1986–Pope’s Message to Conference of Religious

Vatican, 11 July 1986.

            1. Beloved brothers and sisters, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 1:3).
You are gathered in this XIV General Assembly of the Conference of Religious of Brazil (CRB); like the Apostles in the Upper Room,• you are in communion with one another, your bishops and people, and, at the same time, with the Pope and the entire Church. Your communion is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ (1 Jn 1:3). Your goal is to grow in knowledge and love, in order to be witnesses to and prophets of Christ in today’s world, in dynamic fidelity to your religious vocation and to the charism of your Founders.
            Before your eyes stands, like an open book, the great people of Brazil, with all its historical, social and religious reality. Your thoughts open out to all the peoples of the world, who call upon you and present a challenge to the creativity and evangelizing capability of the whole Church, but especially of men and women religious, who have been moved by God to be pioneers on the missionary road and the paths of the Spirit.
            I am happy to address this message to you, so that your joy may be complete (cf. 1. Jn 1:4).
I would like first of all to express my gratitude to and esteem for all the religious of Brazil, for the marvellous witness of prayer and apostolic commitment that they give, guided by love and animated by hope, with no concern for the sacrifices involved. More than 39,220 women religious, 7716 religious priests, 2547 students preparing themselves for the priesthood, 2391 brothers and 2783 male and female novices are at the service of the Kingdom of God in the Church that Is in Brazil (Statistical Department CERIS, 1984). Moreover, it is a significant fact that nearly half the bishops—exactly 168—are religious, and that a great number of consecrated Brazilians serve the universal Church in mission territory. In addition, contemplative life is flourishing, with 107 women’s and 19 men’s monasteries.

I make my own the words of Paul VI: “Yes, truly the Church owes them a great deal” (EN 69). Encouraged by the Brazilian episcopate’s testimony with regard to religious life during the ad limina visits, I add: the Church is grateful to you and counts on you.
            2. Participating in your work through prayer and through this message that I entrust to His Eminence Cardinal Jerorne Hamer, Prefect of the Congregation for Religious and for Secular Institutes, I wish to call your attention to several fundamental points regarding formation, in line with the Second Vatican Council and the recent Extraordinary Synod of Bishops.
You know that the vitality of religious families, the. quality and creativity of apostolic service and the efficacy of prophetic activity depend in large part on the initial and permanent formation of those called to a such a great mission. I know ‘that this is your constant concern. In fact. in order to assure the new generations, those responsible for formation and all men and women religious of an adequate preparation, you have begun many forms of cooperation and followed with a watchful eye the various initiatives directed to their growth and specific formation, drawing upon the Word of God, attentive to the Magisterium of the Church and mindful of concrete reality.
            3. Considering formation in its entirety, the theme that you are discussing seems very opportune.. The prophetic dimension of religious life Is born of its being grafted onto Christ, the prophet par excellence, whose authority is not received by delegation as in the Old Testament, because he is the Only Begotten Son. He at once proclaims and accomplishes salvation; he transmits to the people the Word of the Father: he is the Word incarnate; he did not come to condemn, but to communicate the universal love that regenerates: he places man before God so that man might discover God’s presence, return to him, welcome him as Father, share his design with Mm and, as a son, become in Christ the builder of a new world.

            Religious, by virtue of their baptism, participate—in Christ and in the gift of the Spirit—in the prophetic mission of the whole Church, a mission that is fundamentally expressed in the hearing and the proclamation of the Word and in a life of witness: hence, in the Gospel meditated upon, proclaimed and lived.
Furthermore, because religious life continues to represent in the Church the same life condition that the Son of God embraced when he carne into the world to do the Father’s will (cf. Lumen Gentium, 44), it offers to the whole People of God a witness that we can well call prophetic. This is true, first of all, due to the multiform expression of evangelical life by means of which religious make alive and present the richness of the mystery of Christ as they follow the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience and the particular evangelical choices contained in the charisms of their founders. In this way the radical ness of discipleship in Christ and complete dedication to the service of the Church makes every religious community and each of its members a sign of evangelical life and a living and engaging witness that draws the .people of God along the ways of hoiiness and self-giving in the service of one’s neighbours.
            The message that religious life proclaims is not its own. but has been entrusted to it by Christ and the Church. Moreover, religious consecration, lived as a spousal covenant and communion of love with God, Is at the origin of an apostolic ingenuity that brings others to admire it (cf. EN 69). For many young people and adults. its witness becomes a sure mediator in the discovery of their own vocation and a joyous invitation to follow Christ with undivided heart.
What marvellous new prospects are opened up for the formation of new generations and the renewal of the people of God when the religious vocation is deepened in all its dimensions, in the light of the Church and the teaching of Vatican Il!

            I invite you to undertake it with renewed commitment. in simplicity of heart, so as to offer the young and all those who are called, the deep values that explain the meaning of their lives and their particular presence within the people of God. The young have the right to this broad and deep vision. They do not belong to us, but to Christ and the Father, like each of us. With them, and all together, linked by the bond of love (cf. Jn 13; LG 9; GS 38), we constitute God’s family, called .to be the leaven and the soul of humanity (cf. GS 40).

            4. Awareness of the times in which we are iiving -and of our responsibilities demands that we assure young men and women religious of an adequate formation, more complete than ever, in dynamic fidelity to Christ and the Church, to the charism of the founder and to mankind today.
            In the meeting at Porto Alegre on 5 July 1980, 1 posed a question to those responsible for formation, a question that I would like to repeat to you in the context of your work:
“At this decisive hour for her destiny and that of the world, will Brazil have seminaries, houses of formation or other ecclesiastical Institutions—and, above all, rectors and teachers—capable of preparing priests and religious equal to the problems posed by a population in continual growth and having – ever more vast and complex pastoral needs?” At that time I referred to certain problems that seemed to me of a high priority, so as to offer a stimulus to further reflection and study. They are problems which have been addressed along the path travelled in recent years, but which remain ever relevant; they merit continual consideration for the good of the Church and of religious and priestly life.
            Now permit me to bring to your attention certain other points concerning the formation of new generations, points that seem to me particularly important as we look to the universal Church and to your responsibilities with respect to the present and the future.

            Notwithstanding the great apostolic demands and the urgent situations in which religious families are working, careful attention in the selection and preparation of those responsible for formation remains a top priority. This ministry Is one of the most difficult and delicate, requiring all your support and trust.
            In the documents of the Magisterium of the Church those responsible for formation will always find the sure path of doctrine and life with which they must identify in order to offer young men and women religious the contents of thought and concrete style of consecrated life. This is a right that must be respected; it is an expectation that must not be defrauded, so that religious life. fully inserted in the Church, will always be nourished by the same truth that the Church offers to her children so that they will be disciples of no one but the one Master who Is Christ.
            Young men and women above all need teachers who will be for them:
men and women of .God, respectful discerners of the human heart and the ways of the Spirit, capable of responding to their needs for greater interiority, experience of God, fraternity and initiation to their mission. Those responsible for formation must know how to teach discernment, docility and obedience, reading the signs of the times and people’s needs, teaching their charges to respond to those needs with solicitude and courage, in full ecclesial communion.
            The CRB Is called to play an Important role in this area, transmitting faithfully the orientations of the Church. stimulating inter-congregational collaboration and seeing to the preparation of leaders in formation, by means of special initiatives. Working in harmony with the episcopate at all levels (national, regional and diocesan), you superiors and major superiors can take advantage of the work of the best collaborators of each institute and offer services that not only help to overcome eventual limitations, but that create a valid style of formation to religious life.

Such inter-congregational initiatives will at the same time help to make the most of specific charisms, developing communion and the awareness of complementarity in fraternity, and extending the horizons of charity to the universal Church and the entire local Church for a more united and effective evangelising and apostolic activity under the guidance of the bishops.
5. All of this clearly requires, besides the active and discreet presence of those responsible for formation and you superiors, active and timely vocational discernment. Apostolic needs and urgencies never justify hurried discernment and an inadequate preparation in the novitiate. In order to mature, a person has need of a gradual and personalized journey of faith and commitment to service. Initiation to the religious life fails in the absence of true conversion and an authentic option for Christ in freedom and the experience of his love, because “the call to the way of the evangelical counsels is born of the interior encounter with the love of Christ, which Is redemptive love” (RD3).
The whole process of formation unfolds along the axis of discipleship in Christ, in intense participation in his mysteries, actualised in the liturgy and lived in the Church, in the growing gift of self to one’s neighbours, according to the sensitivity of one’s specific vocation, in progressive participation in the charism of the founder.
Discipleship in Christ leads to increasingly aware and concrete sharing in the mystery of his Passion, Death and Resurrection. The Paschal Mystery must be the heart of the programme of formation, acting as the source of life and maturity. It Is here that there Is formed the new man: the religious and the apostle.

            Formation requires adequate time and a programme that is organic, complete, demanding, stimulating, open, and clearly inspired by the norm of norms of religious life— discipleship in Christ—and by the charism of the founder. It requires for everyone, and particularly for
– those religious called to the priesthood, a solid theological, biblical and liturgical formation, as is indicated in the norms of the universal and local Church and of every institute.
Finally, places of formation must exist that guarantee the attaining of the objectives proper to every phase of formation. It is well, then, that during the period of formation, young people reside in formative communities which are not lacking in the condition necessary for a complete formation: spiritual, intellectual, cultural, liturgical, community and pastoral: conditions that can rarely all be found in small communities. In any case, it Is always necessary to draw from the pedagogical experience of the Church whatever allows us to verify and enrich formation in a community suited to the persons and their religious and priestly vocation.
Whether this formation takes place entirely within your institutes, or is entrusted in part to inter-congregational initiatives, the part that you superiors and major superiors play is always very important in the process of formation of your young people for whom you are responsible before God and the Church.

            6. The Church of Brazil requires a very committed pastoral effort; it is a lively and dynamic Church. but the labourers are few. It Is thus easy to risk falling into activism, which can lead to spiritual emptiness and premature weariness. There is an urgent need for a constant formation to revitalize the spiritual energies of those who dedicate themselves to evangelization in any field or situation. Hence it Is the responsibility of every religious institute to plan and realize a suitable programme of ongoing formation for all its members. Such a plan must not aim merely at the formation of the intellect, but of the whole person, principally in his spiritual dimension, so that each religious may be able to uve his own consecration to God in its fullness, in the specific mission entrusted to him by the Church.
7. I have shared with you, dear superiors and major superiors, some thoughts that animate our prayer and reflection on the Church’s pilgrimage in history and that of religious life on the threshold of the year 2000. This world, today more than ever, needs to see in you men and women who have believed in the Word of the Lord and have staked everything on love. In order that your life, which has blossomed in undivided love for the Lord, might be life-giving for the whole Church and the world, we have encouraged you to “restore in the present life and mission of each institute the boldness with which your founders let themselves be conquered by the original intentions of the ‘Spirit’” (RPU 30), focusing above all on the urgency of a wise formation of the new candidates.
May Mary, the model of every consecrated person, sustain you in your pilgrimage, arouse in you full communion and the joy of belonging to Christ, and strengthen your apostolic zeal! With my affectionate and abundant Apostolic Blessing.
From the Vatican,
11 July 1986.