper. For me, that means it is like an invitation from the Lord that a few of us should burrow even deeper to arrive at these springs, this groundwater, and from there to provide for the whole tree. Thus, it is a service to all of Regnum Christi, a “water supply” from the “hidden depths.” I think that is a crucial emphasis.
In the history of the Church, and in Regnum Christi’s history as well, it wasn’t always clear that prayer is understood as a dialogue with a friend, with whom we come to meet alone often and eagerly in order to talk with him because he loves us (cf. Teresa of Ávila). For example, it is known that St. Teresa of Ávila especially developed “interior prayer” within her community. Would you say that your group could develop a special expression of prayer in Regnum Christi according to the charism? Would your prayer life differ from the rest of Regnum Christi?
Johanna: What we feel strongly is an invitation to deepen in our charism and spirituality and to protect it in a special way. There is a certain hope perhaps to be able to discover something in a special way. We cannot say at all what will come of it. First, we allow ourselves to go on an adventure with God, and we will see what he wants and what God himself develops and gives us through it.
I haven’t felt that it’s about a special style of prayer. Rather, I believe that we begin with how we already live out our prayer as Consecrated Women.
What does it mean to live in a contemplative way?
Johanna: In German, the word first means “reflective,” being in reflection. I think we feel an invitation to a hidden life with Christ in God (cf. Col 3:3). The Lord asks us to be hidden in the heart of Jesus. The image of Jesus in Nazareth, and especially the Holy Family in Nazareth, helps me greatly here. That also means a very simple life: “ora et labora,” a life of manual labor—handiwork, gardening, artistic work—and of time for prayer.
The exciting thing is that those in our group are bound by a powerful missionary zeal and the desire that Jesus may enter the hearts of people, of all people! That the Kingdom of God may blossom throughout the whole world, in the hearts of all people, that people may come to know God. Everywhere we look, there is such a great need to know God, and also a great deal of delusion.
I also feel acutely that I am so limited in my possibilities with my direct apostolate (my conferences, visiting the sick, etc.). Maybe I can reach 50 people, maybe address 100 or 300 at the very most, but we and our words cannot make anything actually happen or touch their hearts; only God can do that.
If God wanted his Son to become man and that Jesus spent 30 years in seclusion and only healed and preached for three years, then it is apparent that he redeemed mankind along all 33 years. His hidden life was not wasted time; the emphasis was on these very years. It was these 30 years that made the other three years fruitful.
Our retreat into the secluded, hidden life with Christ in God is thus perhaps like a feeding ground for all the apostolic work of Regnum Christi, as if Jesus himself were to go out to meet people.
Johanna, your path is laid out for two years. The year after, 2026, the next General Convention of the Consecrated Women will take place, and they will discuss your experiences and then decide how it continues. Which decision are you hoping for? How could it continue for you?
Johanna: If we get the “green light” and are allowed to continue to live this life, then this adventure with God continues. Then we would be able to continue to live this lifestyle that we hopefully have already begun to discover. And perhaps some who remained a bit outside this process or for whom it wasn’t the right time yet can join us. Then the place would have to be decided on.
If the decision were to be, “No, it won’t continue!” then I think we would acknowledge as a group that the Spirit of God wasn’t there. For example, if there were much discord among us, then it wasn’t from the Lord or the right time for it. A very normal process of discernment would begin for each one of us as to which tasks we would take on in the community.
Many people find it hard to pray, and many look for help in prayer or others to pray with them. Will you accept prayer intentions in these two years? How can you be reached?
Johanna: Yes, gladly. That’s what we’re here for. In any case, we all keep our email addresses. Whoever would like can write to me directly ([email protected]). We are happy about prayer intentions; that is also a concrete way we want to live this commitment: praying for people’s intentions.
Thank you for the interesting conversation! We’ll probably continue it here in two years.
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Johanna Siemens made her first profession with the Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi in 1998; made her perpetual profession on September 8, 2000 in Madrid; studied in Spain and Mexico; did her apostolic internship in a school in Guadalajara (Mexico); worked with children, young people, and families in Texas (Dallas, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio); was active in Austria for two years, followed by 13 in the Holy Land; and has lived and worked in ApostelHaus in Ratingen (Germany) since the summer of 2022. Johanna has a bachelor’s degree in theology and a master’s in biblical studies and archeology from the “Biblicum Franciscanum.” In 2022 she was a visiting professor of “Introduction to Sacred Scripture” at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum.