Religious orders face continued pressures to “secularize” and this threatens their identities and their mission in the world, according to the retiring leader of the Vatican’s office on religious life.
In a Feb. 16 interview with Vatican Radio, Cardinal Franc Rode warned that secularization that “has penetrated many communities and consciences.”
“Secularization,” he said, “is expressed in prayer (that is) often formal and without meditation and it damages the concept of obedience, introducing a certain “democratic” mentality that excludes the role of legitimate authority.”
Cardinal Rode, a Slovenian, is stepping down as prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for religious, a position he has held since 2004. He will be replaced by a Brazilian, Archbishop Joao Braz de Aviz, who was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI on Jan. 4.
Cardinal Rode told Vatican Radio that religious communities have been “hotbeds of spiritual liveliness and missionary dynamism” throughout the Church’s history.
The “great reforms” within the Catholic Church have been pushed by religious, he noted. Religious have historically been the most persecuted, but also “the most canonized,” he added.
In travels to Latin America, Africa and Asia in recent years, Cardinal Rode said he continues to see an “admirable devotion” among the many varieties of religious men and women of the world, which number around 1.1 million.
The situation in the religious communities of the world is not all roses, however. “Religious life is in difficulty today and this must be recognized,” said the cardinal.
It also threatens to turn works of charity into pure social service, which he said causes harm to the proclamation of the Gospel.
In such an atmosphere, “a society of well-being” is pursued over questions of eternity, explained Cardinal Rode.
He warned that there are signs of secularization all over the globe, but that they are most prominent in the West.
Cardinal Rode said that since his appointment he has been working on “seeking to overcome this mentality of secularization and reasserting the fundamental values of consecrated life - making of religious men and women ... a force of renewal of the Church.”
He has turned both to the “healthy strengths” of traditional communities and the “new spiritual currents” of the more recently founded communities in the process.
The cardinal expressed his confidence in the new religious communities cropping up in places such as France, Spain, Italy, Brazil, Peru and the U.S. which are “surging against the spirit of secularism.”
“These communities give great importance to prayer and to the fraternal life lived in community; they insist on poverty and obedience: all take the religious habit, a visible sign of their consecration,” he explained.
“(They) call man to his transcendent destiny and constitute a force of renewal, of which the Church has a great need.”