Archbishop Franc Rodé, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, made that assessment at a two-day symposium organized by the Vatican dicastery.
The event, which ended today, was on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the publication of the Second Vatican Council decree on the renewal of religious life, "Perfectae Caritatis."
In an interview Monday with Vatican Radio, Archbishop Rodé assessed the state of consecrated life in the Church and described as notable the path "covered over these years by consecrated persons."
"A first stage," he said, "was marked by the joy of drinking again from the evangelical sources themselves and in the spirit of the origins, to rediscover their own charismatic identity with the theological and spiritual contents of their own vocation and, finally, of being able to seek again a new way 'to be' and to work in the Church and the world.
"A second stage was marked by the effort to renew the rule, adjusting it to the teachings of the Council and the modified exigencies of ecclesial and apostolic life. It was the most difficult stage!"
The Vatican prefect explained: "The natural tensions between the preservation of healthy traditions and the drive for renewal have at times been exasperated by social tensions and by the invasive secularism that marked especially the '70s and '80s. Thus conflicts, discouragements and also painful abandonments were created."
"However, the renewal of the rule prepared the institutes to address the adjustment of their apostolic structures to the modified ecclesial, social and cultural situations, which represents the challenge of this third stage that religious Institutes are living today," stressed the prelate.
However, Archbishop Rodé added that the path followed these years, "though fruitful in life and holiness, has almost been a battle which has left not a few wounds in the life of the institutes."
Aware of the "trials and purifications" to which consecrated life is subjected today, the archbishop said that at times there is "the impression that some of the consecrated have lost the profound sense of their consecration as first and absolute dedication to God, substituting this essential and fundamental element with different forms of activism within the ecclesial community or within the civil society."
Archbishop Rodé added that "in ecclesial life the natural bond of men and women religious with their own institute and the specific charismatic service at times does not succeed in combining with the life and pastoral program of the particular Churches."
Moreover, "it is also hard for bishops to regard the institutions of the religious as pastoral works given by the Holy Spirit to their dioceses," he continued.
The prefect also mentioned "the diminution of the members in many institutes and their aging, evident in some parts of the world," a circumstance that "raises questions in many about the consecrated life still being a visible testimony, capable of attracting young people."
"If, as is affirmed in some places, the third millennium will be the time of the active role of the laity, of associations and ecclesial movements, we might ask ourselves: What will be the place reserved for traditional forms of consecrated life?" asked Archbishop Rodé.
"The latter, John Paul II reminded us, has a great history to build together with all the faithful," he said. "A thrust is necessary which will again give vigor to the evangelical radicalism proper to consecrated life and at the same time an imaginative charity that will again initiate the drive to serve man above all with the strength of the Gospel."