At a meeting with the Union of Superiors General held Nov. 29, Pope Francis mentioned that he would be dedicating 2015 to consecrated life, thanking religious for their witness to Jesus Christ.

"Thank you for what you do and for your spirit of faith and your service. Thank you for your witness and also for the humiliations through which you have had to pass," the Bishop of Rome said to 120 superiors present for the group's general assembly, held in Rome Nov. 27-29.

Pope Francis' decision follows a conference on "vocational perseverance" held one month ago, at which Archbishop José Rodriguez Carballo, secretary of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life, maintained that "in five years, 13,123 left religious life."

The dedication of 2015 to religious life should promote and draw attention to the challenges facing God's call  to consecrated persons. To proclaim a year dedicated to a specific topic, shedding light on an issue deemed to be of particular importance, has recently become a common tool for Popes.

Benedict XVI proclaimed a Pauline year in 2008, a Year of the Priesthood in 2010, and the Year of Faith in 2012-2013.

Pope Francis' comments met with the superiors general for three hours, holding a wide-ranging question-and-answer session, beginning with the subject of consecrated life's identity and mission as a witness to the kingdom of God, according to the Vatican.

The consecrated are those who "can awaken the world," he said. "Consecrated life is prophecy. God asks us to fly the nest and to be sent to the frontiers of the world, avoiding the temptation to 'domesticate' them. This is the most concrete way of imitating the Lord."

The Roman Pontiff added that newer dioceses are bearing much fruit, and gave this as a reason for inculturating the charisms of religious life.

He emphasized the importance of good formation for candidates to religious life, saying that it is "not a form of policing, but is "an artisanal craft … its aim is to form religious persons with a tender heart; not acid, not like vinegar."

Continuing that theme, Pope Francis exhorted religious not to "act like managers" when faced with conflict when living in community, but rather to accept conflicts and deal with them firstly as persons.

Religious are to be respected for their charisms, he reflected, and not seen merely as "helpers" when a local Church is in need of priests.