The Vatican's L'Osservatore Romano newspaper marked the annual Day of Consecrated Life Feb. 2 with an exclusive interview of Archbishop João Braz de Aviz, the new prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
He is still in transition from the Archdiocese of Brasilia, Brazil to his new post in the Vatican as successor of Slovenian Cardinal Franc Rode, who has retired.
Archbishop Braz de Aviz was appointed to the position Jan. 4, 2011, giving him the responsibility of more than one million consecrated religious men and women across the globe.
He has little experience with the broader range of religious communities but has been influenced by the spirituality of one particular community, Italy's Focolare Movement, since he was young.
He told the newspaper that he was introduced to Focolare’s "spirituality of unity" while studying in Assisi at the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions from 1958-1964. That encounter with Focolare, he added, saved his vocation.
"The Focolare Movement is my family since I was 17 years old," he said. "Through their spirituality, in all the dioceses I have been in .... I have always worked for the unity of charisms, communities and associations."
On a global level in the Church, Archbishop Braz de Aviz is optimistic that a communion-based approach can serve the wide range of religious realities today.
The Brazilian archbishop observed that following renewals of religious communities that bore "abundant fruits" after Vatican II, religious congregations around the world are struggling with a decrease in vocations, aging membership and different ideas from within on how to proceed.
Neither are religious communities immune to the individualism and relativism of today's world, he said, noting that it "decreases their vigor."
There is a need in religious communities "to penetrate deeper within the mystery of God, to be able to renew relations," he said.
In his experience, negativity within some institutions corresponds to a lack of contact with the theological and mystical qualities of the Trinity "as the source of communion."
While some religious might say "my maximum penance is the communal life," discovering that God is love and that man is created in his image could lead them to assert that their peers are "a constant opportunity to experience God, to experience love," he remarked.
A "criterion of communion," based in the mystery of the one and triune God is also necessary to resolve questions that derive from the autonomy and dependence of religious communities on dioceses.
"When autonomy and dependence become an experience of love, obedience and authority are balanced and a great interior joy arises," said the new prefect.
Communion is the key to combating the crisis of faith and the fall of vocations, not just in religious life, but across the board, he said.
"As the faithfulness of the baptized to their vocation as disciples increases and their testimony is given in communion with other charisms and realities of the Church," he said, "vitality will reappear."
Archbishop Braz de Aviz also spoke about the role consecrated men and women played in creating and developing the liberation theology movement. He said that movement had good intentions and noted that man's salvation depends on assisting the poor. Liberation theology, he explained, was the result of a "sincere and responsible look from the Church at the vast phenomenon of social exclusion."
He remembered a letter from John Paul II to the bishops of Brazil in which it was asserted that this theology of outreach the poor was "not only useful, but also necessary." However, he added, more theological work is needed to free up the the evangelization of the poor from an ideological approach tied to Marxist method.
Again, he suggested a methodology based on the Trinity to resolve the outstanding issues.
For him, it is a very personal matter. He remembered the period in which liberation theology was born as a time of "anguish" for him.
Throughout history, he concluded, as "pearls" and "'words' of the Gospel," religious communities have come up with spiritualities that have given the Church "important schools of theology."
"Fidelity to founders and profound communion with the Church," he said, "will be able to bring the consecrated life back to a brighter splendor in service of the Church itself and humanity."