VATICAN CITY, DEC. 10, 2002 ( John Paul II proposed guidelines to surmount the crisis of vocations to the religious life in Brazil, a country which nevertheless has more candidates to the diocesan priesthood.

According to the Statistical Yearbook of the Catholic Church, in 1995 Brazil had 7,600 religious-congregation priests; in 2000 that number was down to 7,358. However, in this same period the number of diocesan priests in Brazil rose to 9,240 from 7,882.

The crisis of religious vocations in Brazil is also evident among consecrated women. In 1995 there were 36,031 women religious in the country, while in 2000 their number decreased to 35,365.

There are 5,384 students of philosophy and theology in Brazil's seminaries who aim to be diocesan priests, while there are 3,447 who want to be religious priests. A few decades ago, this proportion was the reverse.

At the conclusion today of their every-five-year visit to Rome, Brazilian bishops of the Northeast Region III heard an address from John Paul II.

The Pope analyzed the worrisome crisis of religious vocations in Brazil, given that religious have had a big role in the country's evangelization. Brazil has 144 million baptized Roman Catholics, the largest number in the world.

As reflected in the data of the Statistical Yearbook, the Holy Father also recognized that "it is a very important problem for the life of the Church all over the world."

He offered a key in response to the phenomenon. "A religious life that does not express the joy of belonging to the Church and, with it, to Jesus Christ, has already lost the first and fundamental opportunity of a pastoral vocational program," the Pope said.

In particular, he appealed to the heads of religious congregations and institutes "to offer men and women novices a human, intellectual and spiritual formation that will make possible a conversion of the whole being to Christ, so that the consecration will increasingly configure its oblation to the Father."

More concretely, the Holy Father said that the "activities and programs of the National Conference of Religious must, above all, be characterized by reverent respect and special obedience to the Successor of Peter and the instructions emanating from the Apostolic See."

These activities of the conferences of religious, the Pope added, "must be under the supervision and concrete responsibility of the major superiors and the diocesan bishop."

The Pontiff referred to the confusion created in some people of good faith by projects to "re-found congregations," because at times they forget that this term should mean "above all to begin again integrally from Christ and examine with humility and generosity their thinking with the Church" -- he used the more complete Latin expression "sentire cum Ecclesiae."

In order to address the challenge of the vocational crisis, the Holy Father appealed to men and women religious to make an examination of conscience over the implementation to date of the renewal proposed by the Second Vatican Council.

"Have you tried to follow it faithfully and produced the fruits of holiness and apostolic zeal that were expected?" he asked.

"Some documents published in subsequent years, with my approval, on the formation of religious Institutes and on the contemplative life -- have these been put into practice?" the Pope queried.

"The renewal of religious life will depend on growth in the love of God, always being aware that 'the contemplation of divine things and assiduous union with God in prayer' must be the first and principal duty of all religious,'" the Holy Father said quoting Canon 663.1 of the Code of Canon Law.

"The only effective way to increasingly discover one's own identity is the arduous but consoling path of sincere and personal conversion, with a humble recognition of one's own imperfections and sins; and confidence in the power of the resurrection of Christ will help to overcome all aridity and weakness, to eliminate the sense of disillusion experienced on certain occasions," John Paul II continued.

In sum, the papal response to surmount the crisis lies not in reducing the commitment of religious in favor of man to "one dimension, which inevitably ends up by being historicist and immanentist." This is why religious of "prayer and work" are needed, he said.

"Action and contemplation are binomials that in Christ, never deteriorate in antithetical clashes; rather they mature in mutual complementarity and fruitful integration," the Pope explained.

"Present day society needs to see in consecrated men and women the harmony that exists between the human and the divine, between visible and invisible things, and as the latter surpass the former, without trivializing or humiliating them, but rather raising them to the level of the eternal plan of salvation," the Holy Father concluded.