WASHINGTON, D.C., JAN. 30, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The Vatican's Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life has begun a comprehensive study of institutes of women religious in the United States.

The congregation's prefect, Cardinal Franc Rodé, initiated the action with a decree issued Dec. 22, 2008, and officially launched today at a press conference held in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The visitation will look into the quality of the life of women religious in the United States.

Cardinal Rodé appointed Mother Mary Clare Millea, superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, as apostolic visitator. Mother Millea heads her congregation that counts on 1,250 professed sisters worldwide, including 135 in the United States.

The visitation, which will collect and assimilate data and observations about religious life, will be limited to apostolic institutes, those actively engaged in service to Church and society. Cloistered, contemplative sisters, who have distinctly different lifestyles, are excluded from the study.

Mother Millea will submit a confidential report to Cardinal Rodé at the conclusion of the task, which is expected to be completed by 2011.

Catholic women religious have been involved in apostolates such as education, health care and a variety of pastoral and social services in the United States since before the nation was founded.

According to the Washington-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) however, the number of U.S. women religious has been in decline during the past 40 years, while their median age continues to increase.

"I am truly humbled, and a bit overwhelmed," Mother Millea said of her assignment. "While I have visited each of the communities and missions in my own congregation, the thought of gathering facts and findings about nearly 400 institutes across the United States can be daunting in scope."

"I am praying for all the sisters who will be a part of this visitation, and hoping for their prayers, both for the good of the process as well as for me in this role," she continued. "I ask the prayers of the American Catholic clergy and faithful too."

Despite her sense of awe at the size of the task, Mother Millea was encouraged by the project: "I know that the object of this Visitation is to encourage and strengthen apostolic communities of women religious, for the simple reason that these communities are integral to the entire life of the Catholic
Church, in the United States and beyond."

Mother Millea indicated that while she is not obliged to visit every community of women religious, she looks forward to learning and better understanding the multi-faceted dimensions of the sisters' religious lives, as well as their abundant contributions to the Church and society
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On the Net:

For more information about the project: www.apostolicvisitation.org

Announcement of visitation: www.zenit.org/article-24960?l=english