Present Challenges to Religious Life

According to Father J.M. Lecea, Superior General of Piarists

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ROME, FEB. 2, 2004 (Zenit.org).- In recent times and in the past, religious life "has experienced crises and desertions," but there is no lack of signs of hope, says Father Jesús María Lecea, superior general of the Piarists.



In this interview given to ZENIT on Sunday, on the eve of the Day of Consecrated Life, Father Lecea emphasizes the genuineness and radical nature of this ecclesial vocation. Father Lecea is president of the Union of European Conferences of Major Superiors.

Q: You know that in the last decades vocations to the religious life have decreased. Given this fact, will any candidate do?

Father Lecea: No. There is indeed a decrease in vocations, but I would not call it a crisis. According to the statistics, it is undeniable that the numbers are declining.

However, the danger in such a situation is that vocations will not be properly discerned. This will be very harmful for the community because such individuals will either not persevere or, if they do persevere, they will create many problems.

Care must be taken of vocations, we must pray and work for them, and especially have an appropriate pastoral program. If the lack of vocations means reducing the list of requirements for the religious life, we will not be on the right track. Any Christian choice is radical; I consider the lessening of requirements unfortunate.

Religious life has experienced crises and individuals leaving in many periods. We are going though a delicate and problematic time, but religious life will continue.

It will not be the religious life we have known, but it will surmount this obstacle and go on with a new look.

Let us also think of other continents -- outside the European where we see a very marked diminution -- where there is vocational development. Anyway, just as with living organisms, communities are born and die; there have been many such cases in history.

The anxiety to obtain vocations is counterproductive. Concern to maintain the institution is legitimate, but it requires a lucid mind and patient attitude.

Q: As you see it, have there been errors in religious life in recent years?

Father Lecea: There are aspects that can be improved. In times of renewal -- to be renewed is a permanent coordinate in religious and ecclesial life, as is conversion to the Gospel -- one must expect the possibility of error.

Of course, one must look at a mistake with a spirit of correction. An error is discovered and one studies the way to surmount it. Sometimes this aspect has failed; at times there has also been a lack of vision.

To mention one example: There has been a failure to find a balance between "being in the world but not of the world," which the Gospel stresses. Religious life has taken positive steps in its renewal and has opened to the outside, but in that opening at times we have given in to styles that are not our own.

Q: What is the most positive?

Father Lecea: The fraternal communion I mentioned earlier. Also collaboration with the laity which extends communion to other vocations in the Church.

Religious life is seeking greater evangelical genuineness. There is an effort to overcome certain external formalisms that are not significant today and to enter a dynamic of purification starting from its own foundational sources, to respond better to its mission in the present world.

I would also point out a clear improvement in the practice of prayer, leaving to one side some devotional customs to be open to prayer of greater biblical and liturgical inspiration. The formation received at present is much broader and more solid; it is better focused than in the past.

Q: What do you want in your general mandate for the Piarists?

Father Lecea: To be useful to my brothers and to lead them to hope. Piarists, like all Christian vocations, have the Gospels and Jesus Christ as common heritage. What is specific to us is a concrete element of the Gospel and the life of Jesus that is stressed in reference to the integral education of the person from his first years.

What at the time of our founder was to educate children in "piety and writing," especially the poor -- who were the most numerous -- guaranteeing them a happy passage through life and facilitating the reform of society and the Church, today is translated into education that integrates faith and culture.

The mission of the Piarists is an integrating education and care of children, especially the poorest.

I would like to be useful to the Piarists, because this would redound in good in what they do in their educational ministry and in their witness of religious life. Our vocation is to undertake the formation of children and to grow unitarily in human learning and Christian life.