1978–Religious and Human Promotion

(Plenaria of the Sacred Congregation for Religious and for Secular Institutes, 25-28 April 1978)

(Selected texts that deal with formation based on  A. Values  and Principles  of consecrated life,    B. Vocations, C. Initial formation and D. Ongoing formation. )

  1. Values  and Principles  of consecrated life


Importance and urgency of appropriate involvement of religious in integral human promotion

The evangelical demands of religious life find an incentive for renewal in the “signs of the times.” The Church, in her mission to contemporary society, needs to study carefully the emerging phenomena that characterize our times. These indicate the areas of choice for evangelization and human promotion.

The teaching of the Magisterium, in fact, increasingly clarifies the profound links between the Gospel requirements of the Church’s mission and the widespread commitment to the advancement of people and the creation of a worthy society.

Evangelization, for the Church, means bringing the Good News into all strata of humanity and through it transforming humanity itself from within: its criteria of discernment, its determinant values, its sources of inspiration, its designs for living, opening them up to a total vision of humanity (1).

To accomplish this mission, the Church must search out the signs of the times and interpret them in the light of the Gospel, thus responding to persistent human questions (2).

Religious are called to give singular witness to this prophetic dimension. The continuous conversion of heart and spiritual freedom which the Lord’s counsels inspire and promote make religious present to their contemporaries in such a way as to remind everyone that the building of the secular city must be founded on the Lord and have him as its goal (3).

Since the profession of the counsels binds religious to the Church in a special way (4), it is they who are exhorted more insistently and trustingly to renew themselves wisely in openness to human needs, problems and searching (5).

Over and above the social and political dramas, in fact, the Church is conscious of her special mission to give a decisive answer to the profound questions of the human heart (6).

For this reason, recent documents of the Magisterium, wishing to integrate adequately evangelization and human promotion, stress how fruitful the relationship between evangelization and religious life is for the common mission of the Church (7) and the extent to which the work of religious has contributed in every age to the human and spiritual promotion of humanity (8).

A radical change of mentality and attitudes (9) is needed to apply evangelical commitment to the concrete and often disturbing problems of human promotion.

This path of conversion, involving persons and preferential decisions in apostolic initiatives and works, was bound to have its moments of uncertainty and difficulty.

Besides, the doctrinal reassessment which, in various parts of the world, accompanied the praiseworthy endeavor to participate in the complex realities of the times, revealed positive and stimulating intuitions as well as narrow and ambiguous views.

The reflections of the Synod on Evangelization in the Modern World (1974), and later, the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, gave important clarifications and guidelines.

Religious faced particular problems and difficulties when they tried to intervene more decisively in the areas of greater injustice and oppression. Conflicting viewpoints within the ecclesial community and within the institutes themselves made the search for solutions still more difficult.

Furthermore, changed social and political contexts were creating new and unexpected situations. The traditional expressions of religious life were bound to face difficult challenges in their manner of presence and in their apostolic works. The need for greater solidarity with their contemporaries, especially the poor and the underprivileged, compelled religious men and women to become more actively involved, sometimes even in the working world and in politics.

The importance and urgency of the appropriate involvement of religious in integral human promotion prompted the Sacred Congregation for Religious and for Secular Institutes to give special attention in this matter to the specific role of religious in the mission of the Church.

The intention was to encourage a real search for renewal and, on the basis of circumstances and experience, to offer criteria for discernment inspired by the Magisterium of the Church, by the nature and mission of religious life, and by the goals of an evangelization which is closely linked to human promotion in today’s historical circumstances.

  • The Plenaria of the Sacred Congregation of 25-28 April 1978, therefore, studied a number of matters resulting from a wide-ranging international inquiry, in which the episcopal conferences, the pontifical representatives, numerous institutes of both men and women, and the conferences of major superiors, men and women, collaborated.
  • Four major concerns surfaced as of utmost importance:

A) The option for the poor and for justice in our time.

B) Social activities and works of religious.

C) Involvement in the working world.

D) Direct participation in politics.

  • The resulting guidelines are intended to assist all those who are responsible for religious life in the Church in their task of communication, formation and coordination. It is they who must approve criteria and choices which, while taking into account the principles and guidelines offered here, respond to the diversity and complexity of the situations, so that Episcopal Conferences and Conferences of Religious in the different countries may reinforce the specific role of religious life in the common task of evangelization and human promotion in whatever ways they deem most suitable.
  • The pastoral teaching of John Paul II has, in the meantime, clarified and defined the presence and involvement of the Church in the world, giving additional matter for reflection and inspiration. It highlights the present attention given both to human problems and to the irreplaceable encounter with Christ and with his Gospel.

We are encouraged, therefore, to clarify the direction of a path of evangelization and human promotion which, by a new and special title of consecration to God and to his purpose in human history, pertains to religious in the Church.



1. The desire to be increasingly involved and active in the present historical situations within which the Church fulfills her mission seems to be a constant factor in religious renewal:

  •  in those places where, either through the works of their institutes or those of the local Church, religious are called to carry out a social mission which is at the same time profoundly religious,
  •  and also, in those places where circumstances require new initiatives which are more pertinent to the life and problems of the people.

In every situation, however, careful reflection is needed to specify common criteria and options.

This is why, taking as our starting point the four main problems surfaced by the inquiry, we wish to indicate certain important points for evaluation and guidance. It will then be easier to point out the general principles of discernment.


13. Four great loyalties constitute the basic motivation and guide of the role of religious in human promotion, according to the conciliar principles for renewal (45) and taking into account the problems examined thus far:

  • fidelity to humanity and to our times
  • fidelity to Christ and the Gospel
  • fidelity to the Church and to its mission in the world
  • fidelity to religious life and to the charism of one’s own institute.

A. Present to humanity and to our times

14. The cultural, social, and political changes which affect peoples and continents, not without distress, demand of the Church an evangelical presence which is a response to the most widespread hopes and aspirations of humanity (46).

This pressing pastoral concern, made more acute by the reflections and goals of the Second Vatican Council, has reappeared in the synods of bishops and in apostolic exhortations, appealing clearly and insistently to the Christian community to make courageous choices in the process of renewal so as to draw modern men and women to the Gospel, the source of all authentic human and social progress (47).

15. The history of today’s world, embodied in the concrete existence of every person, becomes an open book for serious meditation by the Church and by all Christians (48). It is a challenge to all vocations in the Church, calling them to an exacting revision of life and commitment.

Religious, because of the radicality of their evangelical options, feel more profoundly challenged. They know that, in the measure they themselves are converted to God’s original plan for humanity as revealed in the New Man Jesus (49), they will help accelerate in others that conversion of mentality and outlook which will make the reform of economic, social and political structures authentic and stable and place them in the service of a more just and peaceful coexistence (50).

16. To achieve this, in striving for renewal in their witness and mission, all religious institutes are exhorted to procure for their members “a proper understanding of humanity, of the conditions of the times and of the needs of the Church, so that, making wise judgments about the contemporary world in the light of faith and burning with apostolic zeal, they may be able to help men and women more effectively” (51).


32. The problems facing religious life in its renewal so that there may be harmony between evangelization and human promotion have repercussions on the formation level.

This might require a revision of formation programs and methods at the initial period as well as during the successive phases and during ongoing formation.

In this regard, a re-reading of the conciliar criteria for renewal (93) will show that it is not a question of simple adaptations of certain external forms. It is a deep education in attitude and in life style which makes it possible to remain true to one’s self even in new forms of presence. This presence will always be as consecrated persons who seek the full conversion of people and society to the ways of the Gospel through witness and services (94).

33. In this regard, some aspects of formation seem to merit special attention.

a) There is need to assure an awareness of the profound nature and characteristics of religious life, both in itself and in its dynamic involvement in the mission of the ecclesial community in today’s society. Fidelity to the charism of the institute and a creative involvement in a renewal of activities and work are also among the more important elements of initial and ongoing formation.

b) The profession of the evangelical counsels, in the context of religious life-Church-modern world, may require new attitudes which are attentive to the value of prophetic sign as a power for the conversion and transformation of the world, of its mode of thinking and of its relationship (95).

c) Life in common, seen especially as an experience and witness of communion, develops the capacity for adaptation (96) permitting a response to different forms of activity. These do not weaken fraternal bonds and sharing of the institute’s specific service to the Church. In fact, with this attitude, these bonds could be strengthened.

New forms of involvement, which have been described in examining the above problems, could possibly create unforeseen situations. This calls for a spiritual and human preparation in the formation programs of religious life which can help to achieve a mature presence on the part of consecrated persons, capable of renewed relationships, both within and outside their own communities.

d) Involvement in the life of the Church and in its mission, in an attitude of co-responsibility and complementarity, implies an up-to-date knowledge of its projects and the goals it hopes to attain (97).

From the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and from the insistence with which the Synods of Bishops have referred to the matter, it is clear that there can be no dichotomy between formation for permanent Gospel commitment and human promotion according to God’s plan.

Therefore, a program of formation and renewal in religious institutes would not be adequate and complete unless it took into account the Church’s thinking in this matter (98).

This is even more necessary if religious are to be capable of their apostolic duty of reawakening consciences (99), of forming other Christians, particularly the laity, in such a way that they will assume their proper role in this common mission of evangelization and human promotion with competence and security (100).

Since the missionary dimension of the Church depends especially on the generous availability of religious (101), the formation of those called to this excellent form of evangelization and human promotion will need to be genuinely adaptable to the cultures, sensibilities and specific problems of the localities (102).

34. Chapters and general curias assume considerable importance in the programming and animation for this updating and renewal in fidelity to the Spirit and to history. It is their duty:

  • to discern the options which best respond today to the original purposes of the institute,
  • to guide the religious and communities by means of appropriate initiatives of information and formation,
  • to promote, in thoughtful and substantive dialogue, a re-thinking of works so as to motivate those who, perhaps, have done little updating and to encourage and direct the search for new and suitable approaches.

All this aims at encouraging a more attractive and clear discovery of the values of consecration and mission which are basic for a conscious and joyful membership and participation in one’s own institute.

35. Conferences of religious, because of their more immediate knowledge of ecclesial and social conditions, are in a better position to identify the problems of different countries and continents. Through an exchange of experiences and study meetings, they could, in collaboration with the Episcopal Conferences and respecting the various charisms, find solutions and means more in harmony with the hopes for integral human promotion. In all of this, let them always be inspired by the Gospel and guided constantly by the Magisterium of the Church.

Vatican City, 12 August 1980.


(1) EN 18-19.

(2) GS 4. “It is not, then, through opportunism or a desire for novelty that the Church, expert in humanity, defends human rights. It is through an authentic Gospel commitment which, as in Christ’s case, cares for the most needy” (John Paul II, Puebla, inaugural address, III, 3).

(3) LG 46.

(4) LG 44; MR 8; 10.

(5) ET 52-53.

(6) GS 10.

(7) EN 69.

(8) PP 12

(9) ET 17; GS 63; ET 52.

(10) EN 30.

(45) Cf. PC 2.

(46) GS 9.

(47) Cf. especially the Synods of 1971 and 1974; the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi which is complemented under the directly social and political aspects by Octogesima Adveniens.

(48) Cf. Redemptor Hominis 14; “The Church cannot abandon man…. Man in the full truth of his existence, of his personal being and also of his community and social being. This man is the primary route that the Church must travel in fulfilling her mission.”

(49) GS 22; RH 8.

(50) GS 63.

(51) PC 2d; MR 26-32.

 (93) PC 2, 18; Ecclesiae sanctae II, 15-19, 33-38.

(94) PC 18.

(95) ET l3-29; cf. Puebla document, n. 476: “Our social behavior is an integral part of our following of Christ.”

(96) PC 3, 15.

(97) PC 2c.

(98) “With reference to this teaching, the Church has a mission to carry out: it must preach, educate persons and groups, form public opinion, give guidance to public authorities. Draw, then, from these genuine sources. Speak with the voice of experience, of the sufferings and hopes of contemporary humanity” (John Paul II, Puebla, inaugural discourse, III, 4).

(99) ET 18.

(100) The document on Justice in the World (Synod 1971: AAS 1971, pp. 935-937), together with a synthesis of the Church’s principal doctrinal statements, also gives directives for a commitment to an “education for justice.”

And again, John Paul II (Puebla, inaugural discourse III, 7): “Allow me then to recall the urgency of sensitizing the faithful to this social teaching of the Church. Special attention should be given to the formation of a social conscience at all levels and in all sectors. When injustices are on the increase and the gap between poor and rich is widening painfully, social teaching, creative and open to the wide fields of the Church’s presence, should be an invaluable instrument of formation and action.”

(101) EN 69.

(102) AG 18, 25-27.