To Read the Signs of the Times


Communicanda – 1991-1997

Communicanda 3

Rome, September 8, 1994
Prot. N. 0000 0237/94

0. Introduction

0.1   During our visitation of the (v)provinces, the members of the General Council are frequently asked about the state of the Congregation. Which units of Redemptorists are flourishing? What is being done to assist (v)provinces that are struggling with declining numbers and advancing age? How does the General Council see the future of the Congregation across the world?

We welcome such questions as a sign of the solidarity that should unite us Redemptorists. But we believe that it is necessary now to go beyond the informal answers we have offered during the visitations towards a deeper analysis of the present state of the Congregation and share with our brothers a more formal statement of our findings.

0.2   The General Council has spent some time studying the statistical portrait of the Congregation in the world today. We tried to place the development of the Congregation in the wider context of some significant changes in the Church and in the societies in which Redemptorists live. We brought to our analysis the personal experience of the visitations. This work has led to some very lively discussions among us. In this Communicanda we wish to present the initial results of our work.

0.3   We believe that the present state of the Congregation is an invitation to all Redemptorists to discern the will of God for us today. As a missionary congregation we should not be so much concerned where we are, as in what direction we are going. The questions we should ask ourselves should be “What can we see down the road?” “Are we going in the right direction?” “Are we moving at all?” This sort of discernment is a most serious task and one which the General Council cannot hope to accomplish on its own. So we want to promote a wider reflection within the Congregation.

We address this Communicanda in a very special way to the (v)provincial and regional councils of the Congregation. We expect that each council involve all the members of its unit in a reflection on the contents. Furthermore, we ask that each (v)provincial council itself formulate a response to this Communicanda and forward it to the General Council by 1 June 1995.

First Part: The Statistical Reality

  1. A Short Survey of the Development
    from 1963 to 1994 and of the
    Present State of the Congregation

The differences in the development of the (v)provinces over the last thirty years suggest their presentation in four groups: (see Appendix: Tables 1-4)

1.1   The first group (Table 1) shows the 22 (v)provinces which have experienced continuous growth over the last 30 years (the list includes some vice-provinces erected since 1963). These units represent 29% (1,688) of the total membership and have 52.5% (343) of the students. According to geographical region they are:

–    Europe:

Bratislava (1603), Michalovce (1604), Warszawa (1700), Lviv (4200)

–    North America:

 Extra Patriam (3401)

–    Latin America:

Asunción (0705), Fortaleza (1304), San Salvador (1506), Resistencia (1701), Bahia (1702), Perú-Sur (2201), São Paulo (2300), Brasília (2302), Bogotá (2800), Porto Alegre

–    Asia–Oceania:

Kagoshima (0802), Weetebula (1003), Bangkok (1204) Ipoh (2103), Bangalore (3800)

–    Africa:

Luanda (3301), Niamey (0404)

1.2     The situation of the 14 (v)provinces in the second group (Table 2) is more ambiguous. While most of these units have suffered a net decline over the last thirty years, they have most recently given evidence of some modest growth. They represent 14% (824) of the membership and have 24% (156) of the students. They are, according to geographical region:

–    Latin America:

Manaus (1202), Caracas (1502), Perú-Norte (1507), Buenos Aires (2200), Rio de Janeiro (2600), Santiago (3000) México (3600), San Juan (3900)

–    Asia–Oceania:

Cebu (1302), Tokyo (1902), Việt-Nam (3400)

–    Africa:

Matadi (0603), Fada N’Gourma (1402), South Africa (4000)

1.3   The third group (Table 3) represents the Regions and Missions of the Congregation. These differ one from the other. Most are recent foundations. Some of them offer positive signs of growth. Taken together they represent 2.8% (163) of the membership and have 6.7% (44) of the students.

–    Latin America:

Pilar (0101), Tupiza (1703), Haïti (1904), Reyes (2501), Propriá (3201)

–    Asia–Oceania:

Korea (0058), Colombo (3801), Alwaye (3802)

–    Africa:

Zimbabwe (1103), Nigeria (2702)

1.4      The fourth group (Table 4) shows the 35 (v)provinces which have steadily decreased in membership over the last 30 years. These provinces now include 54% (3,151) of the membership but have only 16.8% (110) of the students.

–    Europe:

Roma (0100), Napoli (0200), Palermo (0300), Lyon (0400), Wien (0500), København (0502), Noordbelgië (0600), München (0800), Amsterdam (0900), Koln (1000), London (1100), Dublin (1300), Paris (1400), Madrid (1500), Praha (1600), Strasbourg (1800), Helvetica (2500), Bruxelles-Sud (3200), Lisboa (3300)

–    North America:

Baltimore (0700), Richmond (0704), Saint Louis (1200), New Orleans (1203), Sainte-Anne de Beaupré (1900) Toronto (2000), Oakland (2700), Edmonton (2900), Yorkton (3100)

–    Latin America:

Recife (0903), La Paz (1801), Quito (2400), Campo Grande (4100)

–    Asia–Oceania:

Canberra (2100), Manila (2101), Wellington (3700)

There is no indication that this development will be reversed in the near future. The following table uses the example of a few selected provinces to illustrate what sort of change would be necessary to halt or even reverse the steady decline of personnel:

The figures in the first column indicate the average annual loss of confreres during the period 1981-1993; the figures in the second column indicate the annual average of first professions for the same period.

1981-1993       Average Yearly Loss          Yearly Average
(Deceased & Dispensed)     of First Professions

Baltimore             18.6                                  5.61

Saint Louis               8.7                                  2.69

Koln                         7.5                                  1.92

Madrid                     7.4                                  1.92

Saint Anne               6.3                                  1.76

Canberra                  6.1                                  1.38

Dublin                      5.9                                  2.76

München                  5.3                                  1.61

London                     4.5                                  1.76

Napoli                      4.5                                  2.23

Toronto                    3.7                                  1.38

Roma                       3.1                                  0.15

Strasbourg               2.9                                  0.23

A province can maintain its status quo in personnel only if the number of first professions equals its annual loss. If a province expects to recover from a decline in its personnel, the number of first professions should be considerably higher than the annual loss.

  1. The Age Structure of the Congregation
    as of August 1, 1994

The age structure allows a different view of the world-wide situation of the Congregation:



25,2% (1.470) of the membership are 70 years and older, another 19,4% (1,133) are between 60 and 70, a total of 44.6% (2,603). This situation will last for at least the next 10 years because another numerous group will soon enter the highest age brackets of the Congregation.

Never in its history has the Congregation had so many elderly confreres. There are two principal reasons for this: the great number of men who entered the European and North American provinces from 1930–1950, as well as the longer life expectancy in most regions of the world.

More than two thirds (68,7%) of the elderly are in the so-called First World, i.e. North America, Australia and New Zealand, and western and southern Europe: 1,114 (of a total of 1,470) older than 70 years and 674 (of a total of 1,133) between 60 and 70.

At the same time, these very provinces have relatively few young people: 558 are 50 years and younger:

Southern Europe: 129
Western and Northern Europe: 157
North America: 253
Australia & New Zealand: 19

  1. Some landmarks in the Redemptorist history
    of the last 30 years

In order to understand the implications of this statistical portrait and to be able to judge the quality of our response to this situation, it seems necessary to place these numbers in a broader context that would include events within the Congregation, the Church and world over the last thirty years. Here are some landmarks from our recent history that seem noteworthy to us.

3.1   Democratization and Decentralization (1969)

The influence of the General Government has been considerably reduced during the period covered by the statistical portrait. In 1969, for the first time in our history the (v)provinces themselves elected their major superiors and councils. These (v)provincial governments in turn appointed the local superiors, another novelty in Redemptorist history.

This led to a greater provincial autonomy in the Congregation and contributed in part to the pluralism in our Congregation mentioned in Communicanda 2, n. 14, with the dangers and challenges described in nn. 22ff of that same document.

3.2   The renewed Constitutions and Statutes

At the peak of the post-conciliar crisis in the Church we renewed our Rule. As the old Rule was abandoned and the new Constitutions not yet assimilated, a whole generation of Redemptorists may have grown up without any fundamental guidelines for their religious identity. A common complaint at the last General Chapter was that the Constitutions and Statutes are still unknown to most of the confreres.

3.3   New provinces, vice-provinces and missions

–    Some vice-provinces became provinces: Việt-Nam (1964), Porto Alegre (1964), México (1966), Wellington (1970), Bangalore (1972), San Juan (1984), South Africa (1989), Campo Grande (1989), Lviv (1989), Brasília (1994)

–    New missions or vice-provinces were started in: Propriá (1963), Reyes (1970), Extra Patriam (1984), Tupiza (1984), Nigeria (1987), Kenya (1990), Hong Kong (1989), Korea (1991), Côte d’lvoire (1993), Ghana (1994).

3.4   The crisis of mission preaching in the late 60’s

In the wake of the Second Vatican Council our tradition of mission preaching was effectively halted. Some provinces were later successful in renewing the content and format of the mission; others completely gave up mission preaching. For some provinces whose work was almost exclusively identified with mission preaching, the decline meant the loss of their self-understanding as Redemptorists.

3.5   The closing of most of the formation houses

In the last 30 years, the following major seminaries (studentates) were closed:

Cortona (Roma)                                     Sousceyrac (Lyon)

Mautern (Wien)                                      Leuven (Noordbelgië)

Esopus, Suffield (Baltimore)                   Gars (München)

Wittem (Amsterdam)                               Hawkstone (London)

Oconomowoc (Saint Louis)                    Gal way (Dublin)

Waterford (Saint Louis)                          Windsor (Toronto)

Beauplateau (Bruxelles Sud)                 Valladolid (Madrid)

Echternach, Ostwald (Strasbourg)         Aylmer (Sainte-Anne)

Floresta (Rio de Janeiro)                       Ballarat (Canberra)

Villa Allende (Buenos Aires)                   Dreux (Paris)

At the same, almost all the minor seminaries (juvenates) were closed.

3.6   Losses in personnel between 1964 and 1973:

–    the first professions dropped from 325 in 1964 to 88 in 1973, they never returned to the level of the years immediately prior to Vatican II.

–    2,332 professed members left the Congregation, among them more than 500 priests. (In the ten previous years 565 professed members left, among them 60 priests!)

3.7   As the following statistics demonstrate, we are not the only religious congregation to have experienced a severe decline in numbers over the last decades:

                                                             1966          1992

Societas Jesu (S.J.)                      35.919       23.570    -34%

Ordo Fratrum Minorum (OFM)        25.272       18,558    -26%

Salesiani Don Bosco (SDB)            22.726       17.497    -23%

Fratres Minori Cap, (OFM Cap)      15.710       11.676    -26%

Confoederatio Benedictina (OSB)    11.963        8.738    -27%

Ordo Praedicatorum (OP)                 9.946        6.561    -34%

C.Ss.R.                                           9.052        6.052    -33%

Oblati Mariae Immac. (OMI)             7.890        5.273    -33%

Congregatio Missionis (CM)              6.230        3.668    -41%

Congregatio Spiritus Sancti (CSSp)   5.137        3.280    -36%

(Source: Annuario Pontificio, Città del Vaticano, 1968, 1994; figures include the novices)

  1. The Ecclesial Context of this development

4.1   The doctrine of Second Vatican Council has brought about immense changes in the Universal Church and in the process has indelibly marked the most recent decades of the history of our Congregation. The renewed ecclesiology of the Council, especially its understanding of the universal call to holiness of life, has served to empower the laity in the Church and in a sense, questioned the consecrated life as the “better” or “higher” way. The Council rightfully acknowledged the position of the laity and authorized their wider role in the mission of the Church. But at the same time, this reinvigorated ecclesial self-understanding has contributed to the crisis in the identity of religious and priests.

4.2   The Council also broadened the Church’s understanding of the work of redemption, proposing that God’s saving power is in fact at work in other religious traditions and even in people who have never known Jesus Christ, The narrow understanding of extra Ecclesiam nulla salus has been laid to rest. This expanded notion of the economy of salvation, together with a diminished emphasis on the individual’s task to “save one’s soul” has greatly affected the missionary thrust of the Congregation, both in our parish missions as well as the mission ad gentes.

4.3   The conciliar renewal has been accompanied by the phenomenon of growing secularization, especially in the so-called First World, where the institutional Church continues to lose influence in the political sphere and even meaning in the lives of individuals and of families.

  1. Landmarks in the Secular History
    of the last 30 Years

5.1   The present situation of the Congregation has been affected by circumstances beyond ourselves and the Church. There are no factors that seem common to all the cultures in which the Congregation lives and each unit of Redemptorists ought to consider the recent history of its particular society. An understanding of socio-cultural changes is a necessary condition for comprehending the present situation.

5.2   While the social history of each unit should be analyzed in it self, many of the (v)provinces which have experienced a steady decline in members have been affected by such cultural phenomena as the students’ revolution in Europe (1968), the Viet nam War (1963-75), the feminist movement, the sexual revolution and a plunging birthrate. In most parts of the world the growth of universal education, with a consequence of increased social mobility, opened heretofore unknown possibilities for young people. Self-realization and individual fulfillment have become ideals. A life-long commitment of any sort is increasingly seen as something unrealistic. The pressures of modern life have resulted in a sort of fragility among many young people.

5.3   A global phenomenon which continues to mark Redemptorists is the ever-widening gap between the rich and poor of the world. This fact has not only influenced the pastoral options of a vast portion of the Congregation, but has led to some debate within (v)provinces and among regions (see Final Document, n. 9).

It should be clear that the Congregation has never developed in a vacuum, insulated from the conditions of the cultures in which it has lived and worked. To understand the present situation of Redemptorists it is indispensable to attempt to grasp the wider context. But acknowledging the profound effect of these forces does not at all dispense the Congregation from responsible action.

Second Part: Trying to Read
the Signs of the Times

  1. What is God saying to us?

The Word of God speaks to people through the events of their particular history. The Hebrew nation understood God revealing Himself in the circumstances of their exodus from Egypt and entry into Canaan (e.g.: the whole Book of Deuteronomy), as well as in the tragedy of the Babylonian exile (e.g.: Jer 13,l8-19) and subsequent return (Is 40,lss). The preaching of Jesus, as well as many of His parables, counsel the disciples to a watchful attitude and a sensitivity to the circumstances that surround them (confer Mt. 24; 25, 1-13, 14-30, 31-41; Mk. 13,28-29). He chides them for their ability to interpret signs from nature, while remaining callous to the divine communication inherent in the events of their lives (Luke 12,54-56). Our Constitutions forcefully remind all Redemptorists to discover the plan of God in history (CC. 2; 43; 73-1°; 83). For God speaks through people and the signs of the times (C. 73-1°).

The question that we must courageously ask ourselves is: What is God saying to us in the present circumstances of the Congregation?

6.1   Many confreres see in the statistical portrait of the Congregation a deepening crisis. A crisis is not necessarily a disaster because God is speaking to us precisely within this crisis. But in order to listen to God, we must first accept the situation, but not with the resignation of hapless victims or with a desperate hope for some magical intervention or simplistic solution. The first step in discernment is to accept the situation as it is. Only then will we be able to listen to God and hear a call to honest reflection and an invitation to a faithful response.

6.2   Is God telling us that our particular charism is no longer a gift to the Church and therefore we are to disappear? Is the crisis experienced by so many religious Congregations the harbinger of the final demise of the consecrated life? We are not permit ted to quickly answer these fundamental questions. Because they are so very important, they demand a most profound reflection on our own responsibility for the present situation.

6.3   Is God telling us that we have not been faithful to the original charism of the Congregation, that peculiar gift He Himself gave to the Church? Is it possible that we do not know how to adapt our charism to the circumstances of today’s world? Or, if we begin to understand what God is asking from us, do we shrink from the sacrifice such adaptation would entail?

6.4   Is God telling us to honestly evaluate the testimony of our missionary life? Have we sacrificed the radical nature of our consecration and abandoned our rightful position in the van guard of the Church? Is it possible that in trying to inculturate our lives, we have forgotten that there should also be a necessarily counter-cultural witness of Redemptorists?

6.5   Is God telling us that we have been more concerned about ourselves, our power and our prestige rather than building the Kingdom? Have we been more interested in constructing a Tower of Babel (Gen. 11, 4), rather than the Kingdom of God?

  1. Reflections of the General Council

We do not propose to attempt to answer these questions that emerge from our consideration of the present crisis in the Congregation. We must together discern God’s will for us through a reflection on the “signs of the times and places”, so we will offer some of our own thoughts, inviting all our confreres throughout the Congregation to join the General Council in this search for God’s message in the present circumstances.

A sense of solidarity should impel all units to take active part in this reflection. It may well be that nothing further can be done to guarantee the future presence of Redemptorists in some parts of western Europe and North America, at least in the existing provincial structures. But it would be a tragic error for confreres in provinces not yet seriously affected by a decline in numbers to ignore the experience of these aging and diminishing units.

7.1   As we have suggested above (nn 4 and 5), the dramatic ecclesial and social changes of the last thirty years have not left the Congregation untouched, We have experienced a violent rupture from our past and have not successfully adapted the fundamental values of our Congregation to the changed circumstances of the modern world. It would seem that the renewed Constitutions and Statutes and knowledge of the history of our Congregation do not normally affect the lives and the decisions of individual confreres or units. We are afraid that in many areas of the world confreres simply cannot agree on what it means to be a Redemptorist. What is even more frightening is an apparent unwillingness to search together to discover the Redemptorist identity today.

7.2   If our most basic values are unclear or do not really affect our lives and decisions, we are unsure how to respond to a changed world. It is understandable that such uncertainty often breeds a fearful and defensive mentality. Therefore, we can become quite inflexible in our pastoral methods. We may agree on a few common apostolates, but without a common vision or purpose.

7.3   If we are doubtful about our common mission today, it is not surprising to find difficulties in carrying it out as a community (Constitution 21). Our common prayer, our style of life, our religious consecration and our manner of making decisions of ten say nothing to our world, to our Church and in all honesty, to ourselves. Our spirituality risks becoming a very private and personal affair.

7.4   The failure to discover our missionary identity today not only distorts our community life. It has very deleterious consequences for the recruitment and initial formation of our candidates and students. For what sort of missionary life can we effectively prepare them for, if our understanding of the Redemptorist task is unclear? And how can we appeal to the idealism of the young, if the actual state of our community life offers weak testimony to the visionary aspirations of Alphonsus?

7.5   Perhaps at the root of the widespread uncertainty in the Congregation there lies a fundamental doubt about our future and, indeed, the future of the consecrated life. We feel that many confreres and even entire communities do nothing to promote vocations. This might indicate a lack of confidence that our way of life is still an ideal worth sacrificing oneself for. And there are confreres who will never physically abandon the Congregation, but dispense themselves from any personal responsibility for the life and the future of their local community and their (v)province. These confreres invariably have a most harmful effect on their brothers.

7.6   We are concerned about the frustration of the few young people who have entered the aging and declining (v)provinces. The reduced number of the young and frequently, the rigidity of their confreres, often make it impossible to attempt any new pastoral initiatives or experiments in community life. These young Redemptorists are so few and so dispersed that they have little effective voice in the future of their unit or support from other Redemptorists their age.

7.7   While (v)provinces generally dedicate personnel and finances to the initial formation of their members, there is often little special care given to young Redemptorists in their first years of ministry. Does such inattention contribute to the elevated number of young Redemptorists who quickly abandon the Congregation?

7.8   Many (v)provinces have responded to the growing number of elderly confreres by enacting very admirable policies on retirement and health care. As praiseworthy as these policies are, we do not believe that they represent the final word. Aging does not absolve any Redemptorist from living some of the demands of our missionary consecration. Are the elderly in many units really challenged to continue to proclaim the Gospel through their contribution to community life?

7.9   We sense a variety of responses to the crisis in the Congregation and these can be found in individuals and governments, including our own Council. Some recoil in fear from the statistics. Others deny the severity of the crisis and its deeper implications. Some feel the crisis is a problem only for western Europe and North America. But, the most dangerous and least evangelical attitude to the crisis is a quiet resignation to the disappearance of the Congregation in many areas of the world. The real crisis is not of statistics, but of passivity. Provincial Chapters and councils often fall prey to the temptation to man age the day to day affairs of their units without ever venturing into the more difficult analysis of their Redemptorist identity. It may be a far easier task to deal with finances and personnel matters than to try to read the “signs of the times” and honestly question the quality of our response.

7.10 There are those who would see the present situation as a result of unwarranted experimentation done in the name of “renewal” and would therefore call for a return to the past structures of the Congregation. An appeal is made to the apparent growth of certain traditional movements in religious life. For our part, we do not believe God is calling us to frantically reassume all the structures, traditions and practices of our past. But the actual crisis of so many units, with its potential to touch (v)provinces as yet unaffected, may be God insisting that we reconsider the meaning of our religious consecration in the circumstances of today’s world.

7.11 This insistence of God is nothing less than a call to conversion. The invitation is not a vague summons addressed to Redemptorists en masse, but a personal proposal directed to the heart of each confrere. Its content is not a set of propositions goals or objectives, but rather a single Word. The present situation of the Congregation is the Lord leading each of us to a desert where He can “speak to our hearts” (Hos 2,16). In a desert where the Congregation is stripped of the dubious security of an ideology and the shelter of unimpeded growth, where we have no other choice but to depend on God and on each other, the Lord might well speak to our hearts”, urging each of us to be converted to the person of the Redeemer.

7.12 Simply listening to the voice of the Redeemer in our present circumstances is not enough. We must respond. We may protest that what the Lord requires is hard to endure and difficult to take seriously (Jn 6,60). We may ignore the invitation, protesting that we already have too much to worry about (Mt 22,5). We may “go away sad”, because the sacrifice is simply too much (Lk 18,23). Or, we may conclude that we have “no where else to go” (Jn 6,68) except to remain with the One who has the words of eternal life. This last conclusion can never be discovered except in prayer and never lived in theory, but only as a praxis amandi, a life of unselfish love.

In the name of the General Council,

Juan Manuel Lasso de la Vega, C.Ss.R.
Superior General

The English text is the original version.