Vatican releases instruction on identity, mission of religious brothers

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jim West

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — To help appreciate and better
promote the vocation of religious brothers, the Vatican released a 50-page
reflection on the importance of their life and mission of evangelization,
fraternity and sacrifice.

The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies
of Apostolic Life released “Identity and Mission of the Religious Brother in
the Church” in five languages Dec. 14 as a guide
for the whole church.

Pope Benedict XVI asked the congregation in 2008 to draft
an instruction in order to underline the importance of the vocation of lay
brothers, especially given “the challenges they must face” in today’s world,
said Archbishop Jose Rodriguez Carballo, secretary of the congregation. He spoke at
a Vatican news conference presenting the document Dec. 14.

At the time, the former prefect of the congregation,
Cardinal Franc Rode, had said the steep decline in the numbers of religious
brothers was a clear sign “something must be done.”

“We think one of the reasons for the decline in
these vocations is due to a certain lack of attention on the part of the
church” to brothers, who are mentioned only in passing in the documents of
the Second Vatican Council and Vatican documents published later, he told
Vatican Radio in 2010.

While the numbers of religious in every category have
dropped in the past 50 years, the number of religious brothers decreased most
drastically. For example, the Christian Brothers had 16,000 members in 1965 and
have fewer than 5,000 today.

The number of religious brothers around the world
totaled more than 55,250 at the end of 2013, according to recent Vatican statistics.
However, the total number of priests — diocesan and religious order — around
the world was nearly 415,350, with a steady increase in diocesan priests in
Africa, Asia and the Americas, and a continued decline in Europe.

Archbishop Rodriguez said the document is meant to
highlight “the richness and necessity of all the vocations in the church,
especially the vocation of lay religious life for men and women.”

He said it was hoped the reflection would help all members of the
church become more aware and better appreciate the service and gifts of
religious brothers, and help encourage and guide them in living their vocation
“with authenticity and joy.”

The instruction underlines the importance of serving like
the Good Shepherd in order to make Christ present in the world and to enlighten,
bless, raise up, heal and free humanity.

So many people are experiencing a “thirst for
spirituality,” it said, and religious brothers, especially those living in
monastic or contemplative communities, should offer themselves as guides for
those seeking deeper meaning, inviting people to prayer, reading Scripture and
bridging faith and culture.

The text urged religious brothers to see no human
situation as “alien” to their presence. Whether they engage in manual
labor, defend human rights, teach, work in health care or serve in other ways,
religious brothers must accept God’s invitation to go to the world’s
peripheries and lead people to salvation.

“Today more than ever, the world needs consecrated
persons who, from the heart of secular realities and of human life itself, bear
witness to knowing and loving the God of life.”

The document said religious brothers can be the
“prophets for our time” which is witnessing “great social

What is needed, it said, is “the prophesy of
hospitality,” in which all people are welcomed; a “prophesy of the
meaning of life” that helps people discover the essential; a
“prophesy of the affirmation of feminine values,” which supports and
appreciates the presence and vision of women; “the prophesy of the care
and protection of life” and creation; and “the prophesy of the wise
use of new technologies,” which is attentive to letting information and
communication benefit those who are disadvantaged.

The document called for improving relationships and a
sense of “equal dignity” in so-called “mixed” religious
institutes whose members include lay brothers and religious priests. It said
priests and the church hierarchy should promote and better appreciate the
vocation of lay brothers and sisters, ensuring they can “participate
actively in the organs of consultation, decision-making and implementation
within the local church.”

Archbishop Rodriguez said his congregation will ask Pope Francis to
establish an ad hoc commission to look into the role of religious
brothers in mixed or clerical institutes and their
“participation in local, provincial and general governance” and

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Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz.

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