Renewal of Religious Life Is Addressed in New Document

Numbers Have Fallen by 18.7% Since 1978

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 14, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The Vatican has published a document for the renewal of religious life, even as data show a sharp decline in the ranks of some congregations and orders.

The document, or instruction, entitled “Restarting from Christ: A Renewed Commitment of the Consecrated Life in the Third Millennium,” runs about 60 pages.

Presented today by the Vatican Press Office, the instruction is a result of September´s plenary meeting of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

The instruction comes at a time when some religious orders and congregations are experiencing a shortage of vocations. Worldwide, the Catholic Church reports there are 801,185 women religious; 55,057 non-ordained men religious; and 139,397 religious priests.

The figures do not include permanent deacons belonging to religious institutes or members of secular institutes (30,687 people), the IVICON news service of religious in Spain reported.

The number of religious men and women has dropped 18.7%, from 1,225,056 to 995,639, in the years 1978 to 2000.

The most striking decrease, 27%, was among non-ordained religious men, whose ranks fell from 75,802 to 55,057 in the same period.

Women religious declined by 19.1%. Religious priests fell by 12%.

Among all religious, 16.4% live in Asia, up from 9% in 1978. Africa has 7% of all religious, up from 4.25% in 1978. The Americas remain virtually unchanged (29.6%). Europe is declining, claiming 45% now, versus 54% in 1978.

The instruction emphasizes that the renewal of the religious life, “in the first place,” must keep “the spiritual life” in mind, in order to live the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity and obedience) fully. It highlights the importance of witness, especially in aid to those who suffer.

The text calls for renewed vigor in missionary activity, and insists that the proclamation of the Word must be coupled with the implementation of the works of God, following the example of the early Church. It also warns that part of the price may involve facing up to persecution.

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