A total of 847 religious, including 86 Americans and 29 Irish, are participating in the first-of-its-kind event.
"Consecrated life will succeed in surmounting its crisis only if it enters in the process of self-evangelization," stressed the president of the International Union of Superiors General, Sister Therezinha Rasera, at the opening session.
"None of our institutes was born to be the continuation of a static situation," she said. "Rather, on the contrary, they sought to reclaim the option for the poor."
In the congress's first address, a Spanish theologian, Sister Dolores Aleixandre of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, proposed the image of the Samaritan woman at the well and of the Good Samaritan as icons for religious life.
Sister Aleixandre emphasized the need to be by the side of one's neighbor, understanding him from Jesus' point of view.
"It is not up to you to decide who your neighbor is, but rather to be neighbor to every human being who is in need," she said.
The theologian contended that if the Samaritan woman were to address consecrated life today, she would say: "Don't be afraid to acknowledge the thirst within you, and don't deceive yourselves thinking that your condition of being consecrated exempts you from the precariousness and vulnerability that characterizes all human beings."
Sister Aleixandre speculated that if the Good Samaritan of the Gospel were to speak today, he would suggest to consecrated life "not to forget that the reason for being is to generate cohesion and facilitate structures of encounter."
The theologian proposed to the men and women religious of today to have the courage not to "escape when life makes you live situations of destabilization and crisis."
Sister Caterina Cangia, director of Vidimus Dominum, the official Web page of the congress, announced that the page received 1,000 hits Monday, a show of interest in the event.
The congress, entitled "Passion for Christ, Passion for Humanity," runs until Saturday, the day John Paul II will receive the participants together with the religious of Rome.