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The crisis of religious life in Europe,
a call to religious life worldwide

José María VIGIL


 

On paper, this text was published at:
[In Inglish:]
The Crisis of Religiouse Life in Europe. A Call to Religious Worldwide.
- «RLR, Religiouse Life Review», 44/232 (May-June 2005) 147-162, Dublin, Ireland.
- EAPR, East Asian Pastoral Review, 43/2 (abril 2006) 139-151, Manila, Philippines.
- «Journal of Inculturation Theology», Lagos, Nigeria.
[In Spanish:]
- «Elkargunea», Instituto de Vida Religiosa de Euskadi, (abril 2005)12-15, Vitoria, Spain.
- «Christus», 746(enero-febrero 2005)39-45, México D, México.
- «Revista Aragonesa de Teología», 23 (enero-junio 2006), Zaragoza, Spain.
[In Portuguese:]
A crise da Vida Religiosa na Europa do século XXI –tema de reflexão para a vida religiosa latino-americana. REB, Revista Eclesiástica Brasileira, 66 / 263 (July 2006) 691-701, Petrópolis, Brazil.
[In Italian:]
Crisi della Vita Religiosa in Europa, sfida per la Vita Religiosa mondiale. «Adista», 36(14 maggio 2005)7-12, Roma [In this digital edition at RELaT: 6 marzo 2010]

 

The events occurring in Europe at the beginning of the XXI Century in the area of religious life are worthy of attentive consideration.  In this paper we will focus primarily on religious life, especially as it exists in Spain, but we will keep in mind the larger problem that affects Christianity as whole and religion in general in Europe.

 

SEE

a) Statistically

Using numbers as our starting point, it can be said that religious life in Europe[1] has “collapsed”.  For those who have not been there, to say “collapsed” can appear to be an exaggeration, but historically speaking I believe it is an adequate word.  For several decades vocations were scare, but in more recent years, it can be said that vocations simply do not exist. The very few persons who commit themselves to religious life are really “the exception that confirms the rule.”

Several years ago in the periodical Sal Terrae[2], José María Mardones, when speaking about the pastoral agents in Spain stated that there was very little room to move and that the situation was reaching “a point of no return”.  Today that point has been surpassed and the situation has moved beyond that which Mardones announced: now we are simply trying to prepare for the landing, for the conclusion of the flight.  Everything indicates that Western Europe is approaching the time when religious life will disappear as a relevant[3] and vigorous protagonist in society and the church. Indeed, religious life as we have know it, is disappearing.

In a group of human persons, not only is their number important but so also is their age.  The median age of religious has reached 65[4] --- the age of retirement.  As a whole, religious do not enjoy the best of health: the great majority of their members are not flexible enough to change, do not have the ability to renew themselves or adapt to new circumstances or open new frontiers, much less carry out radical reforms.  The problem of age (and the corresponding lack of vitality) is as serious as the decreasing number of those actually associated with religious life.[5]

Because of a lack of personnel, many congregations are joining together with others and reducing their houses and regional organizations. The latest figures published in 2005 by the Spanish Conference of Religious indicate that male religious in Spain, who in 1980 numbered 30,100, had in 2000 a total figure of 16,618, and that in the last four years, to 2004, the reduction has been more pronounced, so that total figure has fallen by a staggering 22% to today’s number of just over thirteen thousand. This has led to the closing of over 400 communities or priories throughout Spain. For female religious, the drop in those same four years has been of just 4%. It is a generally accepted reality that young Europeans are not opting for the religious life, and - as far as religious who were born in Europe are concerned -religious life in Europe will be extinguished within one or, at most, two decades. Figures from the Institute for Youth indicate that, among Spaniards aged between 15 and 29, the percentage who declare themselves practising Catholics has plummeted from 28% in 2000 to 14.2% in 2004. (Apart from the ‘unusual’ Italian scene, no country in  the world has more religious men and women than Spain.)

On the other hand, in the traditional societies of Africa and Asia, vocations continue to flourish.  In some countries, the vocational boom is so strong that the general government of some congregations has been obliged to impose restrictions on the number of admissions into the seminary.  India and Nigeria, for example, have large numbers entering religious life. Poland, however, with its acceptance of neo-liberalism, has ceased to be a source for vocations.

Using Latin America as a comparison, we know that just a few years ago we thought that “secularization” had not left its mark on religious life in Latin America.  Vocations continued to flourish.  Nevertheless, beginning in 2000, almost all of Latin America had experienced a new movement: most of the religious communities, men and women, observed signs of a new tendency with regard to vocations, namely, a decline in numbers.  Religious life in Latin America is being “maintained” at a certain level (it is not growing nor are its members being sent abroad).  It is perceived that a new era has begun, an era that will transform Latin America into the image of “secularized” Europe.  This transformation will ultimately lead religious life in Latin America along the same course as that of Europe.

 

b) Institutionally

Many theologians affirm that Catholic religious life finds itself in a position of institutional captivity.  By nature religious life is clearly charismatic and prophetic, yet the official institutional Church has placed them within the ironclad framework of Canon Law, thus depriving them of any possible prophetic freedom.[6]  Religious life has been assimilated into the institutional functioning of the Church --- concretely speaking, the clergy, as an intermediate group, have been completely controlled by the institution and assimilated into it.  During this “wintertime” of the Church, religious life is also passing through a time of “interior winter:” a great number of its initiatives have been suffocated and subjected to Vatican control (the elaboration and renewal of their Constitutions, the submission of their publications and other writing, the censure of their theologians [both men and women], the extraordinary intervention against CLAR [Commission for Latin American Religious] and some large religious congregations --- Jesuits, Franciscans, Carmelites).  Yet most religious communities feel comfortable with these institutional cannonical statutes.  Indeed it is an exception when a religious congregation feels that this institutional domestication goes against the very essence of religious life as a religious-cultural movement.[7]

Given the present environment, it can be seen that in many areas religious life is being governed by men and women “administrators”. “This is not the time for prophecy, but for wisdom; not the time for far-reaching expectations, but for limited expectations” --- these words are spoken to justify their passivity and connivance In the past three decades, the risk takers and the creative people have been put aside.  It is as though religious life has suffered a hemorrhage that has ceased only because there is nothing left to hemorrhage.  Lacking a spirit of renewal and prophetic leaders, congregations democratically elect leaders who are “administrators”, “church people”, “people within the system”, who know how to avoid conflict and accommodate themselves without causing tension to the ecclesial “wintertime”.

As a whole, religious life is no longer viewed as a moral force in European society. For quite some time religious life has become marginalized, lacking in real social leadership, absent from important forums that shape public opinion and the future.  Their interventions are closely aligned with the right, with conservative elements and social forces that hinder progress rather than with utopian and inventive forces that lead to a new future.  Not even in the current debate about religion and the transformation of society do they make a positive contribution.  They reduce themselves to seeking privileged influence and respect for the democratic and secular character of society.

It should be noted, for example, that in Catholic Spain, religious life for the most part identifies itself with the right, politically, ethically and economically. It takes a defensive position and places itself within the framework of the Church, which as an institution has little credibility in society[8].

 

c) Spiritually

Without fear of exaggerating, it can be affirmed that in Europe, religious life as a whole is not alive or overflowing with creativity and restlessness or filled with proposals to discover new roads that lead to the future.  On the contrary (not in theory but at this precise minute), religious life appears to be an intellectual desert, including theologically.  Few offer an opinion; no one debates; no one takes a risk to point out possible solutions or offer at least a new interpretation…  No one expects this nor even desires that this be done.  González Faus states that the Catholic Church is still living under a Pontificate of fear. When at one time (during the conciliar period) there was dialogue and spiritual effervescence, now there is only emptiness and even repression.  No one speaks of transcendence, but people simply “mark time”, “waiting for Godot”, without explaining what they are waiting for and fearful at the same time.

It is not as though people have “their swords raised on high” contesting society or involved in some intra-ecclesical theological polemic.  There is simply great indifference and apathy.  European societies that fifty years ago were more than 80% christian, today have turned their back on christianity and are not interested in it.  In this context, religious life, like the Catholic Church, feels abandoned, as though a divorce has taken place in their old age:  there is no one with whom to discuss the matter; life has emigrated with young people to other places and the elders have been left behind to rejoice in a well deserved retirement.

This can seem to be a very negative description but only to those who find themselves unprepared.  Those who have reflected on this theme on more than one occasion will find it realistic, even though painful. Religious life in Europe is not only in crisis but in a critical and grave period, perhaps terminal in that which relates to European religious life (not religious life “in” Europe)[9].  A situation that when viewed with christian hope is a “kairos”, an opportunity that calls us together and challenges us.

It should be pointed out that these generalizations would be false and unjust if they were interpreted literally.  We must acknowledge the great social service that religious life has given to society, the good will and personal generosity (even heroic) of religious men and women ministering in the midst of a secularized European society.  While we refer to some over-arching characteristics of religious life, we do not deny the great good that has been accomplished in particular places.

 

JUDGE

• The problem is not with religious life but with the church

I say this as a way of partially acquitting religious life: yet religious life suffers and shares the global crisis of Christianity.  Religious life forms part of the church --- a qualified part and is not able to escape the crisis of its global ecclesial point of reference.

Religious life cannot be considered in isolation, apart from its responsibilities.  Religious life is part of a package and everything is in that part of the package.  Every aspect of religious life is charged with history, primitive references, and ancient foundations that communicate, unconsciously, an unstated but well-known sense of belonging to a pre-modern, medieval and even pre-christian world.

For example, how do we interpret today obedience, chastity, clericalization (as it appears it congregations of men and women), mission, and the relationship of religious life to the church?   How do we interpret these realities and leave aside their monarchical origins, their medieval perspective, their so-called mythology, their pre-modern values, their spiritualistic, monarchist, antidemocratic, enemy of the body, contrary to freedom and human development tendencies?  All of these elements are obsolete and yet still play a role in the proclaimed and lived essence of religious life.  Is it possible to re-read religious life and “free if from the chains of the past?”  Or, having passed through several millennium shackled to secular traditions, today, in an era of change, is the only thing possible, the construction of a new building?

Religious life carries within every piece of its beautiful mosaic, an enormous wealth of references that pertain to an institution (the church, and in a wider sense, religion) that is in crisis.  As much as religious life may want to, it cannot separate itself from or wash its hands of this crisis unless it sets itself apart with a clear prophetic rupture….  which it is incapable of doing right now.

But let us take another step.

 

• The problem is not with christianity but with religion

Again I say this as a way of partially acquitting the church and religious life: the crisis that Christianity is actually experiencing in Europe is not a crisis in Christianity itself, but a crisis in Christianity as a religion.  In the recent past, we have seen this as a crisis in Christianity, but today we are aware of the fact that the crisis is deeper:  religion itself is in crisis. If the historical European religion were something else, then it would be this “something else” that would be in checkmate.  What is in question is not just Christianity but “the form in which humanity is religious”..[10]  This form has prevailed since the beginning of the agrarian society but today the last vestiges of this society are beginning to disappear in vast sectors of Europe and this is the first time that this phenomenon is occurring in history  

During the past ten thousand years, “religions”[11] have maintained themselves as a type of religion that is agrarian by nature.  In the present social-cultural context, society is becoming less and less agrarian and must inevitably shed its “agrarian form of religion” which makes it most inaccessible. It must be understood that religion (in its anthropological-social-cultural form, a form assumed by human spirituality during the past ten thousand years) is going to disappear.  Religiosity and human spirituality will continue and endure, but they will be transformed as they pass through a type of mutation or metamorphosis from which something perhaps unrecognizable will emerges.

It would take much space to prove all of this and I do not pretend to do that here.  But those who have begun to surmise this “vision” now see these things being clarified:  the agrarian world is dying, disappearing and this is irreversible.  On this Titanic many things are sinking to the bottom.  But neither life itself nor spirituality is sinking.  Yes, certain forms are disappearing; an historical figure and a whole social-cultural vehicle is mortally wounded, even though it is predicted that its final agony will be prolonged

Religious life is an institution that forms part of the Catholic Church, which in turn is an institution configured as a form of religion that, speaking in social-cultural terms, is in decline (in the historical sense that we have made precise here).  It is probable, as Tillard says:  “if we are not the last of the religious, then we are surely the last representatives of this historical way of being religious.  This present way is fading away.”  Like the multinational corporation that wants to survive in an aggressive market, so religious life ought to make a great investment in investigation, creativity, human resources, new experiences…. that will allow it to grasp the forms which can crystallize the deepest essence of religious life in the future society.  Perhaps it can survive if it is willing to cast aside every residue of bygone historical forms.  Unfortunately religious life is not doing this

 

• The problem is not with Europe but with advanced society

What is occurring in Europe is not some type of problem that is historically peculiar to this region.  Rather it is the result of a social-cultural transformation that is taking place on this continent as it moves from an agrarian society to a post-industrial society and ultimately to a technological society, a ‘knowledge society’, one that is about to be definitively established.  If this social-cultural transformation were occurring in South-east Asia or Africa, then they would also be experiencing this “crisis of religion.”  This crisis cannot be identified as “European”.

Sooner or later this social-cultural transformation will take place on the whole planet, and I believe that because of the unification and worldwide extension of communication, this transformation will occur sooner rather than later.  It is not that the European crisis will be exported to other continents.  Rather, as other areas of the world enter an advanced form of society and rid themselves of the “infrastructure” of the agrarian society, then they will begin to experience this same crisis.

Thus, the problem of religious life in Europe is not the fact that it is European but that it is lived and inculturated in a society that is in a state of cultural mutation.  For example, the men and women religious from Africa and Asia who are ministering in Europe can help the church and religious life prolong the traditions that today are disappearing.  It is improbably, however, that these same religious can help open new inculturated avenues that the Europeans themselves do not know how to open.  In past centuries, the European missions were established by men and women traveling from an advanced society to a less developed society.  It is highly unlikely that a missionary movement in the opposite direction can be successful at a time of such profound cultural change.  The needed change can only be assumed  and responded to by those who have known, assumed, and lived this crisis within themselves. 

•The problem is not one of “updating” but of “mutation”

Awareness of this problem is new, and the reader knows that only a minority are fully conscious of this problem.  There is great confusion about the actual situation.  Everyone perceives that something very profound and very unexpected has occurred, but the magnitude is so wide that no one has been able to localize it, to pin point it, and/or to express it.  Therefore, perhaps we are in a time of waiting (this waiting is apart from the unnecessary halt that has resulted from the “ending of the Pontificate”, a waiting that the Catholic Church is now experiencing), and no one dares to undertake new interpretations.

I believe, however, that this much can be said:  we are on the top of a hill.  We are at a time when a whole new horizon appears before our eyes.  The old view has become more distant, relative and is beginning to disappear.  The problem has changed radically.  The reference point to resolve the problem is not located in the past, (during the past four decades we have referred back to Vatican II).  The problem demands that we “break” with the past that is disappearing and create a new present with our anchor placed on a new North, and situated in an essentially different future.

Let me explain.  During the last two decades, we have thought, with reason, that the great error of the official church was rooted in her attempts to reverse Vatican II.  But things have changed.  That was her primary error but it cannot be said that now it is the greatest problem or the first remedy.  The ultimate difficulty (the most profound) which only now[12] we are becoming aware of, but which, little by little, will clearly surface before us, is not the problem of frustrated conciliar “aggiornamento” but the “mutation” that is currently taking place  After forty years we have to stop looking at the Council as a point of reference.  The “modern world” with which the Council wanted to enter into dialogue, no longer exists; we have a new group to dialogue with.  If we tried updating in line with the Council, and even if this updating were successful, it would be completely out of step with the present reality.  The problem resides not in the fact that the “modern world” has disappeared, but goes much deeper. The agrarian world that makes possible a type of religion like “Christianity” is disappearing.  The Titanic is sinking and it is useless to kick against the goad, trying to fix it, refloat it or redirect it.  The problem is not one of reform or re-establishment but rather one of mutation, metamorphosis and recasting.

Unless religious life adopts this perspective, it will continue to put patches on the problem and allow the boat to sink.  It will remain enslaved in the smallness of its vision.  Its institutions, in as much as they belong to a “religion” in decline, will also inevitably decline.  Even though they are in good health, they will still sink with the Titanic on which they have embarked.  The one realistic hope consists in saving only that which can be saved, remaining with what one has and ridding oneself of all hindrances.  One must abandon that which cannot be saved and allow death to take that which must die.  “The art of dying.”

What can probably be saved is…. primarily: the talent of religious radicalism and boundlessness, that is, the ability to live on the frontier, free and unfettered in an unknown society that is coming into being, in a society that will help us (by force) strip ourselves of everything that is disappearing with the appearance of this new society… This can be accomplished by those willing to live religious life with all it radicalism, on the edge of the challenge, giving death to that which must die (“Let the dead bury the dead”), co-provoking a mutation of religious forms “beyond religion” and not looking upward (at that which is leaving us or does not allow us to act) nor looking behind us, like a statue of salt (attached to traditions), and trying to renew a religion that is dying.

 

ACT

I want to make some observations with regard to ways of acting, but also want to allow each person to come to their own conclusions as applicable to their concrete situation.

- The crisis in Europe is a new theological place (“locus theologicus”). During the past three decades Christianity has looked at Latin America, yet at the present time the events taking place in Europe have taken on a theological relevance and a religious significance that merit the attention of Christians everywhere.  Europe must be carefully examined, for the present situation of religious life and the Church in Europe, might very well begin to appear in many other parts of the world.

The lived reality of Europe will, in the future, become the reality of other continents and the present experience of European Christianity will, in the future, be the experience of other religions.  Because of the cultural osmosis created by the present system of communication, the Third World may very well experience this reality before it reaches the stage of adequate post-industrial development.  This would indeed complicate the situation and create of a state of schizophrenia: a large part of the third world would quickly become a society with a post-religious (post-industrial) mentality, yet find itself in the midst a society with an infrastructure that is agrarian or simply industrial. 

- The “mission to Europe” is not the solution.  Religious life in Europe will not resolve its crisis by “importing” diocesan or religious from the Third World or from some other place, nor will the European Church secure its future by “importing”, for example, seminarians from African and Latin America.  These seminarians and young religious could help maintain the classical activities of the Church, its cult, parish life, popular devotions…. in other words, the traditional aspects, “that which has always been”  --- the areas that are dying.  It will not be easy for these young foreigners to contribute to the construction of a “religion without religion” that is proper to an advanced society or a language that arises from within as the mature fruit of this crisis of classical religion and arises as a result of having lived this crisis on a very intense level.  Help from the Third World might be beneficial for the continuation of classical European religion (but not perhaps for its survival).  Only those who have lived and understood the depths of this crisis can create a religious language that is substantially new, coherent, and creative.  Indeed, only these individuals can really help.

The same thing is happening to religious life in Europe: with the influx of religious from other continents, the presence of religious life in Europe can be maintained.  This, however, will take on a form that continues religious life but does not truly “enter” Europe or “establish” communities that are really present and incarnate (not only physically but also mentally and spiritually) in this new model of post-industrial advanced society which is the society that rejects the old form of religious life.  This is the only kind of “re-establishment” that can have a future.[13]

- If religious life were a multi-national corporation in crisis, then they would be willing to risk a great part of their budget and invest monies in the area of investigation and creativity in order to survive in a rapidly changing market.  If religious life had a vision for the future, then it would invest its primary energies and best human resources in re-inventing the future, in investigating the true nature of the actual crisis and in assuming whatever risk is necessary to create a new future…  Religious would have to be experts in such themes as the present religious crisis, the cultural changes taking place in advanced societies and the profound reconsideration of the nature of religion. They would have to be aware of the serious criticism leveled against traditional and classical religion and be willing to critique those elements of classical religion that have to be abandoned if it is not to fall into greater irrelevance.  They must not only be technical experts in these areas, but also practical specialists, committed to experimentation.  It seems to us, however, that nothing like this is occurring.[14]

- It is necessary to respect the rhythm and time of each person.  There are individuals, generations and institutions that have fulfilled their mission.  Our time is not synchronized with history’s time.  We have to know how to accept the hour of death; we have to learn the “art of dying”[15]:  dying without bitterness, but with hope and trust, dying in such a way that it becomes possible that from our own death, life springs up anew for those who follow us and thus the torch is entrusted to other hands.

- It is also necessary to learn the “art of living”, the art of living in the present time, the present historical “kairos”.  This is not the time to pause and listen nostalgically to the hymn “Near to Thee My God” being sung on the stern of the Titanic. We have to learn how to move beyond the past and launch out into the future.  We have to stop trying to fix what cannot be fixed and clothe ourselves in new life.

Re-establish or recast?  We see that re-establishment is not the answer.  The events of the past 15 years show the failure of the attempts of re-establishment within the system.  We must recast the heavy metal that weighs us down, recast it in the furnace, form new molds, recast it outside the system so that instead of being crushed it can have a possible future.  We do not need any more attempts of re-establishment, of repeating the past; what we need is a “mutation”, a substantial change.

- And in Latin America?  Classically the ravaging “enemy” of Catholicism in Latin America was the “sects”.  For some years now, people have begun to speak about the emergence of another enemy: indifference.  We are seeing many faithful men and women in Latin America abandoning the Catholic Church --- abandoning it not to join other new religious movements, but to enter a state of indifference.  This has just begun and will become more serious in the coming years.  As we have said, this is occurring not because there is a problem with religious life in Latin America but because there is a problem with “religion” in the actual society that is in the midst of a profound social change, a substantial mutation. Though it has just begun, it is nonetheless a reality on our Latin American continent.  If religious life does not carefully analyze this situation and take into consideration the very profound factors that are in play here, then religious life with not resolve their own problems nor the problems of others, because these problems will not have been stated correctly.

 

 

 


[1]  Probably some of the same things (concerning this starting point and other matters discussed in this article) could be said about religious life in the United States.  I am going to limit myself, however, to a discussion of religious life in Europe, primarily, Spain.

[2]  “What makes this worse is that we have ‘no room to move’.  There are no possibilities of reacting creatively.  There are only reactions and defensive moves: make an ordered and intelligent retreat, with the least possible ‘costs’.  In this situation there is no possibility for a creative confrontation with the future to initiate pastoral actions or explore new possibilities” Sal Terrae 1022 (April, 1999), 282.

[3] Absolute “dissolution” never occurs in the historical evolution of social movements:  something “residual” always remains and can be prolonged for decades or even centuries…

[4]  This fact was published by CONFER in Spain in 2003.  This median age also coincides with that of the diocesan priests in Spain.

[5]  From 1978-2002 --- the time of John Paul II’s pontificate --- the number of priests has decreased by 4%, membership in religious congregations by 19%, lay religious by 27% and women religious by 19%.  This occurred at a time when the Catholic population increased by some 300 million persons.

[6]  “The prophetic movement has been reduced to one more structure of the institutional Church.”  Cf. Diarmuid O’Murchu, Reframing Religious Life. An Expanded Vision for the Future, Paulus, United Kingdom 1998; Rehacer la vida religiosa. Una mirada abierta al futuro, Publicaciones Claretianas, Madrid 2001, p. 132.

[7]  “The idea that religious life could have meaning or significance outside of the official Church is something virtually inconceivable for the majority of men and women religious.”  Cf.  O’Murchu, ibid. p. 133.

[8]  According to an annual survey taken by “Latinbarómetro”: «El País», Madrid, October 21, 2004. Much more recently, according to the questionnaire of the BBVA Foundation relating to the Spanish university population, the Church has arrived now at a situation where it occupies the last place of all, «inspiring less confidence among Spain’s university-going population even than multi-national corporations, the government and the media. Besides, among professional groups it is the religious (men and women) who «occupy the last position, after the political leaders, the Army, the entrepreneurs and officials»; cfr «La Vanguardia», Barcelona, 4 March 2005.

[9]  I want to say here:  If within 20 years religious life becomes in great part an ensemble of religious missionaries from other countries, this would mean that “European” religious life had really ended and been substituted by religious missionaries from other continents “in Europe”

[10]  Here I refer to “religion” not as religiosity or a sense of meaning and depth, rather I refer to “religion” or “religions” as those forms that the spiritual character of the human person set up during that time of change known as the agrarian revolution, forms that humanity has lived with until the present time. Now, however,  it is precisely the agrarian society that is disappearing.

[11]  In the precise meaning that we are giving to this word.  Cf. Mariano Corbí, Religión sin religion, PPC, Madrid, 1996.

[12]  This “only now” is simply a way of speaking and can always be contradicted.  I want to call attention to the French author Marcel Légaut, who 30 years ago spoke of a necessary “mutation” and metamorphosis in Christianity (his call then parallels my thesis here).  He was a visionary who without the actual instruments of anthropological-cultural interpretation, captured that which is no less easier for us to see today.  Cf. Mutación de la Iglesia y conversion personal, Aubier, Paris, 1975 or Creer en la Iglesia del Futuro, Sal Terrae, Santander, 1985.

[13]  Diarmuid O”Murchu, noting the observations of Raymond Hostie about the “cycles of religious life” states that the appearance of a new form of religious life “will probably not occur for another seventy years.”  His observations are very interesting though he does not pretend to predict the future.  Cf. ibidem, p. 127.

[14]  The results of the last Congress on the Consecrated Life that took place in Rome in November, 2004, seem to confirm this:  its conclusions appear to be more an exercise in literature, poetry and conceptual ingenuity than an exercise in theology, realism and prophecy.  The most radical problems of Christianity and the Church are not even mentioned --- they simply do not exist.  Teilhad de Chardin said that the difficulty does not reside in solving a problem, but in planting the problem before oneself.  This was the problem of the Congress on the Consecrated Life.  What is worse is that perhaps this indicates that this is the problem with religious life throughout the world, for officially all of religious life was represented at the Congress.

[15]  “My impression is that God asks religious and the monastic orders to have the courage to truly actualize themselves or accept a peaceful death.”  Marcelo Barros, Circular Letter of October, 2002.

Translated by Charles T. Plock, C.M.




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