God & I: Sr. Nathalie Becquart

November 08 2021 | by

DEAR Sister Nathalie, can you tell us something about your childhood and the development of your religious vocation?

I grew up in France and I am the oldest in a family of 5 children. My parents are devout Catholics so I grew up in a Catholic environment and went to Catholic schools. As a teenager I went to the Catholic Girl Scouts, joined the Youth Eucharistic movement and began to play the flute during Mass. When I graduated in entrepreneurship I began to feel a call to a religious vocation.


Who was the most important person in your religious formation?

My grandmother from my mother’s side. She was widowed at a young age while expecting her 4th child. She was a person of deep faith who was very active in her parish; she visited people in prison and welcomed refugees into her home. She was also a good grandmother to us, and we could really see her commitment to Christ and the Church.


What made you decide to enter La Xavière, an apostolic religious congregation of Ignatian spirituality, founded in 1921?

At the end of my studies in 1992 I volunteered in Beirut, Lebanon, for one year. While there I met many young religious who were joyful even after all those difficult years of civil war, and who bore witness to their faith with enthusiasm. It was there, while I was far away from my country and cultural background, that I had a powerful spiritual experience. I began to feel a call to enter the religious life, especially through the influence of Ignatian spirituality. In fact, at that time I met a Sister belonging to the Xavières, an Ignatian religious order. When I returned to France, I worked as a consultant in marketing and communications, and had the chance to meet more Xavières Sisters. I felt that they were women very rooted in Christ, but also very involved in the world. Their motto: Passionate for Christ – Passionate for the World, really resonated within me. I felt the Xavières could be the place where I could follow Christ in the religious life. The Xavières work in many different fields, they have a missionary charism aimed at reconciliation and unity, and try to establish links with those who are outside the Church.


During your religious formation, and in the first years of your religious life, did you ever have any doubts and think that maybe you had chosen the wrong path in life?

I had many doubts. I did not have a very quiet life in the beginning. Like many young people I was never sure I had chosen the right path so I experienced many episodes of crisis and doubt until my final vows. During my time of discernment I was able to see how the evil spirit was trying to remove me from the call to follow Christ within the Order. After my final vows, I felt rooted in this choice.


For the first time ever, the Vatican has appointed a woman to the Synod of Bishops. You are, in fact, one of the two under-secretaries and the first woman with the right to vote in it. Were you surprised when the Pope offered you this position?

I was very surprised because I could never have imagined that Pope Francis would have offered me that position. But I took it as a call from the Pope, from the Church and from God, so I accepted. When the Pope called me I had just finished a research on Synodality and I had the experience of the Synod on Young People so, even though unexpected, I believe the Holy Spirit has led me to this position.


Can you explain to our readers what you do as an under-secretary?

The Synod of Bishops has a permanent office and as under-secretary I work as part of a team with another under-secretary and other members of staff to organize the upcoming Synods. The Synod of Bishops is an institution that was set up as a result of Vatican II and, under the guidance of our General Secretary, Cardinal Mario Grech, we report directly to Pope Francis, who presides our Council for the Synod. We prepare the preparatory documents of the synods as well as the synodal process. Our task is also that of promoting synodality. Personally, I chair commissions on spirituality and on methodology, and I also make presentations, give webinars and courses, as well as write articles.

My work also entails contacting huge numbers of people in the various dioceses, bishops’ conferences and Church movements around the world, as well as interacting with the various dicasteries here at the Vatican. It’s a very demanding job, but I enjoy helping the Church become more synodal.


In an article we published in May this year, our journalist Philippa Hitchen applauded the inclusion of more women in the Vatican, and was confident that “the claim for inclusion and equity will continue in dioceses and parishes.” What do you think?

I agree with her. During the last two synods, the one on young people and the one on the Amazon, there was a strong call for greater involvement of women in the leadership of the Church, and I was struck by the fact that after my appointment I received many messages of support not just from women, but also from priests, religious, bishops, etc. There is the feeling in the Church that women ought to have a greater role. This question of women is a sign of the times. In France the Church is calling more and more women to leadership positions, and I am one of these results. Unfortunately, there are still some countries where it is difficult for women to have a greater voice, but Pope Francis is very clear that he wishes to empower women within the Church.


The Synod that began last month in the presence of the Pope, has the theme: For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission. Could you please explain the significance of this theme for our readers?

The Synod itself aims to help the Church become more synodal. Synodal means that we must learn to walk together as People of God. We must recognize that the Church is the Church of all the baptized; that every baptized Catholic has a voice in it; that every baptized person must be listened to; that every baptized person is called to participate. The key words therefore are: Communion, Participation and Mission. This is the new style of living as Church, but in fact it’s the style of the Church since its beginnings, because synodality is a constitutive element of the Church. This synodality will allow us to listen and be guided by the Holy Spirit in a more effective manner in order to become a holier Church.


How has the Church become more Synodal under Pope Francis? How can this newfound awareness help the Church fulfill her mission?

Pope Francis has convoked four synods since he was elected, two on the family, one on young people and one on the Amazon. Pope Francis has been strongly emphasizing the need to listen to the People of God. He is also emphasizing that the call of the Church today is to be a missionary Church, to be in this world in this time of history, and to be a synodal Church. The last two synods have highlighted that the only way to transmit the faith today is to be a missionary Church, and synodality is always ‘missionary synodality’. The issue is not first how to organize the Church more effectively; the issue is to walk and work together in greater harmony: cardinals, bishops, priests, nuns, consecrated religious and lay people.


The Synod on Synodality will take place in many locations, on different levels and at different times. How can our readers participate in the Synod? What can and should they bring to the process?

First I encourage your readers to read the Preparatory Document, which gives a good insight on the theme of the Synod, and which can be found on our website: https://www.synod.va. Now the Synod has different steps. The first phase began last month in all the dioceses of the world, and this will last until April 2022, so I really encourage the readers of the Messenger of Saint Anthony to participate in their dioceses, in their parishes, in their communities and movements, by taking part in this listening and discernment process. This first phase calls for listening and discernment in local churches.


Nowadays, at least in our Western civilization, the overall tendency is to relegate religion more and more to the private sphere. Do you think that, besides the spiritual and moral aspects of religion, there are also social, political and economic aspects?

We cannot separate the spiritual dimension of our faith from the social dimension, because our faith is an incarnate faith. To love God is to love one another. Evangelization therefore is interconnected with integral human development. This is why tradition and Church teachings help us to embrace the social, political and economic aspects of our faith.  We must be in the world to dialogue with everybody and contribute to build a better world for all. Pope Francis has emphasized this very strongly in his encyclicals Fratelli Tutti and Laudato Sì, where he tries to promote an ecological conversion to build fraternity and friendship.


How would you define God to a non-believer?

In Dei Verbum, a document from Vatican II, we are encouraged to think about God as a friend, and this is what Pope Francis does in his apostolic exhortation Christus Vivit, where he writes that if we want people to have a true encounter with Christ we have to help them consider God not as someone who is far away and transcendent, but as someone who is very close to us, a friend. Of course God is a mystery, but Christ came to die for us in order to become our friendly companion. This is the best way to help non-believers discover God, because we all have an experience of friendship.


In what moments of your life do you feel closest to God?

There are many different moments. One of the most important is when I contemplate the beauty of creation or when I am sailing in the sea. In those moments I feel very close to God because I get the feeling that creation is a gift of God, the Creator, and that God is present through His creation.

I also felt very close to God during some Church events like the Synod on Young People in Rome. During that month I felt strongly the presence of Jesus Christ among us, walking with us as we listened to each other. During these meetings you get the sense that the Catholic Church is truly universal, and it’s a mystery for me how we can be united in this way despite all the differences among us in terms of race, languages and cultural backgrounds.


Vocations in the religious life and the priesthood have been diminishing for many years now. In your opinion, what are the primary causes of this phenomenon? And what can we do to promote vocations?

One of the primary causes is that we are no longer a Christian society. In France, for instance, we can see that the percentage of priests and religious is proportional to the percentage of people who go to church regularly. The less families practice their faith, the fewer vocations you will have. We also know that vocations usually come from large families, so as families become smaller you also have fewer vocations.

However, it also depends on how you look at it. Even though we have fewer priests and religious we have more highly committed lay people than before. Before Vatican II the ministry of the Church was mainly in the hands of priests and religious, but now, after that Council, everybody is called to be a missionary disciple and there are more and more lay ecclesial ministers.

We need to promote all vocations, not just the priestly and religious ones. For instance, marriage is also a vocation, and if we promote all vocations we will also promote the priestly and religious ones, because it is well-known that priests and consecrated religious usually come from devout families. We therefore need to foster and implement a culture of vocation and help every baptized Catholic discern their call, because everyone has a vocation. Many people don’t know this because they think that vocation has to do with priests and religious only.


BORN IN Fontainebleau, France, in 1969, Nathalie Becquart graduated from HEC Paris in 1992, with a major in entrepreneurship. She volunteered in Lebanon for a year and then worked for two years as a consultant in marketing-communication.

In 1995 Becquart joined the Congregation of Xavières. After a postulancy in Marseille and two years of novitiate, she went on mission for three years to the national team of Scouts de France, in charge of the Plein Vent program (scouting in working-class neighborhoods). She studied theology and philosophy at the Centre Sèvres (the Jesuit seminary in Paris) as well as sociology at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences. She then pursued a course in theology at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry to specialize in ecclesiology by conducting research on synodality.

In 2008 the Conference of Bishops of France appointed her deputy director of student pastoral care, and in 2012 director of the national service for the evangelization of young people and for vocations. This led to her involvement in the organization for the synod of bishops on Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment in Rome in 2018.

On 24 May 2019, she was appointed, along with four other women and one man, as a consultor to the general secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. They were the first women to be appointed to that position. Then, on 6 February 2021, Pope Francis appointed her an undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops, making her the first woman to have the right to vote in the Synod of Bishops.

Becquart is the author of 100 Prayers to Weather the Storm, Paris, Salvator (2012); The Evangelization of Young People, a Challenge, Paris, Salvator (2013); Religious, Why? Paris, Salvator (2017); The Spirit Renews Everything, Paris, Salvator (2020).


Updated on November 08 2021