Addressing the issue of the dramatic fall of vocations among traditional religious communities in France, Pope John Paul told a group of French bishops that new vocations can be attracted only by “courageous witnesses.”
Speaking to bishops from the ecclesiastical province of Marseille, a region that has seen one of the most dramatics falls in Catholic devotion, the Pontiff underscored the need for a “renewal of the spiritual life of pastors, the faithful and entire communities.”
In this renewal, the Pope said, “persons committed to the consecrated life have a primordial role to play. Consecrated life in all of its forms, old and new, is a gift from God to the Church.”
John Paul II said he wanted “to repeat with conviction and strength the need for consecrated life in the Church and the world. Indeed, a diocese without communities of consecrated life would be deprived of many spiritual gifts, of places reserved for seeking God, of apostolic activities and specific pastoral methods.”
The Pope then turned to the crisis of several French communities of consecrated life, citing the bishops’ five-year report on this subject.
He said this crisis “is marked in a notable way in the apostolic congregations, by the progressive and constant decrease in the number of members of the diverse institutes,” and “by the weak numbers of candidates for the novitiates.”
“Members are ageing, with the inevitable consequences on the life of the institutes, on their witness, on their government and even on the choices linked to their missions and to where their resources are destined,” he added.
The Holy Father lauded the work done by consecrated persons “in France and in the poorest of countries, especially in Africa” where they see to “excluded people, illiterate children, street youths, people in precarious situations or poverty, those sick with AIDS, migrants and other displaced peoples.”
Attracting the young
John Paul II underscored many times in his talk the need to devote attention to young people, especially in their early and formative years, and with particular regard for those who are considering a vocation to the religious life. Young people, he said “need audacious witnesses who call on them to live the Gospel and to place themselves generously at its service.”
“In your dioceses,” the Pope continued, “consecrated life has many faces, with old and new communities existing side by side.” “New communities are a fortune for the Church,” he added, and older congregations can learn much from the enthusiasm and the ardor of new communities. The latter, he remarked, “have a courage that sometimes is missing in older institutes.”