Third General Conference of Latin American Bishops

Puebla, 1979


Secular Institutes

774. "Insofar as the Secular Institutes are concerned specifically, it is important to recall that their particular charism is to respond directly to the great challenge being posed to the Church by current cultural changes: they are to move toward forms of secularised life required by the urban industrial world, but without allowing secularity to turn into secularism".

775. "In our day the Spirit has brought into being this new type of consecrated life represented by the Secular Institutes. They are somehow meant to help resolve the tension existing between real openness to the values of the modern world (authentic Christian secularity) and full, thoroughgoing submission of heart to God (the spirit of consecration). Situated right in the center of this conflict, such Institutes can be valuable pastoral contribution to the future. They can help to open up new pathways of general validity for the People of God".

776. "On the other hand the very set of issues they seek to tackle, as well as their lack of roots in an already tried and tested tradition, exposes them more than other forms of the consecrated life to the crisis of our day and the contagion of secularism. The hopes and the risks entailed in this way of life should spur the Latin American episcopate to show special solicitude in fostering and supporting their growth".


Message addressed to the Second Latin American Congress of Secular Institutes

Card. Eduardo F. Pironio
July 12th, 1979

Dear brothers and friends:

1. Welcome to this meeting of grace! The Lord is present for you have been convened as the Church in his Name (Mt 18 20). The Spirit of God which renews all things acts deeply in the heart of each one of you, within every Secular Institute represented. You will emerge renewed and reborn: confirmed in the faith, animated by hope and strengthened by love, so as to fulfil the evangelising mission in our Latin American Continent. Allow me to greet you with the wish expressed by Paul to the Romans: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope" (Rom 15,13).

2. The living God of hope! This is what Latin America needs today. This is what you all proclaim with the strength of a witnessing born of contemplation and of the cross and exercised in the original conditions of family and social life (L.G. 31), and becomes concrete in the manifestation and communication of the Paschal Christ. You are not the witnesses of a distant God, but of a God who rose again and lives and treads the path of men. Neither are you the disincarnate witnesses who indicate to others the road of salvation while you remain on the edge; but committed witnesses with the difficulties and risks of history, radically submerged in the dead and risen Christ, evangelically incorporated in the world in order to transform it, sanctify it, offer it to God, building thus the new civilisation of love. Like all other laymen but far more by reason of the consecration which animates you "in the eyes of the world you must be the witnesses of the resurrection and of the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ and signs of the true God" (L.G. 38).

3. You are meeting to reflect in the light of the Magisterium and of the requirements of a Continent in full effervescence, marked by poverty and the cross but filled with hope on the identity of Secular Institutes in this providential moment of Latin America, in terms of a full evangelization, of an integral advancement of man, of a transformation of culture in line with the civilisation of love.

4. I wish to remind you of three things: your identity, your present state as "your own way" of being Church, your profound and vital requirements.

5. 1. - Your Identity. This can be summed up very simply: "consecrated secularity". These are two aspects of a same reality, of a same divine vocation. Both are essential. This was clearly asserted by Paul VI when he said: "Neither of the aspects of your spiritual nature can be overrated at the expense of the other. They are both equally essential" (20 lX 72) .

6. In these privileged times of history and of the Church, the Lord calls upon you to live your consecration in the world, from the world and for the world. The world cannot tarnish nor decrease the wealth and fecundity of consecration, neither can consecration wrest you from the commitment and responsibility of the daily task. Totally committed with Christ, your minds are open to what is eternal, you are the witnesses of the Absolute, but always within the sphere of temporal life. The two words "consecrated laymen" must be duly stressed and indissolubly united.

7. "Consecrated". That is to say sanctified more deeply in Christ by the one and only Holy One, and by will of the Spirit, so that you may belong totally and exclusively to love. "You have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all know" (I Jn 2,20). This consecration, which deepens and brings to plenitude the consecration of baptism and confirmation, penetrates your daily life and activities, creating a total availability to the plan of the Father who wishes you to be in the world for the world. Your characteristics are those of men and women of the Absolute and of hope, exclusively open to the one and only Love; poor and disinterested, capable of understanding those who suffer and of giving yourselves evangelically to saving them and transforming the world from within. In his Address of 2 February, 1972, Pope Paul VI asserted: "Your consecrated life, in the spirit of the evangelical counsels, is the expression of your undivided loyalty to Christ and to the Church, of the permanent and radical striving towards holiness, and the awareness that, in the last analysis, it is only Christ who, with his grace, carries out the work of redemption and transformation in the world. It is deep in your hearts that the world is consecrated to God."

8. "Laymen". But this special consecration, this special way of belonging to Jesus Christ in virginity, poverty, obedience, does not detract the members of Secular Institutes from the world, nor does it paralyse their temporal action, but gives it life and dynamism, greater realism and efficacy; freeing it of dissatisfactions, interests and quests, which are somehow related to egoism. "Secular consecration": in opening man and woman to the absolute radicalism of the love of God, they are prepared for a deeper incarnation in the world, for a pure, free purifying and liberating secularity.

9. They are not of the world, but they are in the world and for the world. The characteristic of this "new way" of being Church is to live precisely in the world the radicalism of the Beatitudes as the light, salt and leaven of God. This secularity, which is far from being superficial naturalism or secularism, indicates "the proper place of your Christian responsibility", the one and only way of sanctification and apostolate the privileged scope of a vocation lived specifically for the glory of God and the service of our brothers. It calls for living in the world in contact with our brothers of the whole world, part as they are of human vicissitudes, responsible as they are for the possibilities and dangers of the earthly city, bearing as they do the weight of a day to day life committed to the construction of society, involved together with them in the most varied professions at the service of mankind, of the family and of the organization of peoples. Committed, above all to the construction of a new world according to the design of God, in justice, love and peace, as the expression of an authentic "civilisation of love". It is not an easy task. It calls for discernment, generosity, courage. Paul VI calls them "the alpinists of the spirit" (26-IX-70).

10. 2. Your Actuality. Paul VI, in the manner of his prophetic intuition, referred to Secular Institutes as "a characteristic and most consoling phenomenon in the contemporary Church" (26 IX 70). In a way which is original and proper to them, they express and achieve the presence of the Church in the world. They are a valid sign of the relationship of the Church with the world: trust and love, incarnation and presence, dialogue and change. The Council opened up to us an evangelical path, subsequently illuminated by the Magisterium of the Popes, from Paul VI to John Paul II. The Church was repeatedly defined as "the universal sacrament of salvation". For Latin America the spirit of God inspired two ecclesial events which strongly marked the redeeming presence of the Church in that Continent: Medellin and Puebla. They gave us a better understanding of the responsibility of Christians in the evangelization and transformation of the world. It is an imperative requirement of the times and a pressing invitation of the Spirit. It is a challenge of history to the commitment of the Church, and more specifically of the laity, to become part of the world so as to transform it. "In a moment such as this said Paul VI the Secular Institutes, by virtue of their charism of consecrated life in the world, appear as providential instruments to incarnate this spirit and transmit it to the whole Church. If in a certain way, they essentially manifested this aspect even before the Council, by their presence, with all the more reason must they today be specialised, exemplary witnesses to the attitude and mission of the Church in the world " (2 II 1972). And he adds immediately almost as an exhortation and a challenge: " For the ' aggiornamento ' of the Church today, clear directives or frequent documents are not sufficient: persons and communities, responsibly aware of embodying and transmitting the spirit desired by the Council are required. This is the thrilling mission entrusted to you: to be a model giving an indefatigable impulse to the new relationship that the Church is trying to embody before the world and in the service of the world".

11. Secular Institutes, if they are truly faithful to their charism of consecrated secularity, have a very important word to say in the Church today. Their mission is more than ever providential. They will be a privileged means of evangelization, of explicit proclamation of the Love of the Father manifested in Christ, of an authentic and profound human advancement and of a real evangelical liberation, effected in the spirit of the Beatitudes. They will be a concrete means to overcome the tragic dualism between faith and life, the Church and the world, God and man.

12. 3. Your Exigencies. Faithfulness to the Lord who calls us and requires everything of us. I have no doubt that this is a moment of grace for the Secular Institutes of Latin America. Consequently, it is a moment of renewed creation and of hope. There is need for "renewed creation" of our Secular Institutes in the Spirit, heeding the Word of God and constantly interpreting the signs of the times. I limit myself to stressing three requirements which in my opinion are fundamental: sense of Church, theological existence, contemplative dimension.

13. Sense of Church: live the joy of being Church today, in this privileged moment of history, in this Continent of possibilities and ¬hope, responding in an original and a specific manner to the divine call. To be fully Church in a new way (as "consecrated laymen"), in deep communion with the Pastors and participating fraternally in the evangelising mission of the People of God as a whole. Radically centered in God and evangelically as part of the world. Be Church in authentic communion and participation.

14. Theological existence: live in the world a clear and irreducible theological existence. Live the supernatural normally: live in faith, go forward building in hope, change the world by the force of un-refrained love. This you ask in the beautiful Prayer of the Congress: "confirmed in Faith, animated by Hope and strengthened by Love". The vision of Faith will help you to constantly discover the plan of God, the passing of Christ through history, the vital call of the Spirit of Love. Hope will protect you against the paralysis of discouragement or melancholy. It will be your support in the Paschal Christ, it will actively commit you in the construction of the world. Charity will lead you to live with joy the vital demands of consecration, to center your life in Jesus Christ and embrace his Cross, to serenely become part of the world without superficiality nor fear and to generously serve your brothers.

15. Contemplative dimension: in order to interpret in God the things that occur in the world, to discover the anxieties of men and the demands of God, one must be contemplative.

This means men and women of prayer, who stop in the rhythm of their work to listen to God; who, from time to time dare to retire to the desert to meet Him in solitude; who, above all, know how to create in their innermost self a deep and unchangeable area of active silence. People who experience God in work and in leisure, in anxiety and in joy, in prayer and in worldly activities. "Secular prayer" is not easy, but it is indispensable. It is the only way of life of a member of a Secular Institute: God must be the uninterrupted source of your life while you follow your profession and the hopeful sorrow of humanity. It is difficult, but at times one must have the courage to cut away from everything (in order to subsequently return to the world) and seek a moment and a place for prayer. Above all, we must pray to the Lord with the simplicity of the poor.

16. This message has become too long, but this can be explained in part by the ecclesial love I have for the Secular Institutes; their providential existence, their actual effectiveness as a sign of a hopeful Church, their special responsibility at this time of the evangelization of our Latin American Continent. In part because I have wished to make good the lack of my physical presence, and what I would have liked to say to you personally had I been able to participate in this Congress. God willed it otherwise, blessed be His will!

17. But to you go more than my written words: two beloved friends and two witnesses of the Secular Institutes Rev. Mario Albertini and Mons. Juan José Dorronsoro. They are, as St. Paul would say, "my personal visiting card". Talk with them, consult them without fear and listen to them. They will no doubt say to you the same I have said but better, more briefly, and with greater authority. Mine is the authority of service in Christ and of affection.

18. I cannot conclude without a thought for "Mary, the model of consecrated secularity, who evangelised with her presence and with her words" as so splendidly says the Prayer of this Second Congress.

19. Totally consecrated to the Lord through her poverty, virginity and obedience to the Father Mary lived in the world. She fully lived the history of her people sharing their expectations and their hopes, living their poverty and desiring their liberation. She believed in the word conveyed to her in the name of the Lord and was happy. She was a contemplative woman: she lived always "attentive" to the word of the Lord, She was the faithful Virgin, the Mother of blessed hope and of beautiful love: the Virgin who engendered Christ and surrendered him in the silence of contemplation and of the Cross. She was the figure and the beginning of the Church: the presence of Christ, the sign of communion and salvation.

20. To her, "the star of evangelization" we now recommend the work of this II Latin American Congress of Secular Institutes. We trust in Her and our hopes are centered on Her. We commit everything to the silent and faithful heart of "Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ" (Mt l,16).

With affection and hope I bless you in Christ and in the Blessed Mary.


Opening Discourse to the Second International Congress of Secular Institutes

Card. Eduardo F. Pironio
August 25th, 1980

Dear friends:

1. These are the simple words of hope of a person who believes to know you and who loves you; and who, in the name of Pope John Paul II, has the privilege and the responsibility of serving you. Allow me to greet you with the words of Saint Paul to the Philippians: "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God for all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all, making my prayer with joy, thankful for your partnership in the Gospel, from the first day until now" (Phil 1,2 5).

2. Your Congress opens under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the protection of Mary, a model of secular consecration in a privileged moment for the mission of the Church: a world who thirsts for the Word of God, who feels the need for the transforming presence of the Church, who expects from the Church the justification of its hope, who questions the Church regarding truth and love, justice and peace, liberty and communion. The world challenges the Church in what is proper and essential to her. The explicit transmission of the Good News of Jesus for the conversion of hearts and the construction of a new society.

3. It is precisely here, in the mystery of a communion Church, that fits the providential lay ministry of the Secular Institutes: in the essential relationship of a Church made for the salvation of Man of Man as a whole and of all men and for transforming the world from within for the glory of the Father. "Inspired by no earthly ambition, the Church seeks but a solitary goal: to carry forward the work of Christ Himself under the lead of the befriending Spirit. And Christ entered this world to give witness to the truth, to rescue and not sit in judgment, to serve and not to be served" (G. S., 3).

4. At the outset of this Congress which I consider of transcendental importance for the future of Secular Institutes, (their interior vitality, the effectiveness of their mission and the indispensable awakening of new vocations) allow me to remind you of three things: faithfulness to your own identity as consecrated laymen, the ecclesial sense of your life and evangelising mission, the urgency of a profound life in Christ, the Envoy of the Father and the Saviour of men.

I. Faithfulness to your own identity

5. Be fully yourselves. Do not fear to lose your unforegoable identity as laymen by fully living in the world the interior liberty and plenitude of love derived from the evangelical counsels.

6. Consecration does not separate you from the world: it only makes you more deeply part of the Paschal Christ, raising to greater maturity and plenitude the essential consecration of Baptism. For a consecrated laymen living one's Baptism fully means committing himself in a new way to be in the world a legible "letter from Christ", "written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts" (2 Co 3,3).

7. Be faithful to your "consecrated secularity". That is to say live the unbreakable unity of this one and only and original vocation in the Church. Do not feel yourselves diminished laymen, second class laymen, clericalized laymen, a strange mixture of laymen and religious: feel yourselves fully laymen but directly committed in the construction of the world in a radical follow up to Jesus Christ. For this work of evangelization, so closely linked with the integral advancement of man and the full liberation in Jesus Christ, it is indispensable that you live generously and daily the two expressions of an indivisible vocation: "secular consecration". It is for this that you are loved and have been chosen, consecrated and sent.

II. Ecclesial meaning of your life and evangelizing mission

8. In recent years, the Church as a whole has welcomed the gift of the Secular Institutes. From Pius XII to John Paul II we recall in particular the messages of Paul VI, so enlightened and full of human warmth and of ecclesial meaning.

9. "Secular consecration" is a privileged way of being Church. Particularly Church as "universal sacrament of salvation". You therefore belong to the holiness of the Church. Not to its structure, but to its life.

10. The members of Secular Institutes must live intensely the mystery of the Church: both at the universal and at the private level. Discover, love and assume all the problems and hopes, the missionary emergencies of the various local Churches. The evangelising vitality of a Secular Institute depends on a profound and concrete sense of Church.

11 . Hence the need to move forward in the direct transmission of the Good News to the poor with the Pastors, in effective communion with their guidelines and with the demands and expectations of all the People of God.

12. The Secular Institutes are a providential way of being Church; which means two things: that their specific identity is recognised and respected and their mission is fulfilled from within a Church essentially communion and participation sent by Jesus Christ to the world to proclaim the Good News to the poor.

III. A life lived deeply in Christ, the Envoy of the Father

"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2,19 20)

13. The life and growth of a Secular Institute depends essentially on two factors: on its historical realism (authentic commitment with the life of the city: family and work, culture, society and politics) and on its profound relationship with Christ. For a member of a Secular Institute, this means the following: being a radical follow up to Christ through the evangelical councils (while remaining still in the historical context of the world) and a progressive configuration with Christ through prayer, the cross, the daily fulfilment of the will of the Father.

14. Prayer takes place always in a "secular" context and not religious nor monastic. Which does not mean that it is not authentic. It is always a positive and perfect communion with the will of the Father. It takes place in the world, under the normal conditions of life. But it undergoes difficult and hard moments of separation and isolation. One cannot live in a permanent climate of contemplation, but only at special and exclusive times of prayer.

15. To live in Christ for the transformation of the world. To draw life from Christ for the clear and sound prophecy of man: Jesus "our blessed hope", is born.


16. Dear friends: your sessions are about to begin. Look at the world in which you are submerged as light, as salt, as leaven and which calls you; face the world with realism and hope.

17. Listen and welcome Christ who elects you, consecrates you and sends you. Listen to Christ with a spirit of poverty and availability. Love the Church and express its presence in the world.

18. Be sincere in love, rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer (Rom 12,9,12).

19. "May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly" (I Thess. 5,23) and may you always be accompanied by Mary, the Virgin of hope and of the road, of fidelity and of service, of radical surrender to God through Christ in the heart of the world.

August 1980


To change the world from the inside

Discourse to the 2nd International Congress of Secular Institutes

John Paul II

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

1. "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ". These words, so frequently on the lips of the Apostle St. Paul, rise unbidden to my lips as I bid you welcome and thank you for coming to see me on this occasion of your Congress, this gathering of representatives of all the world's Secular Institutes.

2. Meeting you here today does stir me deeply. Your state of consecrated life is a special gift of the Holy Spirit given to our times to help us, as my Latin American confreres put it at Puebla, "to cope with the tension between objective openness to the values of the modern world (the authentic secular Christian attitude) and the complete and unreserved gift of the heart to God (spirit of consecration)" (cf. Final Document of the Puebla Assembly, n. 775). You actually live in the thick of the fight, the conflict which stirs and sunders men's souls today. That is why you can give "a really helping hand in forward looking pastoral work. You can open new roads, roads which are right for all men and women of the people of God throughout the world" (ibid.). So your Congress grips my mind. I pray the Lord to give you light and grace so that the work you are putting in may enable you to see quite clearly and in detail the chances and the risks of your state of life and to make decisions which will guarantee the right kind of development for this way of life of which today's Church has great expectations.

3. The theme of your Congress, "Evangelization and Secular Institutes", takes up a suggestion made by my venerable Predecessor, Pope Paul VI, in one of his discourses. For Pope Paul your hearts must be full of gratitude. He thought a lot of you. He had the practical wisdom needed to have the idea and reality of consecration in secular life accepted by the Church.

4. Speaking to Heads of Institutes on August 25th, 1976, he said: "If they remain faithful to their special vocation Secular Institutes will become the Church's experimental laboratory for the acid test of its adaptations in dealing with the world. That is why they must listen to the appeal of Evangelii nuntiandi as addressed to them, to them above all: 'Their primary and immediate task is not to establish and develop the ecclesial community this is the specific role of the pastors but to put to use every Christian and evangelical possibility latent but already present and active in the affairs of the world. Their own field of evangelizing activity is the vast and complicated world of politics, society and economics, but also the world of culture, of the sciences and the arts, of international life, of the mass media (no. 70)".

5. The emphasis these words put upon the ecclesial reality of Secular Institutes, both in what they are and in what they do, is obvious. Pope Paul enlarged upon the theme on other similar occasions.

6. There is an aspect of this, obvious enough in itself, that I would like to emphasize namely, how important it is that the life you live in this way, characterized and unified by consecration, apostolate and secularity, should be not only genuinely pluralistic that goes without saying but also a life of authentic communion with the pastors of the Church and a participation in the evangelizing mission of all the people of God.

7. I may add that this in no way detracts from the distinctive character of your consecration to Christ. My Predecessor made this point too in the Discourse I have just quoted and he called your attention to a point on which it is important to have clear ideas if you are to go about things in the right way. "This does not mean", he said, "that the Institutes as such must take these tasks upon themselves. Such commitment is normally personal, a matter for individual members. The duty of Institutes as such is to shape the conscience of their members and bring it to a maturity and openness that will make them work in real earnest to qualify in their chosen professions and cope successfully, in evangelical detachment of spirit, with the burdens and the joys of the social responsibilities they assume towards those to whom God's providence sends them."

8. In various ways during the past few years your Institutes at national and continental level have followed these guidelines and delved into the theology of evangelization.

Your present meeting is being held to see where you stand and assess the results. You want to help each individual to check his route more accurately in accord with the living Church which is "seeking by every means to study how we can bring the Christian message to modern man. For it is only in the Christian message that modern man can find the answer to his questions and the energy for his commitment of human solidarity" (Evangelii nuntiandi, N. 3).

9. In these matters lay people have duties which are their own and no one else's, as I have said and repeated and stressed times without number, and of course this is just what the Council teaches. I said, for instance, at Limerick during my pilgrimage in Ireland: "As people of God you are called to play your part in the evangelization of the modern world. Yes, lay people are 'a chosen race, a holy priesthood'. They too are called to be 'the salt of the earth and the light of the world'. It is their vocation and their proper mission to show the Gospel in their life and to put it like leaven into the world of today, the world in which they live and work.

10. Among the great forces which rule the world politics, mass media, science, technology, culture, education, industry, organized labor this is exactly where lay people are specialized missionaries working on their own ground. If these forces are directed by people who are true disciples of Christ and competent by know how and talent in their own fields, then the world will really be changed from within by the redemptive power of Christ" (Limerick, Oct.1st, 1979).

11. Taking up these thoughts again and going a little deeper into them, I must ask you to consider three conditions of fundamental importance for effective mission: a) You must be above all disciples of Christ. As members of Secular Institutes you want truly to be his disciples by means of a commitment which goes to the very roots, the following of the evangelical counsels. You do this in a way that does not change your condition you are and you remain lay people, and this is very important but actually confirms and strengthens it. Your secular condition is now consecrated. It requires more of you. Your commitment in the world and for the world, which goes with your secular condition, is steady and permanent. Let this sink in. The special consecration which brings the consecration of your baptism and confirmation to the full height of potentiality, must impregnate your whole life and all your daily activities. It must create in you a complete availability to the will of the Father who has placed you in the world for the world. In this way your consecration will become a kind of interior touchstone for your secular life. You will not be in danger of taking life in the world to be just living in the world, gaily assuming that everything is going to be all right. You will never lose sight of the inevitable double meaning of "secular life". You will always be conscious of your commitment to discern the good things and the bad, veering all the time towards the one (clearly seen by that discerning power of your consecration) and progressively eliminating the other.

12. b) The second condition refers to the practical wisdom gained by experience, and the know how, your competence in this your own field of work. Here too you need to be up to the mark if you are to carry out, from your vantage point of actual presence in the world, the apostolate of witness and of commitment to every man, as required by your consecration and your Catholic life. Without this competence you will just not be able to put into effect the advice given by the Council to Secular Institutes: "They should make a total dedication of themselves to God in perfect charity their chief aim, and the Institutes themselves should preserve their own proper, i.e. secular character, so that they may be able to carry out effectively everywhere in and, as it were, from the world the apostolate for which they were founded" (Perfectae caritatis).

13. c) The third condition which I ask you to think over is the resolve in your hearts, hallmark of your condition as Secular Institute members, to change the world from the inside. You are in the world, but not just in the social sense, classified as secular, but put there, personally, every bit of you. Being there must be a thing of the heart, what you really mean and want. So you must consider yourselves part of the world, committed to the sanctification of the world, with full acceptance of its rights, its claims upon you, claims inseparable from the autonomy of the world, of its values. of its laws.

14. This means that you must give full weight in your minds to the natural order of things (very real and tangible philosophers sometimes talk of its "ontological density"). It means trying to see God's plan in the whole thing, the design he has chosen to trace out, and offering your collaboration in the progressive fulfillment of it as history unfolds. Your faith shows you the higher destiny which can enter into this history through Christ who made the first step in our direction, to become our Savior.

15. But divine revelation does not provide us with ready made answers to the many questions which you come up against, once you have really committed yourself to this life. You must seek, in the light of faith, adequate solutions for the practical problems which will come up from time to time; often enough you will have to take the risk of a solution which is no more than probable.

16. So you have undertaken to lend a hand in the world's progress. But there is another commitment. Faith must come into it with its own set of values. The two commitments are to become one, to blend harmoniously as integral parts of your life. Both are fundamental and they set the course you follow and guide every step on your way. If you do this you will be able to help in changing the world from within, becoming life giving leaven, fulfilling the duty laid upon you by Pope Pius XII in Primo feliciter: to be "the little yeast, always and everywhere at work, kneaded into every kind of society, from the humblest to the highest, to permeate each and all by word, by example and in every way until it forms and shapes the whole of it, making of it a new paste in Christ." (Introduction)

17. Thank you for bringing your good work to my attention. You have all my encouragement and support, all of you, priests and lay people. Persevere in your efforts to widen and deepen your understanding of temporal realities and values as they are related to evangelization: you priests, so that you may become increasingly concerned with the situation of people in the world and contribute to the diocesan clergy not only your personal experience of a life of commitment to the evangelical counsels, helped by a degree of common life, but also a fine sense of the true relation between the Church and the world; you lay people, so that you may gladly accept the special part given to you, consecrated in lay life in the service of evangelization.

18. I have been high lighting the special contribution of your lifestyle. This must not lead you to underrate other forms of consecration for the sake of the Kingdom, forms to which you too may be called. I refer to N. 73 of Evangelii nuntiandi where we are reminded that "the laity can also feel themselves called, or be called, to work with their pastors in the service of the ecclesial community, for its growth and life, by exercising a great variety of ministries according to the grace and charisms which the Lord is pleased to give them." This is no novelty, it is of a piece with very ancient traditions in the Church. It makes practical sense for some Institute members, especially, though not exclusively, those who live in the communities of Latin America and other Third World countries.

19. Dear sons and daughters, your field of action is, as you can see for yourselves, really vast. The Church expects a great deal of you. The Church needs your witness in giving to the world, hungering, whether consciously or not, after God's Word, the "tidings of great joy", the news that every truly human aspiration can find fulfillment in Jesus Christ. You must learn to rise to the occasion, the opportunities that Divine Providence is offering to you in these days, as the second millenium of Christianity draws to a close.

20. As for me, I beg the Lord once more, through the motherly intercession of the Virgin Mary, to give you in abundance his gifts of light, wisdom, determination, in your search after better ways of becoming, in the midst of your brothers and sisters in the world, a living witness to Christ and a quiet but compelling invitation to welcome his newness, each one in his or her own life and all together in the structures of society.

21. May the love of the Lord guide your reflections and discussions during this Congress. Then you can go forward with confidence. That is what I encourage you to do as I give, to you and to all those whom you represent, the Apostolic Blessing.


Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes (C.R.I.S.)

Formation in Secular Institutes

April 6th, 1980


1. In proposing these pages on formation, we should point out that they are offered simply as an aid to the Secular Institutes. In no way are they meant to be a normative directory.

2. In December, 1978, the Sacred Congregation of Religious and Secular Institutes sent to all Secular Institutes the result of a study on formation made in some constitution texts, together with a questionnaire. The answers received were then studied, the greater number accepting the study as satisfactory. Hence, the aid here presented has retained substantially the same structure, corrected, amplified and clarified according to suggestions received. Whatever could be included has been taken from those answers that were less in accord with this statement, but not material that would have demanded radical rewriting: either because they also recognised the validity of the preceding study or because the material would have otherwise been too voluminous.

3. Thus, also, we did not take up some certainly essential points, more particularly stressed by one Institute or another derived from its specific charism and experience, but varying from Institute to Institute.

4. From what has been said, the limitations of these pages will already be evident. It is worth noting that we are still dealing mainly with principles; they are repeated here, however, in the belief that they derive from concrete experiences and needs, and deserve to be put into effect in actual practice. Thus these pages are inspired with the hope that the Institutes will feel spurred on to concern themselves with formation and also to note and communicate their positive experiences so that they will be of practical use and shared in common.


5. Christian life, being theological, demands that all baptised persons be committed to the perfection of charity, according to personal vocation, within the ecclesial community.

6. The basis and aim of this growth is Jesus Christ: "so that Christ be formed in you" (Gal 4,19) so that "the great love the Father has given us, reach its perfection in us" (Jn 3,1 and 4,17); the principal agent and guide is the Holy Spirit: "He will lead you to the whole truth" (Jn 16,13); the milieu is the Church, body of Christ; essential food and support are the sacraments and the Word of God.

7. Within this vision which is universally valid and always very demanding, we have to speak of growth according to the various vocations. with their own specific features.

8. The vocation to consecration in secularity requires precisely that account be taken of its theological content, of the position in the People of God and in society of persons called to this way of life as also of the organization of the Institutes.


9. In the experience of Secular Institutes formation has to face a series of problems that can be summed up as follows:

A. General problems

These derive from:

10. 1. ever increasing rapidity of change in society at all levels, the pace of living that results, with predominant atmosphere of superficiality, difficulty in getting hold of the signs of the times and discerning value priorities;

l l. 2. identity crisis that has shaken the Catholic world in recent years phenomena of secularisation and horizontalism; the proximity of multiple cultures and life models; a certain confusion in the field of theology; diminution of the "sensus Ecclesiae" and influx of contrasting currents within the Church herself; lack of sufficiently solid Christian and doctrinal formation among youth, deriving from the crisis in traditional education patterns.

B. Problems relating more specifically to the Secular Institutes

These concern:

12. 1. the very nature of vocation to these Institutes, which demands continuous effort to synthesise faith, consecration and secular life; which would facilitate actualisation of a typically secular mission, accepting wholly the evangelical requirements of consecration to God:

13. 2. the situation of persons normally employed in secular tasks and activities: with problems of time, balance between various activities, change of place; all accentuated if we take into account that they concern the formation personnel themselves, who are also employees or professional people;

14. 3.--the ecclesial milieu in which the Secular Institutes function: this vocation is often misunderstood by the community and even priests (so that suitable spiritual direction is frequently hard to come by); and on the operative level, also very important for formation, the specific charism of these Institutes is often not perceived and valued as complementary and co responsible with other gifts in the Church.

15. This list of problems could be more detailed, and certainly, in some Institutes, for their own reasons they are accentuated. For example, international Institutes have the difficulty of the duty of respecting and assuming cultural values within which the charism of the Institute must become incarnate.

16. Nevertheless, this synthesis is enough to call attention, if it were necessary, to the formation task in the Secular Institutes.


A. Ultimate aim

17. To be of real help for a person to respond to her vocation and mission in the world, according to God's project, Secular Institute formation should encourage integral and unified development of the person according to capacities and conditions.

18. This is not easy because of the tendency to separate natural from supernatural realities, while they should be considered equally. Hence, it requires sufficient knowledge of the person, by both the subject herself and the formation personnel not merely with regard to spiritual gifts and growth in faith, but also the human aspects of intelligence, openness, sensibility, balance, affective and moral maturity, capacity for independent living, commitment, etc.

19. In fact, though, supernatural values which should be the ones to assure the sought for unity, escape to a great extent from our action. Consequently, formation should give firstly, basic education in prayer and faith, that is, personal contact with God, manifested by faithful adhesion to him at every moment of the day, enriched by the presence of our fellowmen and the whole of creation. This living and constant relationship supposes formation to fidelity to more intense moments of prayer, vigilance to live in communion with God in the very act of communion with men. Then prayer helps to patient self acceptance and acquiescence to life conditions, thus helping balance and solid growth.

20. Formation then becomes what in fact it should be: a human contribution to the invisible work of grace, to guide the person to indispensable collaboration with the main agent of formation, the Holy Spirit.

21. In this matter also, the Blessed Virgin is exemplary, and she becomes the "inspiring model" (Paul VI): she who always consented to the divine word and will and "consecrated herself totally to the person and work of her Son", who "went forward on the pilgrimage of faith and faithfully guarded her union with her Son till the Cross" (LG 56 and 58).

B. Basic Characteristics

22. The common vocation of those who belong to the same Institute demands elements of content, method in formation that are shared by all. But God calls us by name: even in its communication, the vocation is a personal one. Under these aspects formation is necessarily personal:

1. it should be actively willed and assumed by the person in formation, who should take on the responsibility of continuous striving for development in the light of God. Formation received passively would be ineffective.

23. 2. it should take into account the personality of the individual, that is, all her gifts and limitations, besides the stage she has reached through formation received or previously lacking.

24. 3. finally, it should take into account the "locus" of formation, that is, the concrete situation of the person to be formed; it matters very much that she be helped to realise her personal vocation, which expresses the specific Institute vocation in her life context and her relationship with others.

25. Hence, formation should be personal and integrated community wise: the growth of the person also depends on being able, in the various sectors of life, to enter into deep relationship with others, and the development of a sense of fraternity and authentic communion within the Institute that is united in Christ.

C. Areas

26. Formation must include all areas of life, even if the Institute does not contribute equally to each of these. In fact, some, technically speaking, escape its direct competence (professional, political, trade union fields) while on the other hand, seculars possess outside the Institute, various possibilities of formation under less technical aspects.

27. It could be asked whether the Institute's area of competence should not be restricted in formation, to transmission of the specific vocation and what concerns the charism. Or if it has not above all the obligation to supply a solid basic formation that would make up for the lack of one so often deplored in candidates.

28. But while taking these two aspects into account, it is necessary to help individuals, directly or indirectly, to acquire the personal formation they need to respond to the call of the Institute and carry out their own mission. One duty of the formation personnel will be to discern where formation is still necessary, what lacunas need to be filled up and where aggiornamento is urgent and vital. Meanwhile, the start should be from each one's concrete reality: her personal basic formation, social and professional duties, the possibilities of her milieu; after which should be offered first what is proper to the Institute, pointing out exterior means of formation, but also supplying on the Institute level, as far as possible, what cannot be found outside, while seeing to the co-ordination of the various elements so as to bring about in every subject the desired unity.

D. Particular aspects

29. Aspects and areas of formation may be dealt with separately, which does not mean separation, because they often cut across and overlay each other. To treat of each one by itself only means to bring out its essential contents.

1. Spiritual Formation

30. Under this aspect is included the basic demands of grace or the life of faith, for persons consecrated to God in the world. These demands each one should make her own in order to be inwardly renewed, to live concretely according to the evangelical counsels, to give herself entirely to God and men, in fidelity to the calling to secular consecration within her own Institute.

31. Because of the lack of spiritual training in young people who ask to enter the Institute, their formation must be very concrete; it should teach to live according to the evangelical counsels through gestures and attitudes of donation to God and in the service of men, helping towards a perception of the presence of God in the history of our times and each individual's personal history, and learning to live accepting the cross.

32. In such a way general spiritual formation enters into, and becomes specified according to the charism of the Institute and its spirituality. Elements that are repeated, though with varying intensity, are:

formation to prayer and living in God's presence;
deepening of baptismal life in the specific consecration, practice of the theological virtues and adult faith so that the whole being belongs to God;
listening to the Word of God, individually or in common, in obedient meditation;
deepening of the "sensus Ecclesiae" with awareness that through consecration the entire person is given to the Church and shares in her mission;
formation that enables the person to carry spiritual values into every human situation

2. Doctrinal formation: biblical and theological

33. Spiritual formation requires a doctrinal support, that is, study of the Bible and the teaching of the Church.

34. Holy Scripture is not only for the learned, certainly; but it is impossible to read it as the Word of God unless we take it seriously enough to study and understand it according to our capacities. The work of the Spirit in us is not impeded but rather facilitated by sustained studious efforts to open the listening spirit and heart. This biblical doctrinal study should extend to the whole of Scripture, but in any case at least the New Testament especially the Gospels.

35. The same holds for the teaching of the Church: to know and understand the Council documents, the Magisterium of the Pope and bishops, living more conscious of the faith and being more completely integrated in the ecclesial community.

36. Today, opportunities for biblical and theological studies in the various dioceses are not hard to find. The Institute should see that it profits by these possibilities, at the same time, envisaging completing studies of the teaching of the Church on Secular Institutes.

3. Psychological, moral and ascetical formation

37. This aspect of formation is not so much theoretical as to enable the person in formation to understand herself and her milieu and foresee the problems awaiting her. For the formation of a mature, responsible and humanly rich personality there should be a search for balance, self¬ control and openness to others: all this leading to better correspondence with grace through continual effort at self conversion and revision of living witness.

38. Corresponding with the intellectual aspect should go self-¬formation, where will come in abnegation and mortification behind Christ carrying his cross.

4. Formation to the secular apostolate

39. Work and professional activity and every type of presence in society must become means of personal sanctification and ways of inserting Christian values, above all charity, into a world to be sanctified from within.

40. Hence stress should be laid on the importance of members of the Institute keeping up to the changing world and Church, opening out wide horizons, and assuming with courage their own responsibilities; the urgency of forming them to grasp the "changes of attitude and structures" as they come, and "to understand ways of thinking and feeling" of the men of today so as to be able to "test and interpret all things in a truly Christian spirit" (GS 7 and 62).

41. The Institute has therefore the task of encouraging formation to secularity (the secular outlook), understood not only as a social condition but a value that is part of the life style, entering into the practice of the evangelical counsels and the carrying out of the apostolic task.

42. It is a formation to the mission as participation in the evangelising and sanctifying mission of the Church in the world; to an apostolate of presence and witness in the milieu and professional life; to a witness, too, when, for various reasons (illness, age, etc), participation in the building up of the kingdom is limited to one's daily life; as also to a visible and more direct apostolate demanded of the conscious and committed Christian. One whose particular vocation brings with it the urgency of proclaiming Christ and the love of the Father, and who knows how to make herself available for this end to the ecclesial community.

43. In short: formation to secularity that is a way of living specified by being in the world and for the world. At the same time, formation to courage, apostolic boldness and the will to be better prepared and not to yield to human respect.

5. Professional formation

44. We have already said that the Institute as such is not competent to intervene directly on the professional level. Nevertheless, it must see that competence is had in this field on which depends witnessing value.

45. It is, then, essential that the Institute draws the attention of the members to their duty to acquire the highest professional competence; to maintain suitable relationships with their work milieu and to be prepared to make valid choices in the cultural, social, political and trade union areas. These are, in fact, indispensable conditions for having an impact on a world in which culture and technical skill are at a premium and where only too frequently professional sense of responsibility is lacking.

46. Need for professional competence should be looked on as an authentic service to the world, in line with the specific Secular Institute Vocation

E. Line of unification

47. These various aspects of formation, particularly in what concerns spirituality and the apostolate, have their line of unification in the constitutions of each Institute, in so far as they are the concrete project of the vocation and contain the radical lines of the spiritual physiognomy of a person called to this vocation.

48. Constitutions that have been renewed since Vatican II have been enriched with both biblical and doctrinal theology, with ascetical sections and stimuli. If a member of a Secular Institute is formed on this basis, this formation will be complete in essentials, besides its validity being guaranteed by the Church's approval.

49. It is fundamental that an adult relationship, free with the freedom of the children of God, should exist between the person and the constitutions: the members must know and understand what they are saying; they must be in an attitude of such readiness that they read in them the truth calling them to generous action.

50. This relationship is, clearly, not limited to the period of first formation, when what the Institute seeks and offers must be well grasped. The constitutions read in the light of the Gospel and ecclesial documents, provide matter for study and revision that is permanently valid for growth in Christian maturity.

F. Formation periods

51. Formation should be systematic in the early period of life in the Institute but cannot be limited to this; the outline becomes ever clearer as choices become more precise, that is, throughout life.

52. All the elements described hold for first, as for on going formation, only the stress is different. Formation to the specific Institute charism of spirituality, which has priority at the start, must go on, because in the concrete living, the charism and spirituality have their own evolution, depending on times, places, Church directives and needs of the world. Intelligent evolution that requires continual formation.

53. The specific work of on going formation has many facets: it makes up for inevitable gaps in first formation; is an indispensable help to continuous aggiornamento, discerning authentic values and providing enlightened reading of the signs of the times; helps to rise above periods of fatigue due to intense living, isolation, age or other circumstances; sustains the constant effort for spiritual renewal when the first fervour is falling away, could lead to less fidelity; focuses attention on fresh demands of apostolic presence.

54. Between the period of first formation and what follows there might be a gap that could give rise to a crisis. The initial period is marked by the normal presence of a responsible guide devoting time to inter personal relationships and formation meetings; later on this may be lacking or very scarce and the physical community does not replace it. It is useful to prepare for this solitude through experience of independence and personal responsibility.

G. Formation personnel

55. It is therefore of extreme importance to make a careful choice of formation personnel possessing the necessary qualities. Attention should be paid to spiritual gifts, rootedness in the Institute, balance, capacity for discernment, listening, respect and understanding of persons.

56. There is also need to give a specific formation to the formation personnel, which in one sense is the same as that of all the other members, but in another is distinct. For example, the formation personnel should not only know the Gospel but also the pedagogical techniques by which it may be transmitted; they should know and live the constitutions of the Institute in such a way as to be able to communicate all their riches, know and also be capable of inventing various possible ways of living them and making them live. Besides elements of psychology indispensable for dealing with life situations, the personnel needs the capacity for judging situations so as to provide warnings required by the vocation and consecration in a Secular Institute for a particular person in a particular instance.


A. Formation planning

57. Planned formation is necessary even if it has to be sufficiently flexible to adapt to needs of persons and circumstances of time and place. Such a plan should be based on the Word of God, the Magisterium and the Constitutions, making use in its project of many contributions and be the fruit of reflection and experience.

58. Graded according to periods of formation, this plan should have a clear aim, but be very open as regards application, because it must be in function of persons. In international Institutes it is desirable that formation plans take into account the various cultural areas as long as the main lines of formation maintain unity of spirit and the specific vocation of the Institute. Once more it becomes clear that the use and deep study of the constitutions is essential in any formative plan.

B. Means of spiritual formation

59. Given the primary importance of spiritual formation, the means must be explicitly studied and explained.

60. A list might include: spiritual exercises, periodical retreats, liturgy and the sacraments, personal and communitarian listening to the Word of God, daily meditation, sharing faith sessions, reflection alone or together, on the constitutions. All these means of spiritual formation, directly used by the Institute or being a part of the milieu where the members live, do not exclude the fact that each one should feel himself personally and actively responsible for the way he makes them his own.

C. Contacts with the Institute

61. Contacts with the Institute may be many, all directed towards integral and unified formation: from exchanges between individuals or to a group or communication " from afar".

62. 1. Among person to person contacts, priority is given to those between members in formation and the formation personnel: help is there given to assume the various elements of the vocation responsibly and in line with personal gifts, thus making a life long harmonious synthesis.

63. There can be periodical colloquies, written relations and regular correspondence. It is good that the formation' personnel does not limit its action to these, but tries to meet the member in formation in the milieu of his ordinary everyday life. This will make his milieu of origin better known, the particular aspects of his personality accepted and will show how he relates to real life and to others. There are particular moments when the individual is helped to discover, reinforce, develop and deepen his sense of commitment and personal responsibility.

64. Besides contacts with the formation personnel, it is particularly important that the member in formation have fraternal contact with every other member of the Institute.

65. 2. But individual contact is not enough. This must be completed with times of community life, that is, those fraternal meetings indispensable for specific formation in the Institute and the verification of mutual support.

66. These moments of fraternal life may vary notably from one Institute to the other, but their formative efficacy is undeniable. They not only show human friendship but should, above all, be a time of confrontation with the Word of God, to incarnate it in the different but shared concrete situations. In fact, the value of dialogue, whether bilateral or on the level of the group, lies in the common search for the will of God, in reciprocal sharing.

67. At these meetings there is also the transmission of the history of the Institute (charism, foundation, first steps, developments, etc), the knowledge of which is fundamental for understanding the personal vocation and its place in the mission of the Church.

68. 3. At times, possibilities of fraternal meetings comes up against difficulties; hence the need to take into consideration written means, even if oral formation is preferable.

69. Among these instruments of formation may be listed all the Institute writings: letters, circulars, bulletins, questionnaires, reviews, etc, used according to the traditions of the Institute, but to which the members as far as they can, should contribute; and above all which should be received as a means of fraternal support.

D. Complementary means of formation

70. Is there a hierarchy of efficiency of means of formation useful to the Institutes?

71. In practice, the Institutes have to make use of different means in a complementary way, suited to the individual and actual possibilities. In this sense it can be said that all means are necessary and complement each other, in relation to the essential and permanent aim of personal growth.

72. A few suggestions for facing certain difficulties may be useful:

the remedy for isolation is the forming of groups: mutual help guarantees that there will always be a stimulus for progress in self-¬formation as well;
it can be very useful to share formation in common elements and demands between Institutes;
fraternal help between the better provided Institutes and those less gifted might also be considered.


73. The above reflections and the suggestions of the previous pages are offered, as has been said, as a help to Secular Institutes.

74. Perhaps in some Institutes the formation personnel may feel afraid, the task is too great for them.

75. It really is a heavy task, but it should lead all to feel certain that, while recognising they are "unprofitable servants" (Luke 17.10), when they have done all they can, the Lord will intervene and reach there where the formation personnel know not, nor cannot reach: "He will fulfil, with his power, all your desire for good" (2 Thess 1.11).


Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes (C.R.I.S.)

Secular Institutes and Evangelical Counsels

Reflections on the basic teaching of the Church's Magisterium
May 15th, 1981

The most painstaking activity that has to be undertaken by the "Secular Institute" Section of the Sacred Congregation is its examination of the Constitutions or Statutes, a task it absolves with the collaboration of its Consultors and Commissaries under the ultimate responsibility of the Cardinal Prefect and the Secretary.

This is not a purely technical task for which one has to do no more than apply some ready made scheme according to which the various norms can be approved or corrected.

Nor is the Section an anonymous group. Rather, its members, just like the Consultors and Commissaries, are personally called upon to render an ecclesial service, and they desire to render this service in love for Christ, the Church, and the people affected. This requires of them an effort of comprehension and a commitment of fidelity, both of which have to be continually renewed.

From the documentation it receives (and whenever possible also from a direct dialogue) the Section tries to understand, at least in its essence if not in all its nuances, the spirituality, the history and the characteristic elements of every Institute. In performing its task as an executive organ, however, the Section must take account of the Church's doctrine regarding the Secular Institutes, a doctrine that it must interpret, perfect and apply without betraying it (cfr. PM, Art. II, 2.2°).

It is in this spirit, therefore, that the Section for Secular Institutes, in order to clarify certain difficulties regarding the observance of the evangelical counsels, has made a serious study of its plan for the examination of Constitutions and Statutes. Following an initial analysis with its Consultors, the Section presents the results of its study in the conviction of providing something not necessarily new in content but useful and normative in drawing up or revising Constitutions, as well as a basis for common language in the dialogue between Institutes and the Section.

l. The novelty and the peculiar feature that the Secular Institutes constitute in the Church was and still is the Church's recognition of true consecration in secularity.

The Magisterium of the Church, by its own authority, recognises as Institutes of true consecrated life not only the religious Institutes, but also those associations that, called to an apostolate "in saeculo et ex saeculo", propose to their members as the way towards the fullness of charity (or using equivalent expressions: towards the perfection of Christian life; towards a full and authentic evangelical life) an explicit commitment on the basis of sacred bond to observe the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience in the world, in secular life. These associations it has called Secular Institutes.

In this connection see Apostolic Constitution Provida Mater of 1947, the Motu proprio Primo feliciter of 1948, and the confirmation contained in No. 11 of the Council Decree Perfectae caritatis of 1965. These texts must today be read in the light of the teachings of Paul VI and John Paul II contained in their speeches to the Secular Institutes.

The recognition of true consecration in secularity is restated, and in substantially the same terms, in the scheme of the future Code of canon law.

2. Three components concur in the reality of this peculiar consecration: God's action that calls to a specific commitment and a specific mission, the response of the person with total donation, and the recognition by the Church.

It is not the same as the consecration of baptism, but derives its origin and value from this latter, of which it is a development in depth in accordance with specific vocation: "in baptismatis consecratione intime radicatur eamque plenius exprimit (PC 5; cfr. LG 44: "intimius consecratur").

3. On the basis of the recognition by the Magisterium, the community of the Institute comes to belong to the Church by virtue of a special title.

As far as individual persons are concerned, ecclesial recognition offers the guarantee that the way proposed by the Institute is an evangelical way that leads to the fullness of charity, always provided that it is followed with fidelity and generosity. The fact that on the basis of this recognition the total and definitive donation of the members to Christ is received by the Director General of the Institute in the name of the Church provides a guarantee also of the new gift of grace that is conveyed by this peculiar consecration.

We are dealing here with a positive recognition. In other words, it obviously does not exclude that there may be other roads towards the fullness of charity in secular life: "All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and the perfection of love" (LG 40). The sacrament of marriage, for example, is given for this purpose. But the Magisterium recognises as Secular Institutes those that propose, in secularity of course, the road of an explicit commitment to observe the three evangelical counsels.

4. The road proposed by the Secular Institutes is a peculiar and characteristic road.

It is a lay road (for the lay Secular Institutes) that is specified by a special consecration. In fact, the secular character 'proper and peculiar to the laity" (LG 3l) is also "the proper and special character of these Institutes, which constitutes their whole reason for existence" (PF II).

The consecration that specifies this lay road involves an explicit commitment to observe the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience, but with peculiar content and with a peculiar style.

Many evangelical counsels are given to all Christians; the road proposed by the Secular Institutes requires a special commitment to observe the three counsels in accordance with definite norms.

In fact, every road leading to fullness of charity requires that one should embrace the Gospel in its entirety as expressed by the Beatitudes. The three typical evangelical counsels in the doctrine of the Church are the ultimate consequence and the programmatic quintessence of all the evangelical counsels and the Beatitudes; they are an expression of the radicality with which the Gospel must be lived in order "to follow Christ with greater liberty and to imitate him more closely (= pressius)" (PC l). It is on account of the value of this radicality that the Magisterium requires the Secular Institutes to commit themselves explicitly to the evangelical counsels, "gift of God which the Church has received from her Lord and which by his grace she always safeguards" (LG 43).

Even in the case of Secular Institutes for priests one has to speak of a peculiar consecration, a consecration that in turn specifies the life of the priest and involves the same explicit commitment to observe the evangelical counsels.

5. An eminent expression of one's total donation to God is the vow of perfect chastity in celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom: "precious gift of divine grace given to some by the Father" (LG 42).

Sometimes the Church limits herself to requiring this particular vow before giving her recognition to a consecration; this, for example, is what happens in the case of the consecratio virginum. But in the case of the institutional forms of consecrated life, and specifically as far as the Secular Institutes are concerned, she requires that the donation should also be expressed by an explicit commitment to poverty and obedience according to certain norms.

6. The Magisterium of the Church, which has the task of "making wise laws for the regulation of the practice of the counsels whereby perfect love of God and of our neighbour is fostered in a unique way" (LG 45), leaves it to the Constitutions of the individual Institutes to draw up the appropriate directives. What she requires is:

a) that the call and the exhortation to fully live the spirit of the evangelical counsels should be supplemented by concrete and precise norm directing how this is to be done in the style of secularity and in keeping with the characteristics of the Institute; these norms in a certain way become the means and the guarantee for living the corresponding evangelical virtues;

b) that these prescribed obligations be accepted by means of a sacred bond, i.e. that the commitment be expressed before God and the Church (cfr. PM Art. III. 2);

c) that the Constitutions with these contents be submitted for verification and approval to the ecclesiastical Authorities.

For the purposes of these reflections the Section has taken into consideration what the Magisterium of the Church says today about the Secular Institutes as far as this particular topic is concerned. No effort was made to define the nature of the Secular Institutes in its entirety, nor to reflect about consecrated life in general, nor to contemplate the possibility that in the future there might be forms of consecration in full secular life different from the one now practised by Secular Institutes.

A very important point remains to be examined: the exemplification of concrete ways of living the evangelical counsels to correspond with the exigencies of secularity. The Section intends to make a further study of this matter; but it is really up to the members of Secular Institutes in the light of their experience to make a decisive contribution on this subject. The Section will in any case be extremely grateful to any Institute that would care to send in a written statement on this topic.

Rome, 15 May 1981


Secular Institutes, faithful expression of the Council's Ecclesiology

John Paul II

Allocution to the Plenary Assembly of the Sacred Congregation for Religious
and the Secular Institutes on 6 May 1983

Reverend brothers and beloved sons and daughters!

l. I thank you for your presence and I express to you my joy for this meeting, and my gratitude for the work that you do to inspire and foster consecrated life. The evangelical counsels, in fact, are a "divine gift which the Church has received from her Lord and which she ever preserves with the help of his grace" (LG, 43), and therefore what is done in the Congregation on behalf of their profession is extremely sound and valuable.

The plenary assembly which you are concluding today was held along this line of inspiring and fostering consecrated life. You have taken into particular consideration the identity and the mission of those Institutes which, because of their distinctive mission in saeculo et ex saeculo (Can. 713, 2 New Code), are called "Secular Institutes".

It is the first time that one of your plenary assemblies has dealt with them directly: therefore it was a timely choice, which the promulgation of the new Code has inspired. The Secular Institutes which in 1947 received ecclesial recognition with the Apostolic Constitution Provida Mater issued by my predecessor, Pius XII now find in the Code their rightful place on the basis of the doctrine of the Second Vatican Council. In fact, these Institutes are intended to be faithful expressions of that ecclesiology which the Council reconfirms when it emphasises the universal vocation to holiness (cf. LG, Chap. 5), the inherent tasks of the baptised (cf. LG, Chap. 4; AA), the Church's presence in the world in which she must act as leaven and he the "universal sacrament of salvation" (LG, 48; cf. GS), the variety and the dignity of the various vocations, and the "particular honour" which the Church pays towards "total continence embraced on behalf of the kingdom of heaven" (LG, 42) and towards the witness of evangelical poverty and obedience (ibid.).

2. Quite rightly your reflection dwelled on the constitutive, theological and juridical elements of the Secular Institutes, keeping in mind the formulation of the canons dedicated to them in the recently promulgated Code, and examining them in the light of the teaching which Pope Paul VI, and I myself with the discourse of 28 August l980, have confirmed in audiences granted them.

We must express profound gratitude to the Father of infinite mercy, who has taken to heart the needs of mankind and, with the life-giving power of the Spirit, has undertaken in this century new initiatives for mankind's redemption. Honour and glory be to the triune God for this outpouring of grace which the Secular Institutes are, and with which he manifests his inexhaustible benevolence, with which the Church herself loves the world in the name of her God and Lord.
The newness of the gift which the Spirit has made to the Church's everlasting fruitfulness in response to the needs of our times is grasped only if its constituent elements in their inseparability are well understood: the consecration and the secularity; the consequent apostolate of witness, of Christian commitment in social life and of evangelization; the fraternity which, without being determined by a community of life, is truly communion; the external life style itself, which is not separate from the environment in which it may appear.

3. Now it is necessary to know and make known this vocation that is so relevant and, I should say, so urgent, the vocation of persons who consecrate themselves to God by practising the evangelical counsels and strive to immerse their whole lives and all their activities in that special consecration, creating in themselves a total availability to the Father's will and working to change the world from within (cf. Discourse of 28 August 1980).

The promulgation of the new Code will surely allow this better knowledge, but it must also urge pastors to foster among the faithful an understanding which is not approximate or yielding, but exact and respectful of the qualifying characteristics.

In this way, generous responses to this difficult but beautiful vocation of "full consecration to God and to souls" (cf. PC, no. 5) are aroused: a demanding vocation, because one responds to it by carrying the baptismal commitments to the most perfect consequences of evangelical radicalism, and also because this evangelical life must be embodied in the most diverse situations.

In fact, the variety of the gifts entrusted to the Secular Institutes expresses the various apostolic aims which embrace all areas of human and Christian life. This pluralistic wealth is also shown in the numerous spiritualities which animate the Secular Institutes, with the diversity of the holy bonds which characterise various modes of practising the evangelical counsels and the great possibilities of their incorporation in all areas of social life. My Predecessor, Pope Paul VI, who showed so much affection for the Secular Institutes, rightly said that if they "remain faithful to their vocation, they will be like an experimental laboratory in which the Church tests the concrete modes of its relations with the world" (Paul VI, Discourse to the International Congress of Secular Institutes, 25 August 1976). Therefore, lend your support to these Institutes that they may be faithful to the original charisms of their foundation recognised by the hierarchy, and be alert to discover in their fruits the teaching which God wants to give us for the life and action of the entire Church.

4. If there is a development and strengthening of the Secular Institutes, the local Churches also will derive benefit from this.

This aspect has been kept in mind during your plenary assembly, also because various episcopates, with the suggestions given with regard to your meeting, have pointed out that the relationship between Secular Institutes and local Churches is worthy of being deepened.

Even while respecting their characteristics, the Secular Institutes must understand and adopt the pastoral urgencies of the particular Churches, and encourage their members to live the hopes and toils, the projects and concerns, the spiritual riches and limitations with diligent participation; in a word, the communion of their concrete Church. This must be a point for greater reflection for the Secular Institutes, just as it must be a concern of the pastors to recognise and request their contribution according to their proper nature.
In particular, another responsibility rests on the pastors: that of offering the Secular Institutes all the doctrinal wealth they need. They want to be part of the world and ennoble temporal realities, setting them in order and elevating them, that all things may be brought into one under Christ's headship (cf. Eph l : l). Therefore, may all the wealth of Catholic doctrine on creation, incarnation and redemption be given to these Institutes that they may make their own God's wise and mysterious plans for man, for history and for the world.

5. Beloved brothers and sons and daughters!

It is with a sentiment of true esteem and also of deep encouragement for the Secular Institutes that today I have taken the opportunity offered me by this meeting to emphasise some aspects treated by you during the past few days.

I hope that your plenary assembly may fully achieve the goal of offering to the Church better information on the Secular Institutes and helping them live their vocation in awareness and fidelity.

May this Jubilee Year of the Redemption, which calls everyone to "a renewed discovery of the love of God who gives himself' (Apostolic Bull, Aperite Portas Redemptori, 8) and a renewed encounter with the merciful goodness of God, be particularly for consecrated persons also a renewed and pressing invitation to follow "with greater freedom" and "more closely" (PC, I ) the Master who calls them for the pathways of the Gospel.

May the Virgin Mary be a constant and sublime model to them, and may she always guide them with her motherly protection.

With these sentiments, I gladly impart my intercessory Apostolic Blessing to you present and to the members of the Secular Institutes throughout the world.


Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes (C.R.I.S.)

Secular Institutes: their identity and their mission

Document for the Plenary Assembly held in May 1983


Since 1947 those Institutes of consecrated life whose specific character had led to their being named secular, have their own place in the Church. They have been recognised and approved by the Church in which they play an active part, according to their particular vocation, in her mission of universal sacrament of salvation.

With the conciliar doctrine in mind, Paul VI stated that the Church

"has a truly secular dimension, part of her very self and her mission; the root ends of this secularity are deep down in the mistery of the Word made flesh" (February 2, 1972).

Now within this Church, plunged and scattered among all peoples, present in the world and to the world, Secular Institutes

"have emerged as providential instruments to embody this spirit and to pass it on to the whole Church" (ibid.).

Following Christ radically while living and professing the evangelical counsels, "secular consecration expresses and carries out in a special way the harmonious union of building up the kingdom of God and the construction of the temporal city, the explicit proclamation of Jesus in evangelization and the Christian demands for integral human development" (E. Pironio, August 23, l 976).

Secular Institutes are defined by the Church through the common characteristic of union of consecration and secularity, which is to be understood within the context of the particular physiognomy of each group.

In the following pages we present an historical outline, a theological reflection, and essential juridical elements, that should provide adequate information.



Secular Institutes correspond to an ecclesiology emerging from Vatican II. This is authoritatively declared by Paul VI:

"Secular Institutes have to be seen in the perspective in which the Council contemplates the Church a living reality both visible and spiritual (cf LG 8), whose life is lived and whose development happens within the context of history... "

"There is a deep, providential, unmistakable link... between the charism of Secular Institutes and one of the clearest and most important themes of the Council, the Church's presence in the world. In fact the Council documents underline the various relationships between Church and the world: the Church is part and parcel of the world, destined to serve the world, to be the leaven in the lump or the soul in the body, for the Church is called to sanctify and consecrate the world, to shed upon it the pure light of the supreme values of love, justice and peace" (February 2, 1972).

These words not only constitute an authoritative recognition of Secular Institutes but they also provide the key to their history which we shall now present in outline.

1. Before "Provida Mater" (1947)

A pre history of Secular Institutes shows that, already in the past, efforts had been made to found associations similar to the present Secular Institutes. A kind of approval of these associations had been given by the decree Ecclesia Catholica (August 11, 1889). But they were allowed only a private consecration.

Above all, in the period from 1920 to 1940 in various parts of the world the Spirit acted on a number of groups that felt the call to give themselves unconditionally to God while remaining in the world to work for the coming of Christ's Kingdom from within.

The Magisterium of the Church became open to the spread of this ideal which by 1940 had become more clear cut when some of these groups began to meet.

Pope Pius XII had a careful study made of the whole problem and this was followed by the promulgation of the Apostolic Constitution Provida Mater.

2. From "Provida Mater" to Vatican II

The documents recognising associations that in 1947 were named "Secular Institutes" are:

Provida Mater: Apostolic Constitution containing a Lex peculiaris, February 2, 1947;
Primo feliciter: Motu proprio of March 12, 1948;
Cum Sanctissimus: Instruction from the Sacred Congregation of Religious, March l 9, 1948.

These documents are complementary, containing both doctrinal reflections and juridical norms, with sufficiently clear features as to warrant already a definition of the new Institutes.

These Institutes, however, were very varied, particularly in their apostolic aims.

For some this meant simple presence in a given milieu for personal witness and personal undertaking to direct temporal realities to God ("penetration" Institutes).

For others this meant more explicit apostolate that did not exclude the communitarian aspect, as well as direct ecclesial or assistential tasks ("collaboration" Institutes).

But the distinctions were not always too clear and one Institute might embrace both goals together.

3. Teaching of Vatican II

a) in the conciliar documents Secular Institutes are not often mentioned and the only text explicitly dedicated to them is Perfectae caritatis n. 11.

This text lists briefly the essential features of Secular Institutes as confirmed by the authority of the Council. These features are as follows:

Secular Institutes are not Religious Institutes: this negative definition demands that we avoid confusing the two; Secular Institutes are not a modern form of religious life but a vocation and an original form of life;

- they require "veram et completam consiliorum evangelicorum professionem": hence they cannot be reduced to associations or movements that, in response to baptismal grace, while living the spirit of the evangelical counsels, do not profess them in a recognised ecclesial manner;

in this profession the Church marks the members of Secular Institutes with the consecration that comes from God, to whom they undertake to dedicate themselves wholly in perfect charity;

the profession itself takes place in saeculo, in the world, in secular life: this element has a deep qualifying effect on the content of the evangelical counsels and determines the way they are lived;

hence the "specific and particular character" is a secular one;

finally and consequently, only fidelity to this physiognomy will enable them to exercise the apostolate "ad quem exercendum orta sunt"; that is, the apostolate particularly their own because of its aim, and which must be in saeculo ac veluti ex saeculo; in the world (cfr. Primo feliciter II; making use of the professions, activities, forms, places and circumstances that fit in with their secular condition).

Serious attention should be given to the recommendation of Perfectae caritatis n. 11, to provide careful formation "in rebus divinis et humanis", because this vocation is in reality very exacting.

b) In the doctrine of the Second Vatican Council Secular Institutes have found many statements that corroborate their basic intuition together with a number of clear directive programmes.

Among confirming statements: the recognition of the universal call to sanctity, the dignity and responsibility of the Laity in the Church, and above all that "laicis indoles saecularis propria et peculiaris est" (LG 31): the second paragraph of this section seems to take up not only the doctrine but even some expressions in the Motu proprio Primo feliciter.

Among directive programmes particularly: teaching of Gaudium et spes on the relationship between the Church and the modern world, and the task of being present in temporal realities, working respectfully and sincerely to turn them to God.

c) In brief: since Vatican II Secular Institutes have had the possibility of deepening their theological foundation (consecration in, and from, secularity) as well as of clarifying their line of action (sanctification of members and transforming presence in the world).

By the Apostolic Constitution Regimini Ecclesiae Universae (August 15, 1967) for the implementation of the Council, the Sacred Congregation changed its name to: "pro Religiosis et Institutis saecularibus". This is an ulterior recognition of the dignity if the Secular Institutes and their clear distinction from religious. It has led to the setting up to two sections in the Sacred Congregation (previously the Secular Institutes operated from an "office"), with two Under¬-Secretaries with separate and autonomous duties headed by one Prefect and one Secretary.

4. After Vatican II

The study of Secular Institutes has been enriched by contributions from two, to a certain extent connected, sources. The first, of an existential nature emanates from periodical meeting between the Institutes. A second, of doctrinal nature, made up mainly of various addresses the Popes directed to them. Clarifications and reflections have come from the Sacred Congregation.

A) Meetings of Institutes

Study sessions had already taken place when in 1970 the first International Congress was convoked at which all legitimately constituted Secular Institutes participated.

This congress set up a commission charged with studying and proposing statutes for a World Conference of Secular Institutes (W.C.S.I.). These statutes were officially approved by the Sacred Congregation, and with a Decree (May 23, 1974) the Conference received official recognition.

After 1970, those in charge of Secular Institutes met in assembly in 1972 and then at four yearly intervals in 1976, 1980. The 1984 assembly is already planned.

These meetings have treated of subjects directly concerning the Institutes such as: the evangelical counsels, secular prayer, evangelization as contributing to "changing the world from within".

But they have above all contributed to drawing the Institutes closer together either to share experiences or for open and sincere discussions.
Discussions have been very profitable because:

besides Institutes with totally secular apostolic goals (operating "in saeculo et ex saeculo"), there were others with institutional as well as inter ecclesial activities (e.g. catechesis).

besides Institutes which foresaw apostolic undertakings through personal witness, there were those which engaged in works or task undertaken as communitarian witness;

besides the majority of lay Institutes which defined secularity as specific to the laity, there were clerical or mixed Institutes which stressed the secularity of the Church as a whole;

with clerical Institutes which felt their presence in the local presbytery and hence incardination in the diocese as necessary to their secularity, there were others who had obtained their own incardination.

Through successive meetings, repeated on the national, and in Latin America and Asia, on a continental level, contacts had led the Institutes to accept diversity, (so called "pluralism"), while feeling the need to clarify the boundaries of this same diversity.

Hence, the meetings helped the Institutes to understand themselves better (both as a category and as single Institutes), to rectify some hesitations and further a common search.

B) Discourses of the Popes

Pius XII had already addressed some Secular Institutes and mentioned them in discourses on the life of perfection. But when the Institutes started their meetings and world assemblies, in each case the Pope delivered an allocution: Paul VI in 1970, 1972, 1976; John Paul II in 1980. To these should be added those of Paul VI in XXV of Provida Mater (February 2, 1972 and 1977).

These discourses contain rich doctrinal elements that help towards a definition of the identity of Secular Institutes. Here we recall a few among many of these statements:

a) The charism of Secular Institutes and the position of the Council with regard to the presence of the Church in the world coincide:

"They should give witness as specialists in the field, as models of the Church's attitude and mission in the world" (Paul VI, February 2, 1972).

This supposes a firm orientation towards sanctity, and a presence in the world that works for its perfection and sanctification because it takes the natural order very seriously.

b) Consecrated life in act according to the evangelical counsels should not only witness to eternal life but become a reminder and universal model: "The Counsels... come to mean something very topical and typical in today's world" (Paul VI, February 2, 1972); and their energy is implanted "into the heart of human, space time values" (id. September 20, 1972).

c) Consequently secularity, which implies immersion of these Institutes in the world, "is not simply... the condition of people living in the world, an external condition, it is rather an attitude" (Paul VI, February 2,1972), an awareness: "The condition in which you live, your life description in human society becomes your theological self and your way of bringing salvation into the realm of reality for all the world to see" (id. September 20, 1972).

d) Moreover, consecration in the Secular Institutes should be so genuine as to confirm that "deep down in your hearts the world becomes consecrated to God" (Paul VI, February 2, 1972); "directing human values... towards the evangelical beatitudes" (id. September 20, 1972). It must "impregnate your whole life and all your daily activities" (John Paul II, August 28, 1980).

It is, then, not an easy path: "You are spiritual mountaineers with a stiff climb before you" (Paul VI, September 26, 1970).

e) Secular Institutes belong to the Church: "To your special life as consecrated seculars belongs a special membership of the Church" (Paul VI, September 26, 1970). "The Church needs your witness" (id. February 2, 1972), and "the Church expects a great deal of you" (John Paul II, August 28, 1980). Secular Institutes should "keep, before all else, keep alive and growing in your hearts, union, communion in and with the Church" (Paul VI, September 20, 1972).

C) Interventions of the Sacred Congregation

In this period, the Sacred Congregation also has been in contact with Secular Institutes in various ways.

On various occasions the Cardinals Prefect, Antoniutti and Pironio, have pronounced discourses and sent messages; and the bureau has contributed subjects for reflection, particularly the following four:

a) Reflections on Secular Institutes (1976). This is a study worked out by a special commission set up by Paul VI in 1970. It is a kind of position paper, containing a number of clarifications, without making any claim to have the last word. On the two sections, the first, shorter one, consists in a few theological statements of principles explaining clearly the values of consecrated secularity. The second, longer section, describes Secular Institutes from the grassroots level of experience; it also touches on some juridical aspects.

b) Married persons and Secular Institutes (1976). The Institutes receive the result of a study made in the Sacred Congregation. It re¬confirms that the evangelical counsel of chastity in celibacy is an essential element of consecrated life in Secular Institutes. It deals with the possibility of married persons belonging in a wider sense and encourages the founding of appropriate associations.

c) Formation in Secular Institutes (1980). This document was prepared in order to assist the Institutes in the important undertaking of the formation of members. It recalls principles as well as suggesting concrete orientation based on experience.

d) Secular Institutes and the evangelical counsels (1981). This is a circular letter reminding of Church teaching on the essential nature of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience and of the need to specify the sacred bond by which they are adopted, their content and modality, that they be suitable to the condition of secularity.

5. The new Code of Canon Law (1983)

A new phase starts with the promulgation of the new Code of Canon Law which contains systematic and up to date legislation for Secular Institutes. This is contained in Book II in a section on Institutes of consecrated life. The main elements of this codified norm follow below, after a brief reminder of the theological basis which gradually emerged and became more clear cut during the brief history of Secular Institutes.



In the pontifical documents Provida Mater and Primo feliciter the theology of Secular Institutes has been dealt with at length, and this has been amplified and investigated fully in conciliar doctrine and the teaching of the Supreme Pontiffs.

Specialists have also contributed the results of their studies. Yet it must be admitted that the theological research has not by any means ended.

Therefore, what follows is a simple recalling of the main aspects of this theology, referring in substance to the study made by a special Commission and made public with Pope Paul VI approval in 1976.

1. The world as "saeculum"

It was out of love that God created the world, placing man at its centre and summit, and deeming that the created reality was "valde bona", very good (Gen. 1: 31). Man, made through the Word in the image and likeness of God and called upon to live within Christ in the intimate life of God, is given the task of leading all realities, through wisdom and action, to the attainment of this ultimate end. The destiny of the world is therefore bound up with that of man and, consequently, the word "world" is used to designate "the whole human family along with the sum of those realities in midst of which that family lives" (Gaudium et spes, 2) and in which it works.

The world, therefore, was involved in the initial fall of man and "condemned to lose its purpose" (Rom 8:20), but it also involved in the redemption brought about by Christ, Saviour of man, Who, through grace, turns him into a son of God and once again capable by virtue of participation in His Passion and Resurrection of living and working in the world according to God's plan, for the praise of His glory (cf. Eph. I :6; 1 :12 14).

It is in the light of Revelation then that the world appears as "saeculum". The "saeculum" is the present world as it results from the initial fall of man, "this world" (1 Cor. 7:31) which, subjected to the reign of sin and death, has to come to an end and is placed in antithesis to the "new era" (aion), to eternal life inaugurated by the Death and Resurrection of Christ. This world preserves its goodness, truth and essential order, qualities which derive from its condition as something created (cf. GS 36); nevertheless, tarnished by sin as it is, it cannot save itself by its own efforts, but it is called upon to share in the salvation brought about by Christ (cf. GS 2, 13, 37, 39), a salvation that is achieved when man regenerated in faith and baptism, and incorporated in the Church participates in the Paschal Mystery.

While this salvation is actuated in the course of human history, it penetrates this latter with its light and life; it enlarges and extends its action to all the values of creation, to discern them and to withdraw them from the ambiguity that has characterised them ever since original sin (GS 4), the order to re establish them in the new freedom of the children of God (cf. Rom 8:21).

2. New relationship between the baptised and the world

The Church, a society of persons reborn in Christ to eternal life, is therefore the sacrament of the renewal of the world which will be brought about by the power of the Lord once and for all in the consummation of the "saeculum", accompanied by the destruction of all the powers of the devil, of sin and death, and the subordination of everything to Him and to the Father (cf. 1 Cor. 15:20 28). Through Christ, in the Church, those marked and animated by the Holy Spirit are constituted into a "royal priesthood" (I Pet 2:9) in which they offer themselves, their activities and their world to the glory of the Father (cfr. Lumen Gentium 34).

For each Christian, therefore, baptism gives rise to a new relationship with and to the world. Together with all other men of good will, the Christian is dedicated to the task of building the world and contributing to the good of humanity, operating in accordance with the legitimate autonomy of terrestrial realities (cfr. GS 34, 36). In fact, this new relationship does not in any way alter or diminish the natural order and, even though it might involve a rupture with the world inasmuch as it is a reality opposed to the life of grace and the expectation of the everlasting kingdom, it also implies the will to work in the love of Christ for the salvation of the world, that is to say, for the leading of humanity to the life of faith and, as far as possible, reordering temporal realities according to God's design, so that they may contribute to man's growth in grace for eternal life (cfr. Apostolicam Actuositatem 7).

It is by living this new relationship to the world that the baptised cooperate in Christ for the world's redemption. Consequently, the "secularity" of a baptised person here seen as existence in this world and participation in its manifold activities can never be understood outside the framework of this essential relationship, whatever concrete form it may assume.

3. Diversity in concretely living the relationship to the world

All must live this essential relationship to the world and tend towards that sanctity that is participation in the divine life, in charity (cfr. LG 40). But there remains the fact that God distributes his gifts to each of us "in proportion to what Christ has given" (Eph 4:7).

In fact, God is sovereignly free in the distribution of his gifts. In his free initiative, the Spirit of God distributes them: "As he wishes he gives a different gift to each person" (I Cor 12:11), having in mind not only the good of the individual person but, at one and the same time, also the global interest of the entire Church and the whole of mankind.

It is in very virtue of this wealth of gifts that the fundamental unity of the Mystical Body that is the Church manifests itself in the complementary diversities of its members, who live and work under the action of the Spirit of Christ for the building up of his Body.

In fact, the universal vocation to sanctity in the Church is cultivated in the various kinds of life and in the various functions (cfr. LG 41) according to the manifold specific vocations. The Lord accompanies these different vocations with the gifts needed to enable a person to live them. Furthermore, these vocations, encountering the free response of the persons concerned, give rise to different ways of realisation. Consequently, there will also be differences in the ways in which Christians give concrete form to their baptismal relationship to the world.

4. Following Christ in the practice of the Evangelical Counsels

Following Christ signifies for every Christian an absolute preference for Him, if necessary to the point of martyrdom (cfr. LG 42). But Christ invites some of his faithful to follow him unconditionally in order to dedicate themselves totally to Him and to the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. This is a call to an irrevocable act that implies a complete donation of oneself to the person of Christ to share his life, his mission, his destiny, and, as a condition, the renunciation of one's own self, of married life and of material goods.

This renunciation is lived by those called as a condition that enables them to adhere without hindrance to that absolute Love which centres them in Christ and thus permits them to enter more intimately into the movement of this Love towards creation: "God loved the world so much that he gave his only son" (Jn 3:16) so that, through him, the world might be saved. Such a decision, by virtue of its total and definitive response to the exigencies of love, assumes the character of a vow of absolute fidelity to Christ. It clearly presupposes the baptismal premise of living as a faithful follower of Christ, but is distinguished from it, perfecting it.

By virtue of its content, this decision radicalises the relationship of the baptised to the world, because one's renunciation of "using this world" in the usual manner bears witness to its relative and provisional value and foretells the coming of the eschatological kingdom (cfr. 1 Cor. 8:3 1 ).

In the Church the content of this donation has assumed the form of the practice of the "evangelical counsels" (consecrated chastity, poverty, obedience) concretely lived in different ways, spontaneous or institutionalised. The diversity of these forms is due to the different ways in which one can work with Christ for the salvation of the world, ways that may range from the effective separation that is peculiar to certain forms of religious life right through to the presence typical to the members of Secular Institutes.

The presence of these latter in the midst of the world signifies a special vocation to a salvific presence that expresses itself in bearing witness to Christ and in an activity that aims at ordering temporal realities according to God's plan. In relation to this activity the profession of the evangelical counsels assumes the special significance of liberation from the obstacles (pride, cupidity) that prevent one from seeing and putting into practice the order desired by God.

5. Ecclesiality of the Profession of the Evangelical Counsels

Every call to follow Christ is a call to a communion of life in Him and in the Church.

Consequently, the practice and profession of the evangelical counsels in the Church have expressed themselves not only in an individual manner, but also by insertion into communities brought into being by the Holy Spirit through the charism of their founders.

These communities are intimately linked with the life of the Church animated by the Holy Spirit and therefore entrusted to the discernment and the judgment of the hierarchy that is called to verify their charisms, to admit them, to approve them and to send them on their way, recognising their mission of co-operating in the building up of the kingdom of God.

The total and definitive donation to Christ undertaken by the members of these Institutes is therefore received, in the name of the Church as the representative of Christ and in the form approved by her, by the constituted authorities within these Institutes, so as to create a sacred bond (cfr. LG 44). In fact, by accepting the donation of a person, the Church marks that person in the name of God with a special consecration as belonging exclusively to Christ and to his work of salvation.

The sacramental and fundamental consecration of man is constituted by baptism, but this consecration can then be lived in a more or less "profound and intimate" manner. The firm decision to answer the special call of Christ, totally and freely donating to him one's whole existence and forsaking everything in the world that can create an obstacle or impediment to such an exclusive donation, offers material for the so called new consecration (cfr. LG 44) which is "deeply rooted in their baptismal consecration, and provides an ampler manifestation of it" (Perfectae caritatis 5). It is the action of God that calls the person, whom he reserves for himself through the ministry of the Church, and whom he assists with special graces to enable him or her to remain faithful.

The Consecration of the members of Secular Institutes is not marked by a setting aside, made visible by external signs but it nevertheless possesses the essential characteristic of a total dedication to Christ in a specific ecclesial community; community with which the member contracts a reciprocal and stable bond and in the charism of which he participates. From this there follows a particular consequence regarding the manner in which one must understand obedience in Secular Institutes: it involves not only a search either individually or in group - ¬for God's will assuming those duties proper to a secular life, but also the free acceptance of the mediation of the Church and the community through its authorities within the limits of the constitutive Norms of the individual Institutes.

6. The "secularity" of Secular Institutes

The following of Christ in the practice of the evangelical counsels had had the effect of creating within the Church a state of life characterised by a certain "abandonment of the 'saeculum' ": religious life. This state has therefore come to be distinguished from that of the faithful remaining in the conditions and activities of the world, faithful who are therefore referred to as "seculars".

Thus, having recognised new Institutes in which the evangelical counsels are fully professed by faithful who remain in the world and are committed to its activities, working for its salvation from within ("in saeculo ac veluti saeculo"), the Church has therefore called these Institutes "Secular Institutes".

In the quality of secular attributed to these Institutes there is what might be called a "negative" meaning: they are not religious (cfr. PC 11), so that legislation or proceedings proper to religious should not be applied to them.

But the really important meaning that brings out their specific vocation is "positive": secularity indicates either a sociological condition of being in the world , or an attitude of apostolic commitment and acts from them, in order to impregnate them with an evangelical spirit.

The commitment is lived in a different manner by lay persons and priests. The former, in fact, have a particular note that characterises their very evangelization and their witness to the faith in words and works, namely "to search for the kingdom of God by dealing with temporal realities and re ordering them according to God" (LG 31). Priests, on the other hand, except in unusual cases (cfr. LG 31, PO 8) do not exercise this responsibility towards the world by means of direct and immediate action in the temporal order, but rather through their ministerial action and by means of their role as educators in the faith (cfr. Presbyterorum Ordinis 6): this is the supreme means for making contribution towards ensuring that the world will continuously perfect itself in accordance with the order and the significance of creation (Paul VI, February 2, 1972), and for giving the laity "the moral and spiritual aids by which the temporal order can be restored in Christ" (AA 7).

Though, by virtue of their consecration, Secular Institutes are included among Institutes of consecrated life, the characteristic of secularity distinguishes them from all other forms of Institutes.

The merging in one and the same vocation of consecration and secular commitment confers an original note upon both these elements. The full profession of the evangelical counsels ensures that a more intimate union with Christ will make the apostolate in the world particularly fruitful. The secular commitment confers a special modality upon the very profession of the evangelical counsels and stimulates this profession towards an ever greater evangelical authenticity.



The juridical norms applicable to Secular Institutes were contained in the Apostolic Constitution, Provida Mater, in the Motu proprio Primo feliciter, in the instruction of the Sacred Congregation of Religious Cum Sanctissimus. The same Sacred Congregation was authorised to set up new norms for Secular Institutes "as need arises and in the light of experience 11 (PM II, 2 2).

While repealing some laws, the new Code of Canon Law, brings up-¬to date other existing norms, and presents a systematic legislative framework complete in itself, fruit of the experience of previous years and of the doctrine of Vatican II.

The essential elements of those codified norms are as follows:

1 . Institutes of consecrated life (Liber II, Pars II, Sectio I)

It is significant and important that Secular Institutes are placed in the Code, because it shows that the Code has made its own two Conciliar statements (PC 11), already contained in preceding documents:

a) Secular Institutes are truly and fully Institutes of consecrated life, and the Code speaks of them in the section De Institutis vitae consecratae;

b) but they are not religious and the Code mentions two types of Institutes under two distinct titles: II De Institutis religiosis, III De Institutis saecularibus.

It follows that "consecrated life" should no longer be made equivalent, as has, unfortunately, often been the case, to "religious life ". Title I Normae Communes, canons 573 578, contains a description of consecrated life, insufficient to define religious life since this supposes other elements (cfr. c. 607); and on the other hand wider, since the value of consecration that seals total donation to God in the following of Christ together with its ecclesial dimension, is also true of Secular Institutes.

Again, the definition of the three evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience (cfr. canons 599 601) is fully applicable to Secular Institutes even if concrete applications must take into account their special nature (cfr. c. 598).

As for other points dealt with under Title I, they refer above all to aspects of procedure. Among other matters may be noted that diocesan recognition for a Secular Institute requires also the intervention of the Apostolic See (c. 579; cfr. canons 583 584). This is so because the Secular Institute is not a transitory state leading to other canonical forms, as for example, the pious unions or associations of the preceding Code, but an authentic Institute of consecrated life that may be established as such only if it possesses all the necessary characteristics and already offers sufficient guarantee of spiritual, apostolic and numerical vitality.

To sum up: Secular Institutes have a true and specific consecrated life of their own. The fact that they fall under a separate heading with their own norms, means they are clearly distinct from every other kind of Institute.

2. Specific vocation: secular nature (canons 710 711) .

The vocation to a Secular Institute requires that sanctification and perfection of charity be pursued by living the evangelical exigencies "in saeculo" (c. 710), "in ordinariis mundi condicionibus" (c. 714); and that commitment to the salvation of the world come about "praesertim ab intus" (c. 710), "ad instar fermenti", and for the laity not merely "in saeculo" but also "ex saeculo" (c. 713 I 2).

These repeated clarifications on the specific way of living evangelical radicality show that the consecrated life of these Institutes is specially marked by their secular character. Hence the essential and inseparable union of secularity and consecration makes this vocation an original and typical form of the sequela Christi.

"Yours is a new and original form of consecration; it was the Holy Spirit that put this idea into your minds" (Paul VI, September 20, 1972).

"Neither of these two aspects of your spiritual image can be overestimated without damaging the other. They are essential to each other... You are really consecrated and really in the world"(id.). "Your secular state is now consecrated" (John Paul II, August 28, 1980).

Because of this originality, the Code (c. 711) makes a statement of great juridical weight: except for the demands of consecrated life, the lay men and women of Secular Institutes are lay folk fully and entirely (so that canons 224 231 relative to rights and duties of the laity apply to them): and priests of Secular Institutes in the same way are bound by the norms of common law for secular clerics.

For this reason too, that is, so as not to be distinguished formally from other lay folk, some Institutes require their members to observe a certain reserve as to their belonging to the Institute.

"You are still lay people, committed to the secular values of the lay state of life" (Paul VI, September 20, 1972).

"You are and you remain lay people..." (John Paul II, August 28, 1980).

"When a priest becomes a member of a Secular Institute he is still a secular priest and for that very reason the close bond of obedience and collaboration with the Bishop is unbroken" (Paul VI, February 2, 1972).

In various canons, the Code confirms that this secular character should be understood whether as situation ("in saeculo"), or under its dynamic theological aspect as indicated in Evangelii nuntiandi, that is, "the actuation of all the hidden Christian and evangelical possibilities, that are already present and acting in the reality of the world" (no.70). Paul VI stated explicitly (August 25, 1976) that Secular Institutes should also take this paragraph of Evangelii nuntiandi as addressed to them.

3. The evangelical counsels (c. 712)

When the Church approves an Institute of consecrated life she requires a free and explicit undertaking as to the way of living the three evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience, "donum divinum quod Ecclesia a Domino accepit" (c. 575 1); and claims the right to interpret and legislate for them (cfr. c. 576).

The Code (canons 599, 600, 601) outlines the content of the three evangelical counsels but refers to the laws of each Institute for applications relative to poverty and obedience; it reaffirms the obligation of perfect chastity in celibacy. Married persons, therefore, cannot become members of Secular Institutes in the strict sense; c. 721 § 1 3 confirms this, stating that admission of a "coniux durante matrimonio" would be invalid.

It is for the constitutions of each Institute to define the obligations deriving from profession of the evangelical counsels, so that the life¬style of each person ("in vitae ratione") should be able to give a secular witness .

"The evangelical counsels which you share with other forms of consecrated life, take on a new meaning, they come to mean something very topical and typical in today's world" (Paul VI, February 2, 1972).

The constitutions have also to define which form of sacred bond is assumed by the evangelical counsels. The Code does not lay down precisely which bonds are considered sacred, but in the light of the Lex peculiaris annexed to the Apostolic Constitution Provida Mater (art. III, 2), they may be: a vow, an oath or consecration for chastity in celibacy; the vow or promise for obedience and poverty.

4. Apostolate (c. 713)

All the faithful are called by baptism to participate in the ecclesial mission of witnessing and proclaiming that "God, in his Son, has loved the world", that the Creator is a Father, that all men are brothers (cfr. EN 26), and to strive in various ways to build up the Kingdom of Christ and of God.

Within this mission Secular Institute have a particular task. The Code dedicates three paragraphs of c. 713 to the definition of the apostolic activity to which they are sent.

The first paragraph, applies to all members of Secular Institutes, stressing the relationship between consecration and mission: consecration is a gift of God the aim of which is participation in the salvific mission of the Church (cfr. c. 574). The one called is also sent. "The special consecration... must impregnate your whole life and all your daily activities" (John Paul II, August 28, 1980).

It then states that apostolic activity is a "dynamic manner of being" directed towards the generous realization of the Father's plan of salvation; it is an evangelical presence in one's own milieu, living the radical demands of the Gospel so that life itself becomes the leaven. A leaven that members of Secular Institutes are called on to insert into the woof of the human condition: in work, family and professional life, solidarity with their fellowmen, collaboration with groups engaged in other forms of evangelization. Here the Code takes up again for all Secular Institute what the Council says to the laity. "suum proprium muns exercendo, spiritu evangelico ducti, fermenti instar" (LG 31).

"This is the resolve of your hearts, hall mark of your condition as Secular Institute members, to change the world from the inside" (John Paul II, August 28, 1980).

The second paragraph concerns lay members. Its first section lays down the specific form of lay Secular Institutes: presence and transforming action in the world from within, to complete the divine plan of salvation. Here again the Code applies what the Council states with regard to the specific mission of all the laity. "Laicorum est, ex vocatione propria, res temporales gerendo et secundum Deum ordinando, regnum Dei quaerere" (LG 31; cf. also AA 18 19).

This is, in fact, the apostolic goal for which Secular Institutes came into being as the Council also reminds us, quoting in its turn from Provida Mater and Primo feliciter: "Ipsa instituta propriam ac peculiarem indolem, saecularem scilicet, servent, ut apostolatum in saeculo ac veluti ex saeculo, ad quem exercendum orta sunt, efficaciter et ubique adimplere valeant" (PC 11).

In the second part, the paragraph affirms that members of Secular Institutes may also carry out, like all the laity, services within the ecclesial body such as catechesis, community animation, etc. Some Institutes have taken up these apostolic tasks as their end, above all in countries where service of this type done by lay men and women is more urgently needed. The Code sanctions this choice juridically with an important qualification: "juxta propriam vitae rationem saecularem".

"I have been high lighting the special contribution of your life style. This must not lead you to underrate other forms of consecration for the sake o f the kingdom, forms to which you too may be called. I refer to Evangelii nuntiandi 73, where we are reminded that 'the laity may also feel themselves called or be called to work with their pastors in the service of the ecclesial community, for its growth and life, by exercising a great variety of ministries according to the grace and charisms which the Lord is pleased to give them' " (John Paul II, August 28, 1980).

The third paragraph concerns clerical members, to whom however, what has been said in the first paragraph applies.

For these members a special relationship with the presbytery is laid down; as Secular Institutes are called to an evangelical presence in their own milieu, it is possible to speak of a witnessing mission of priests among other priests.

"To bring to the diocesan presbytery not only a life experience according to the evangelical counsels and with a supporting community, but also with a clear feeling for the Church world relationship" (John Paul II, August 28, 1980).

Furthermore, this paragraph states that the Church world relationship for which the Secular Institutes are specialised witnesses, must be noted and actuated also by priest members of these Institutes: whether by educating the laity to a right living of this relationship, or some specific priestly work.

"Both priests and laymen, as such, have an essential relationship with the world" (Paul VI, February 2, 1972).

For clerical Secular Institutes there is, besides this paragraph, c. 715 which concerns incardination, possible either in the diocese or in the Institute. C. 266 § 3, refers to incardination in the Institute, where it is stated as possible "vi concessionis Sedis Apostolicae".

The only cases in which clerical Secular Institutes have separate laws, from lay Institutes, under Section III, are two above mentioned canons (713 and 715), the clarification of c. 711 already mentioned, and the precision in c. 727 § 2, to withdrawal from the Institute. No other distinctions are made by the Code.

5. Fraternal life (c. 716)

A vocation to an Institute, that is, a call not for isolated persons, implies a fraternal life "qua sodales omnes in peculiarem veluti familiam in Christo coadunantur" (c. 602).

Communion among members of the same Institute is essential, and it is actualised in unity of the same spirit, sharing the same charism of secular consecrated life, identity of the same mission, mutual contacts and active collaboration in the life of the Institute (c.716; cfr. c. 717 § 3).

Fraternal life is cultivated through meetings and exchanges of various kinds: prayer (among these annual retreats, periodical recollections), sharing of experiences, dialogue, formation, information, etc.

This deep communion and the various means for cultivating it are the more important when concrete life styles may be very different: "vel soli, vel in sua quisque familia, vel in vitae fraternae coetu" (c. 714), it must be understood that the fraternal life of the group should not be the same as that of a religious community.

6. Formation

The nature of this vocation to secular consecration that requires continual effort to hold together the separate strands of faith, consecration secular life, the personal milieu. The fact of being usually engaged in secular work and activity and not rarely living in isolation; all this demands a very solid and adequate formation.

This necessity is recalled by various canons, in particular c. 719, where the main spiritual duties of each member are listed: assiduous prayer, reading and meditation of the Word of God, retreats, participation in the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

C. 722 gives some directives for initial formation, mainly directed to a life according to the evangelical counsels and apostolate; c. 724 deals with on going formation "in rebus divinis et humanis, pari gressu".

It follows that the formation should be proportionate to the fundamental demands of God's grace for persons consecrated to him in the world. It should be very practical, teaching the living of the evangelical counsels through acts and attitudes of self giving to God in the service of others, helping to grasp God's presence in history, training to a readiness to accept the cross with abnegation and mortification.

It must be said that individual Institutes are very much aware of the importance of this formation. They strive to help each other at the level of national and world meetings.

7. Plurality of Institutes

According to Canons 577 and 578 Secular Institutes possess a variety of gifts that allow for a positive pluralism in the way they live the common secular consecration and how they exercise their apostolate, always in conformity with the intentions and project of the founders when they have been approved by ecclesiastical authority. Very rightly, then, c. 722 insists on the necessity of making clearly understood by the candidates the specific vocation of the Institute, and of training them according to its own spirit and character.

This plurality is, in any case, an actual fact.

"The requirements of life in the world and the options open to anyone who would work in the world with the world's own tools, are so many and various that one must expect great variety in ways of achieving the ideal: individual, corporate, private and public as was, in fact envisaged by the Vatican Council (cf. AA 15 22). All these forms are available to Secular Institutes and to each one of their members" (Paul VI, February 2, 1972).

8. Other norms of the Code

The other canons referring specifically to Secular Institutes concern more technical aspects, so to speak. Many decisions, however, are left to the law of each Institute. Hence, we have a simple structure and flexible organization.

The aspects touched on by these other canons are as follows: 717: interior organization; 718: administration; 720 721: admission to the Institute; 723: incorporation into the Institute; 725: the possibility of admitting associated members; 726 729: possible separation from the Institute; 730: transfer to another Institute.

It is worth noting that the canons speak of perpetual and definitive incorporation (cfr. specially c. 723). In practice, some constitutions already approved lay down that the sacred bond (vow or promises) should always be temporary, with the determination, naturally, to renew them when they expire. But the majority of other constitutions suppose that after a certain length of time the sacred bond is, or may be taken for ever.

When the sacred bond is taken forever incorporation into the Institute is said to be perpetual with all the juridical effects that follow.

If, however, the sacred bond always remains temporary, the constitutions should foresee that after a certain length of time (not less than five years) incorporation into the Institute should be considered definitive. The most important juridical effect is that from that moment on the person possesses full rights duties within the Institute; other effects should be laid down. in the constitutions.


The history of Secular Institutes is still short; for this reason, and also by their very nature, they are wide open to aggiornamento and adaptation.

But they already possess a clear cut physiognomy and to this they should be faithful in the newness of the Spirit. Here the new Code of Canon Law provides a necessary and sure frame of reference.

The fact remains, however, that Secular Institutes are not sufficiently known and understood, for motives deriving, perhaps, from their very nature (consecration and secularity combined), maybe also from their way of acting with great reserve. Or it can happen that insufficient attention is paid to them because they still raise as yet unresolved problems.

The notes, that this document presents on their history, theology and juridical norms, may be useful to bridge the gap of this lack of knowledge and to further "among the faithful, not an approximate or diluted awareness but an exact respectful understanding of the original characteristics" of Secular Institutes (John Paul II, May 6, 1983).

It will accordingly be easier also on the pastoral level to help this specific vocation and to protect it, in order that it may remain faithful to its particular identity, requirements and mission.

Rome, January 6, 1984

Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes (C.R.I.S.)

To the Directors General of Secular Institutes
January 18th, 1984

Notice on the Code

The new Code of Canon Law that repeals the previous universal ecclesiastic laws, including those on Secular Institutes, entered into force on the 27th November 1983.

Secular Institutes are now governed by Canons 573 602 and 606 (provisions that apply to all Institutes of consecrated life), and by Canons 710 730.

The present Notice does not mean to be a comment nor an explanation to the Canons, but rather an answer to the following question: how should we go about revising our Constitutions in the light of the Code?


1. With regard to the Secular Institutes the Code does not introduce any substantial novelties. Their nature, as defined by "Provida Mater", "Primo feliciter", the Council documents and speeches held by the Popes, is theologically and juridically confirmed: consecration and assumption of the evangelical counsels secular condition and apostolate flexible organization.

2. The translations of the Code into the various languages, even though authorised by the Conferences, are not the official text, the latter being only the Latin edition.

3. The comments are generally very useful in order to understand the text well, however they do not represent the authentic interpretation: the latter may be given only by the Holy See.

Reference to the source (that is to previous documents and to the ecclesial precepts that are taken into account by the Code), and to the praxis of the Sacred Congregation is always of great importance.

4. When the canon speaks of "constitutions" it is the fundamental text of each Institute that is referred to, even if other terms are used, such as: statute, rules of life, or any other. It is the text approved by the competent authority of the Church.

Instead, when they speak of "own law", besides the Constitutions they include also other normative texts of the Institutes, such as: directorium, or enforcement provisions, or complementary provisions, or rules.

With regard to this, see all of canon 587.


The Code provides rules that are binding for all the Institutes: they are valid even if the constitutions do not repeat them. E.g.: requisites for membership, can. 721 § 1.

The constitutions may be more exacting than the provisions laid down by the Code; but, on the contrary, they cannot be less demanding, nor can they propose anything against the Code.

Often the Code states that it is up to the Institutes to lay down precise regulations on specific items, that are listed in the following:

1. What the constitutions must contain

A clear presentation of the Institute: nature, aim, spirituality, characteristics (can. 578, referred to by can. 587 § 1): then, all the specifications that are essential in defining a Secular Institute, and in defining in particular a given Institute.

The sacred obligations under which the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience are assumed, and the obligations they entail in a style of secular life (can. 712; this canon refers to canons 598-¬601, and in essence it takes up the final request of can. 587 § I and above all of can. 598 § 1). It is possible to choose among the bonds that were provided for by the Lex peculiaris attached to "Provida Mater": vow or oath or consecration for chastity, vow or promise for poverty and for obedience.

The fundamental provisions on government (can. 587 § 1), and in particular: the authority of the directors and of the assemblies (can. 596 § 1); form or way of governing, procedure for appointing the directors, terms of office (can. 717 § 1).

(Note: "moderator supremus" indicates the director general; "moderatores maiores" both the director general and the directors of the major subdivisions of the Institute, where these are provided for by the constitutions).

Where the constitutions provide for the subdivision of the Institute into parts, such as zones, regions, nations …: whose duty it is to set them up, define them, suppress them (can. 581 and can. 585).

The fundamental provisions regarding the various commitments undertaken by the members (can. 587 § 1; see for example can. 719 on prayer).

The fundamental provisions on incorporation and on training (can. 587 § 1), and in particular: What Superior with his Council (and the constitutions must state whether a casting vote or an advisory vote is required) has the right of admitting into the Institute, to the training, and to incorporation either temporary, perpetual or final (can. 720); how long the training period lasts, which cannot be under two years (can. 722 § 3); how long temporary incorporation lasts, which must not be under five years (723 § 2); what are the effects of final incorporation (can. 723 § 4: for this see item IV); how to make provisions for continuing training (can. 724 § 1); what other obstacles the Institute wishes to add to admission besides those provided for by the Code (can. 721 § 2).

The style of life in ordinary situations (can. 714), and the commitment of fraternal life (can. 602; see can. 716).

Where the Institute has associated members, what are their obligations (can. 725).

For dispensation from perpetual vows in an Institute or diocesan right, what Bishop is competent: the Bishop of the place where the Institute is based, or that of the place where the person involved lives (can. 727 § 1). For an Institute of pontifical right, only the Apostolic See is competent.

For resignations, what motivations does the Institute feel it should add to those provided for by the Code (can. 729).

(Canon mentioned in the foregoing, in numerical order: 578, 581, 585, 587 § 1, 596 §1, 598 § 1, 602; 712, 714, 717 § 1, 720, 721 § 2, 722 § 3, 723 §§ 2 and 4, 724 § 1, 725, 727 § 1, 729).

2. What the "own law" (thus: either the constitutions, or directoria, or other) must contain:

For admission: eventual qualities that the Institute requires besides those provided for by the Code (can. 597 § 1).

For the evangelical counsel of poverty: concrete rules on the restrictions on utilisation and availability of property (can. 600); how the property of the Institute is to be administered, and any economic obligations between Institute and members (can. 718). As to the property of the Institute, the canon makes reference to book V of the Code, because the property belonging to a public juridical person in the Church and the Secular Institutes are such is "Church property and is thus subject to special rules (can. 1257 § 1).

How participation in the life of the Institute (can. 716 § 1) is to be understood, and specifications on retreats, spiritual exercises, etc, (can. 719).

(Canon mentioned in the foregoing, in numerical order: 597 § 1, 600, 716 § 1, 718, 719; but see also 598 § 2).


In the light of what has been said so far, Secular Institutes need not revise their constitutions if the latter have been approved recently.

Instead, they are called upon to do the following:

1. Central governing bodies, either directly or through a committee working under its responsibility, are to verify whether their constitutions (or directoria) do contain what is required of them. In particular what must be checked are those items that had not been requested before, and that is: that initial training must not be less than two years, and that the duration of temporary incorporation must not be less than five years.

2. Having identified the items that are to be clarified in their constitutions (or directoria), the central governing body takes care of making the necessary changes. It is not necessary to receive in advance the approval of the general assembly; this will be done during the following meeting. Of course all members are to be informed; the Sacred Congregation must also be notified and also the Bishop, if the Institute is of diocesan right.

3. This work must be done as soon as possible. But any changes that are made in the constitutions are valid only for the future, and not for the past (the rules are not "retroactive").


(Note: this item is of concern directly for those Institutes where the sacred bond is or may always be temporary)

After the training period, a person is incorporated into the Institute on a temporary basis.

And when the sacred vows are assumed forever, for perpetual consecration to God, also the incorporation into the Institute is perpetual.

But the constitutions of some Institutes envisage that consecration to God, though being perpetual in intentions, be or may be renewed with temporary vows (usually on a yearly basis).

The Code specifies that, in the case of renewable vows, at a certain moment fixed by the constitutions not less than five years from first incorporation incorporation into the Institute becomes final (can. 723 § 3), and equivalent to perpetual incorporation (ivi § 4) for the following juridical effects:

I . On the basis of common law:

1. at the time when incorporation becomes final, a formal act of admission must be made by the competent superior (a given "higher superior"), with the vote of its Councils;

2. when incorporation has already become final, the superiors cannot decide not to admit the member to the renewal of the sacred vows except for very serious reasons; in the latter case, non admission would mean resignation;

3. individual members are however always free to leave the Institute without asking for special dispensation, if they do not renew their vows upon expiry of the time period for which they had been assumed.

II. On the basis of the own constitutions:

Along with final incorporation, the member also obtains full rights, such as that of being elected to the various offices. But the constitutions may add special conditions to be fulfilled for certain offices (e.g. minimum age) or for providing access to certain offices also to those members that have not yet been acknowledged final incorporation.

Rome, 18th January 1984


At the Third World Congress of the Secular Institutes,
held in Rome from the 26th to the 30th August, 1984

Card. Jean Jerome Hamer

I am happy to be here with you and to have the occasion to meet you as Pro-Prefect of the Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes, an office I have held for four and a half months.

Before taking up the subject of the Secular Institutes, and, above all, the formation, I want to tell you that, in my opinion, there is not, in all of Rome, a function more interesting than the one I have: being the speaker of the Holy Father for the consecrated life in the Church. Being the speaker of the Holy Father, I am at the same time at your service since if the Holy Father is 'the servant of the servants of God', this is even more true for his collaborators.

I now propose to introduce the subject of formation showing that it must necessarily be conditioned by the nature and specific needs of the Secular Institutes. The Code of Canon Law, recently promulgated, and put into act, has still better evaluated the situation, the level if one can so call it of the Secular Institutes within the Church. They are a form of consecrated life which, as such, finds itself at the same standing as the religious life.

The definition of the consecrated life is realised both in the religious life and, in that of the Secular Institutes. Both are stable forms of life characterised by the profession of the counsels. A form of life that tries to follow Christ more closely and tends to perfection. The structure itself of Canon Law which deals with the consecrated life, recognises equal value to the religious life and to the Secular Institutes. Two "titles" are reserved, two parts of equal dignity within the section reserved to the Institutes of consecrated life.

The Secular Institutes have four characteristics and each of them reflects on the formation:

1. The consecration through the profession of evangelical counsels;
2. Secularity or secular condition;
3. The apostolate;
4. Fraternal life.

I ) The consecration in the Secular Institutes is total. It comprises therefore:

Chastity for the Kingdom of God: the continence in celibacy and the free giving up of genital sexuality;

Poverty; the limitation and the dependence on the use and availability of goods and that in the framework of a life that is really poor;

Obedience: the obligation to renounce one's own will for that of the legitimate superiors in as much as representatives of God.

This consecration is sanctioned with bounds that are: those of vows, oaths, consecrations, promises. Among the three evangelical counsels, chastity receives particular attention from the moment that it must be assumed as a vow, oath or with a consecration, while the promise can be enough for the other two counsels.

2) The important and determining point which has constantly been evidenced, even if not well understood, is the secularity. The members of a Secular Institute live in the world. They work for the sanctification of the world and they do so from within the world. Such sanctification is contained in the world itself and should come about from within the world rather than from outside it. On this point of secularity I would like to cite some words from the document of Pius XII, Primo feliciter. "They are secular and... this is the real nature of their calling. Everything about them must be clearly secular".

"Perfection is to be lived and professed in the world". The consecration in the Secular Institutes does not modify the canonical condition of its members, except for the dispositions of the law regarding the Institutes of consecrated life. The member remains lay or cleric and all the rights and obligations of his state are applied to him. This evidences once again an aspect of secularity.

Another aspect is the way of life. The members of the Secular Institutes live in the ordinary conditions of the world. There are three living situations: to live by oneself; to live in the family or in a group of fraternal life, according to the constitutions, but in full respect of secularity. In this way, like other lay persons, they can take the initiative to live together, if only for practical reasons. This is a very important point that highlights the difference between the Secular Institutes and Religious Institutes, since life in community is per se essential and inseparable to the religious state; essential and indispensable to live under the same roof, under the same superiors and have common activities that are specifically of the 'life together'. This difference must be underlined because it marks considerably all the formation process.

3) The other characteristic is the apostolate. The apostolate derives from consecration itself. To take up again the terms of Primo Feliciter:

"The whole life of a member of a Secular Institute must become an apostolate". And this apostolate must not only be exercised in the world and here we take up again the terms of Primo feliciter which says more explicitly than Canon Law the following "but it may almost be said to grow out of the world: its existence is in professions, activities, forms, places, circumstances of a secular nature and so it must remain".

Canon Law writes about the image used by the Council (LG 31; cf. PC 11) to show how this apostolate acts in the world, in the secular condition, 'ad instar fermenti', like leaven. The apostolate will be different, it is understood, according to whether it is a lay member or a clergyman.

For the lay people, it will come about through the witness of their Christian life and the faithfulness to their consecration. This will contribute to make the temporal realities understood and lived according to the Gospel and the world will be revivified by the Gospel. This, however, does not mean that the lay members of the Secular Institutes are more lay than other lay people. In the same way of all the laity, they collaborate in the ecclesial community in the style which they know best; they participate in the preparation of the cult; they will be catechists; they will eventually be extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, since these functions are accessible to the laity, even if sometimes they are merely a substitution to the clergy, as happens in the case of extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist.

Therefore the apostolate of the lay members is above all as regards temporal realities in which they can put an anticipation of the Kingdom of God.

The apostolate of the clergy, of the priests, will consist in apostolic charity in the help to their confreres: I think, in the first place, of their confreres in the Secular Institutes. It will then be a witness to the consecrated life according to the constitutions of their Institutes; it will be the sanctification of the world through their specific sacred ministry. In fact, becoming a member of a Secular Institute, the priest remains a sacred minister. It is this ministry that he puts at the service of the sanctification of the world.

4) Last characteristic: fraternal life. We saw that community life, per se, under the same roof does not belong to the nature of a Secular Institute, but fraternal life does. Among the members of the same Secular Institute a special communion exists. Their consecration in a particular Institute creates reciprocal bonds that are manifested in different ways. A solidarity particular to the Secular Institute that is manifested in the relations with the superiors: they are the same superiors for everyone; that is manifested in life: the rules are the same and they create a similarity; it is shown in the meetings: they are recognised necessary by the constitutions in order to safeguard the fraternal life and certain strong times to pass together. There is reciprocal help under different forms, since fraternal communion does not exist without it.

These four characteristics condition the formation. It is, therefore, the task of this Congress, here assembled, to formulate information, suggestions, and in this way stimulate a beneficial emulation. Canon Law has foreseen for you the stages in formation. I would say, of the stages along the development of the consecrated life in a Secular Institute. You know them: we are speaking about basic formation, the first incorporation and then perpetual incorporation in a Secular Institute. This formation will turn at least it seems on three things:

a) it must aim to the consecrated life. The consecrated life in substance does not change. It is the result of a long spiritual tradition in the Church from which it has received its definition, its legitimacy and the conditions for its canonical recognition. Therefore, the formation to the consecrated life is of great importance.

b) Then comes the formation for professional activities about which the Holy Father called attention at your last meeting with him. If you live in the temporary reality with a view to the Kingdom of God, this reality shows specific needs that demand a technical preparation.

c) Finally comes the preparation for the apostolate.

These are the three fields it seems to me that specify formative action.

Who must lead this formation? You can tell me: what is your experience? It is obvious that for the professional formation the Institute member will not ask for this from his/her superior. He/she will ask, rather, organisms or persons who are competent, at universities, at laboratories, at professional schools. But it is important that the superiors know of this and a canon of Canon Law speaks of this that they have a particular responsibility for the spiritual formation. When one deals with the formation to the consecrated life in a particular Institute, it is here that the superior and his/her collaborators are irreplaceable.

I conclude repeating a well known expression: "the consecrated life in a Secular Institute is a very difficult choice, but it is also an important choice and of great generosity."

Rome, 27th August 1984


Discourse to the 350 participants in the III Congress of Secular Institutes

To infuse the spirit of the gospel into the things of this world

John Paul II, 8.28.1984

Brothers and sisters!

l. I am very happy to meet you once more, on the occasion of the World Congress of Secular Institutes, convened to consider the theme: "Objectives and content of the formation of members of Secular Institutes".

This is the second meeting that I have had with you, and during the four years which have gone by since the previous one, occasions have not been lacking for me to address one Institute and then another.

But there was one particular occasion on which I spoke of you and for you. Last year, at the conclusion of the plenary meeting in which the Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes considered the identity and the mission of your Institutes, I recommended, among other things, to the pastors of the Church to "foster among the faithful an understanding, which would not be approximate or generic, but exact, and respectful of the qualifying characteristics" of the Secular Institutes (AAS, LXXV, n. 9, p. 687). And I also touched on a point which concerns the subject of formation, which you have just finished considering: on the one hand exhorting the Secular Institutes to express ever more intensely their ecclesial communion, and on the other hand reminding the bishops that they have the responsibility to "offer the Secular Institutes all the doctrinal richness that they need" (ibid., p. 688).

It is a pleasure for me to address myself directly to you today, Directors of Institutes and to those of you in charge of formation, to confirm the importance and the greatness of the work of formation. It is a work of primary importance, whether understood in regard to one's own formation or with regard to the responsibility of contributing to the formation of all those belonging to the Institute, with particular care during the first years, but with prudent attention thereafter and always.

2. Before all and above all, I exhort you to turn your attention toward the Divine Master, from whom you will obtain light for this work.

The Gospel can also be read as a report on the work of Jesus in regard to his disciples. Jesus proclaims from the beginning the "good news" of the fatherly love of God, but then he gradually teaches the profound riches of this message, and he gradually reveals himself and the Father, with infinite patience, beginning over again if necessary: "After I have been with you all this time, you still do not know me?" (Jn 14,9). We can also read the Gospel to discover the method Jesus used to give his disciples the basic formation, their initial training. The "continuous formation", as it is called, will come later, and the Holy Spirit will complete it, which will bring the Apostles to an understanding of how much Jesus had taught them, will help them to arrive at the fullness of the truth, to deepen it in their lives, and to follow in the way of the freedom of the sons of God (cf. Jn 14,26; Rm 8,14 ff )

From this look at Jesus and his lesson comes the confirmation of an experience that we have all had: none of us has reached the perfection to which he is called, each of us is always in formation, is always on the way.

St Paul writes that Christ must be formed in us (cf. Gal 4:19), so that we may be able to "know the love of Christ which surpasses all knowledge" (Eph 3:19). But this understanding will not be full until we are in the glory of the Father (cf. 1 Cor 13:12). This knowing that we are always on the way is an act of humility, of courage and of faith, which finds confirmation and guidance in many pages of Scripture. For example, the journey of Abraham from his land to the goal unknown to him to which God calls him (cf. Gen 12:1 ff.); the pilgrim way of the people of Israel from Egypt to the promised land, from slavery to freedom (cf. Exodus); the ascent of Jesus himself to the place and the moment in which, "lifted up from the earth, he will draw all men to himself" (cf. Jn 12:32).

3. It is an act of humility which, as I said, makes us realise our own imperfection, one of courage to face toil, disappointments, the monotony of repetition and the novelty of renewal, and above all of trust, because God walks with us: indeed the way is Christ (cf. Jn 14:6), and the prime and principal author of all Christian formation is and cannot be other than he himself. God is truly the one who forms though making use of human occasions: "O Lord, you are our father, we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands" (Is 64:7).

This fundamental conviction must guide the work both of our own formation and the contribution that we may be called to make to the formation of others. To undertake the task of formation with the proper attitude means knowing that it is God that forms, and not we ourselves. We can and must become an opportunity and an instrument of formation, always respecting the mysterious action of grace.

Consequently the formation work concerning ourselves and those entrusted to us is always oriented, according to the example of Jesus, toward seeking the will of the Father: "I am not seeking my own will but the will of him who sent me" (Jn 5:30).

In fact, formation, in the ultimate analysis, consists in growing in the ability to place ourselves at the disposition of God's plans for each one and for history, in consciously offering our co-operation in his plan of redemption of persons and of creation, and in discovering and living the value of salvation contained in every moment. "Our Father, your will be done" (Mt 6:9 10).

4. This reference to the divine will brings me to recall an observation I made to you in our meeting in 1980: at every and in all your daily activities there should be achieved "a total availability to the will of the Father, who has put you in the world and for the world" (Acta Apostolicae Sedis LXXII, n. 7, p. 1021). And this, as I mentioned before, signifies for you a particular attention to three aspects that converge in the reality of your specific vocation as members of Secular Institutes.

The first aspect concerns following Christ more closely in the way of the evangelical counsels, with a total giving of oneself to the person of the Saviour to share his life and mission. This giving, which the Church recognises as a special consecration, becomes also a questioning of human security when it is the fruit of pride, and it signifies more explicitly the "new world willed by God and inaugurated by Jesus" (LG 42; PC 11).
The second aspect is that of competence in your specific field, however common or modest it may be, with "full consciousness of your own part in the building of society" (AA 13), necessary in order to "serve with greater generosity and efficacy" our brothers (GS 93).

Your witness will thus be more credible: "This is how all will know you for my disciples: your love for one another" (Jn 13:5).

The third aspect refers to a transforming presence in the world, that is, to give "a personal contribution to the realisation of the providential plan of God in history" (GS 34), animating and perfecting the order of temporal realities with the evangelical spirit, acting within the midst of these realities (cf. LG 31; AA 7:16, 19).

My wish for you, as a fruit of this Congress, is to continue to deepen your formation, above all putting into action useful helps to place special emphasis on the three aspects already pointed out, and on every other essential aspect, as for example education in faith, ecclesial communion, and evangelising action: and unifying all in a vital synthesis, necessary for growth in fidelity to your vocation and your mission, which the Church esteems and entrusts to you, because she recognises them as corresponding to her expectations and to those of humanity.

5. Before concluding I would like to emphasise a fundamental point: which is that the ultimate reality, in its fullness, is charity. "He who abides in love abides in God, and God in him" (1 Jn 4:16).

Also the final goal of every Christian vocation is love; in Institutes of consecrated life, the profession of the evangelical counsels becomes the main highway, which leads to the highest love of God and leads to our brothers, who are all called to divine sonship.

Now, in the midst of the work of formation, charity finds expression and support and maturation in fraternal communion, in order to become witness and action. The Church does not ask of your Institutes that life in common which is proper to religious Institutes, because of the demands of living in the world, which are postulated by your vocation. However, she asks for a "fraternal communion rooted and founded in charity", which makes all the members "one only particular family" (can. 602); she requires that the members of one and the same Secular Institute "preserve communion among themselves, solicitously guarding unity of spirit and true fraternity" (can. 716, 2).

If the members breathe this spiritual atmosphere, which presupposes the most ample ecclesial communion, the work of formation in its fullness will not fail in its goal.

6. At the moment of conclusion, our vision returns to Jesus. All Christian formation is open to the fullness of the life of the sons of God, so that the subject of our activity is, in reality, Jesus himself: "The life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me" (Gal 2:20). But this is true only if each one of us can say: "I have been crucified with Christ", that Christ "who gave himself for me" (ibid.). It is the sublime law of that following of Christ: to embrace the Cross. The road of formation cannot leave it out of consideration.

May the Virgin Mother be an example for you in this regard. She who as the Second Vatican Council recalls "while on earth her life was like that of any other, filled with labours and the cares of the home" (AA 4), "advanced in her pilgrimage of faith and faithfully persevered in union with her Son unto the Cross" (LG 58).

And may the Apostolic Benediction, which I heartily impart to you and to all the members of your Institutes, be a pledge of divine protection.


Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes (C.R.I.S.)

Letter to the General Moderators of the Secular Institutes

January 2nd, 1988

Criteria for Preparing the Report on the Status and Life of the Secular Institute (to be submitted periodically to the Holy See).

The Holy See greatly supports the secular consecrated life of the Institutes and encourage their fruitful promotion, both spiritually and apostolically, and thus follows their many needs with much concern.

It is presently very important that, in its relationship with the Institutes, the Holy See be constantly availed of timely information on the status and life of these same Institutes, as is recommended in can. 592 § l. In this way, the Holy See can participate, with the Lord, in the various happenings, both auspicious and burdensome, which relate to the Institutes, and, as the case may require, can then offer its pastoral assistance.

For this purpose, the Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes wishes to present some criteria for the reports which the General Moderators of the Secular Institutes must forward to Holy See.

1. The Report which the General Director must present to this Congregation may be the same as that presented to the General Assembly of the Institute, but should be prepared more concisely. The Proceedings of the same Assembly might also be attached. The General Moderators are requested to submit the first reports after the next ordinary General Assembly has been held.

2. The Report should contain the following elements:

a) statistics related to the members;

b) vocational activities and the prospect of future growth in the Institute;

c) how the following are realised: the apostolic commitment of individual members, initial and ongoing formation, fraternal communion according to the spirit of the Institute, and the relationships between Directors and members;

d) the ecclesial sense of the relationship with the Holy See and with diocesan bishops, participation in both World and National Conferences of Secular Institutes;

e) the extent to which the Institute sponsors activities or information on apostolic, social, and helping action;

f) the financial status of the Institute both general information and specific details on any foreseen for the life and apostolate of the Institute;

g) the most urgent difficulties which are foreseen for the life and apostolate of the Institute;

h) those other aspects which best describe the present situation of the Institute.

While requesting this information, the Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes invokes upon the Secular Institutes, and upon their individual members, "the peace, love, and faith which comes from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph. 6, 23).

Rome, 2 January, Marian Year, 1988

f. Jerome M. Card. Hamer, O.P.

+ Vincentius Fagiolo
Archiep. Em. Theat. Vasten.

Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life

Practical guidelines

First steps in the foundation of a Secular Institute

1. According to the praxis established by this congregation, before beginning the canonical erection of a secular institute, the interested diocesan Ordinaries are advised to proceed in the constitution of a public association, according to canon law 312, par. 1, 3°.

2. It is important to define clearly the charism of the founder and the association's spirituality and apostolate.

3. After confirming the nature of the charism, the authenticity of the life lived, the usefulness, vitality, efficacy and stability of the group, the bishop can erect a public association even with just a few people. In the association's constituting decree it is important to insert the following phrase: "ahead of its eventual elevation to the status of a secular institute by diocesan law". With this phrase in the decree, members can live a life similar to that of members of secular institutes.

4. From the start the association must have the same hierarchical structures that it intends to have when it becomes a secular institute, following the rules of the Code of Canon Law in the part devoted to the same (canons 710-730), and taking into account, obviously, the present number of members in the association and its diffusion.

5. The members can then:

1) take private vows (promises or other bonds) which, within the association, are similar to the vows (promises or other bonds) offered in secular institutes, but they are not considered sacred and lapse as soon as the member leaves the association authorised by the local bishop;
2) organise and receive their own training;
3) set up their own administration, taking into account the number of definitive members;
4) be accepted as such in other dioceses.

6. The procedure for leaving the association follows canons 729, 694-704, with the necessary modifications; canons 726, 727 and 730 are not applied to an association.

7. This way of living in the association will facilitate the transformation into a secular institute erected according to canon law.

8. The bishop who erects the association has the right to approve its statutes, and if he sees fit, to do so ad experimentum. In the writing of the statutes it is advisable to procure the services of a canon law expert specialised in this area.

9. When the association has about 40 definitive members, the bishop of the diocese where the main headquarters is located can consult the Holy See, according to canon 579, and move ahead with the association's elevation to secular institute by diocesan law.


The conclusions of the Synod and its Consequences for Secular Institutes

Card. Jean Jerome Hamer
August 24th, 1988

Information and reflection

I am most happy to speak on a theme which permits me to emphasise the importance of Secular Institutes for the future of the Church. I will do so, taking into consideration the fact that the process of the Synod has not yet ended since the Holy Father has not given us the document which will be the real conclusion of the Synod: "The Vocation and Mission of the Laity in the Church and the World". Moreover, I would like to go further and attentively analyse the situation of the consecrated layperson.

The Synod

Speaking recently (last June 17th) to the members of the council of the general secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, John Paul II recalled: "The fathers of the seventh general assembly expressed their desire that I offer the Church a pontifical document on the theme of the Synod one based on the work of the Synod, i.e., the Lineamenta, the lnstrumentum laboris, the relations of the discussions in the plenary assembly, the reports of the 'minor circles' and, the Propositions which the Synod presented to me".

This document is not ready yet but I do not think it will be long in coming. Thus, I would like to limit my present talk to two important documents of the synodal work: the Instrumentum laboris and the Propositions.

The Instrumentum laboris is, as the name indicates, a work instrument which gathers the suggestions and reflections of the bishops on the proposed theme and presents them in logical form. In one sense, it is the fruit of the reflections and experience of the bishops, dispersed throughout the world, before their coming to Rome for the synodal assembly. So that the interest aroused by this theme be extended to the whole Christian assembly, the Holy Father allowed the document to be put at the disposition of all. Therefore, it is a document which is known to many of you, a document that you read before the opening of the Synod in October 1987. Here is what the Instrumentum laboris says on the subject we are considering.

"The unique contribution of Secular Institutes in the mission of the Church merits particular attention. Their members, while remaining laypersons, are called to consecrate themselves to God by committing themselves to the way of the evangelical counsels; this establishes them in the heart of the world as witnesses of an evangelical radicalism". Each Institute, according to its own method, way of living and Christian presence in the world, shows how faithful laypersons can generously respond to the vocation of perfect charity which is addressed to all. Living their total consecration to God in the world, laypersons belonging to Secular Institutes strive to live the eschatological dimension of the Christian vocation in an exemplary fashion.

Thus they witness to the newness which Christ introduces into the world and encourage other lay faithful to recognise their Christian vocation to live "in the world" without being "of the world" and to allow this vocation to grow in them. Thanks to the personal availability resulting from their type of life and thanks to the spiritual formation that they receive, many Secular Institute members are able to strongly encourage other lay faithful to accomplish their own task as persons and as Christians. Together they can assume important responsibilities in the midst of the community of man. This theme merits a deeper study.

"At the same time, we cannot forget that an increasing number of lay faithful, who do not feel called to found or to join a Secular Institute, consecrate themselves all the same to the radical practice of the evangelical counsels. The present life of the Church is rich in new forms of consecrated lay life, a gift which the Holy Spirit makes to the Church and to the world of our day".

I believe that this text has a good grasp of the different aspects of the Secular Institutes in their profound unity a vivifying presence in the world, an eschatological reference, an action within the Church. It also calls attention to an ever increasing existence in the lay world of other forms of commitment to the practice of the evangelical counsels. We will return to this idea. Here we simply note that, at the present time, Secular Institute members do not claim any monopoly in the Church but simply desire that their specificity be recognised. For all else, they rejoice to discover new forms in a common search. Let me add that, on the whole, the Instrumentum laboris was well received by the Synod fathers and the text that we are considering was not, to my knowledge, contested by anyone.

By the terms of the Synod, we find the same orientation in the Propositions (54 of them) which gather together the most important points held by the Synod fathers in the course of the debates which lasted over a month. Here is the text of the sixth proposition which treats of Secular Institutes and other forms of self giving.

"Since 1947, with the Constitution Provida Mater, Secular Institutes have gained a place in the canonical structure of the Church. A new possibility is given to priests and laity to profess the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience by vows or promises, while fully preserving their clerical or lay status. Thus, in the midst of the world, the laity can fully participate in the statute of consecrated life (cf. can. 573). The Holy Spirit continues to call forth other forms of self¬-giving in which persons, living fully in the lay state, can consecrate themselves".

This paragraph gives us the essentials. It is a good place to start for all further development. The Propositions, in effect, did not intend to say everything but simply to clarify some main orientations of the Synod.

Perhaps some will say: why is it that among 54 propositions, there is only one on Secular Institutes? To see things from this viewpoint is to deform them. The whole Synod interests and concerns Secular Institutes. The members of these Institutes are authentic laity. All that the Synod said and all that the post Synodal document will say is important for them. That is the way we must interpret the Synod in regard to Secular Institutes. This consideration is, in my opinion, primordial for a just valorisation of its work. To justify this affirmation, let me simply note a few points: the identity of the lay Christian, the call to holiness, the multiplicity of charisms, the ministries and services, women in the Church and in the world, the presence of the laity in the parishes, the socio political commitment, and a process of integral formation. It is with this perspective in mind that I want to continue this report.

Secular Institutes

It is important to emphasise that a lay member of a Secular Institute is a layperson in the fullest sense of the term. But to do so, it is necessary to set this question into a vaster framework.

When the Apostolic Constitution Provida Mater Ecclesia gave official recognition and a canonical status with the title of Secular Institutes to those who make their profession to practice the evangelical counsels in the world, it was concerned with both associations of clerics and associations of laypersons. Although Secular Institutes of laypersons are much more numerous than Secular Institutes of clerics, we must not forget that the statute applies to both.

Secular Institutes of priests and Secular Institutes of laypersons, besides having in common total dedication to the apostolate, also have in common a tending to Christian perfection through the privileged means of the counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience lived in the world, i.e. remaining in the world, acting in the world.

If Secular Institute members resemble religious by the profession of the evangelical counsels, they are clearly distinguished from them by the fact that separation from the world is as proper to the religious state as is the common life or living under the same roof.

It is this life in the world ("in saeculo viventes", as can. 710 calls it) which constitutes the "secularity", the note common to all Secular Institutes but which will be received differently by the different Institutes, notably by those of the clerics and those of the laity. The secular priest and the layperson are both in the world but their rapport with the world is different precisely because of that which distinguishes them: the exercise of sacred orders. Nevertheless, in the logic of their life in the world, both contribute their part in the sanctification of the world above all from within ("praesertim ab intus").

It is necessary to measure the innovation represented by Provida Mater Ecclesia. Until the promulgation of this document, such groups were governed by the decree Ecclesia catholica, published on August 11, 1889, which praised their goal "to practice faithfully the evangelical counsels in the world and to carry out with greater freedom those duties that had become difficult or impossible for religious families to carry out because of the evils of the times" but decided at the same time that they would be simply pious associations (piae sodalitates). In 1947, the Apostolic Constitution conferred a canonical status on these groups. Let us not forget that the Code of 1917 completely ignored them. After Provida Mater Ecclesia, Secular Institutes were considered a "state of perfection" that is, an institutional and stable form in the search for the perfection of charity. This terminology was still used in the first part of Vatican II.

The new Code, promulgated in 1983, employed a different vocabulary but expressed the same reality: Secular Institutes are authentic Institutes of consecrated life; nothing is lacking for them to belong to the "consecrated life" which the Church defines in its Code:

Consecrated life by the profession of the evangelical counsels is a stable form of living by which faithful, following Christ more closely under the action of the Holy Spirit, give themselves totally to God, who is loved above all, so that having dedicated themselves to His honour, to the up-building of the Church and to the salvation of the world by a new and special title, they strive for the perfection of charity in service to the kingdom of God and having become luminous signs in the Church, they may foretell the heavenly glory (can. 573 § 1). This state of consecrated life is neither clerical nor lay, but the Institutes which make it up can be distinguished into clerics and laypersons, according to whether or not they assume the exercise of the sacrament of Orders, in keeping with the aim for which they were founded. Thus there are two great classes of Secular Institutes: clerical Institutes and lay Institutes. Because of the subject we intend to consider, we will speak of the lay Secular Institutes or rather of their members.

Consecrated Laity

Consecrated laity are therefore truly authentic laypersons. They share with other laypersons the fact of belonging neither to the clerical state nor to the religious state but on the contrary of belonging to that lay state to which is particularly confided the administration of temporal realities, with the mission of ordering them according to the will of God. All members of Secular Institutes, without distinction, belong to this lay state. The fact of renouncing the right to marry does not subtract them from this condition because no layperson is obliged to marry. In the lay world, we find married persons but also celibates. If the majority of the laity marry, we cannot deduce from this that it is necessary to be married to be truly lay. That would be absurd.

But these laypersons, members of Secular Institutes, are equally persons consecrated by the profession of the evangelical counsels. Without reservations they adopt the consecrated life as their form of stable living. Thus the consecrated life constitutes a way of life for them. Therefore is it not a contradiction to affirm that the consecrated layperson belongs equally and without restriction to two different states of life, the lay state and the consecrated state? In no way, and I insist vigorously on affirming this in order to eliminate all temptation to resolve this apparent contradiction with a compromise.

There would be a contradiction between these two states if we were to define them in rapport to a same obligation. But that is not the case.

For example, the state of life of a married man and a celibate are opposed to one another and exclude one another because they are defined in rapport to the sacrament of marriage. The married man assumes certain obligations; the celibate is exempt from them.

Now the lay state and the state of consecrated life are defined in terms of different obligations. The first in terms of obligations to the clerical state (the exercise of sacred orders) and of the religious life (separation from the world and common life) from which the laity are exempt. The second in terms of duties freely contracted by the profession of the evangelical counsels. The points of reference are therefore different. The two states, far from being opposed, are fully compatible.

We can cite other examples of belonging to two states in the unity of the same person and the same vocation. The religious priest belongs at the same time to the religious state and the clerical state without the least tension between them; on the contrary, in complete harmony as the lives of many saints demonstrate.

This same harmony can be found in the statute proper to Secular Institutes. Without leaving their lay state, consecrated persons who are members therein will know how to live their secular life according to the modalities that conform to their total gifts to the Lord. This will be noted above all in their life of prayer and personal asceticism.

On the other hand, they live the three evangelical counsels in a manner befitting persons who live in the ordinary conditions of the world.

Does not canon law say that "each Institute, keeping in mind its own character and purposes, is to define in its constitutions the manner in which the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience are to be observed for its way of living" (can. 598, §1)? And again, "the constitutions are to determine the sacred bonds by which the evangelical counsels are taken in the Institute and are to define the obligations flowing from these bonds, always, however, preserving in its way of life the distinctive secularity of the Institute" (can. 712).


Consecrated and lay: Secular Institute members are totally and inseparably the one and the other. But they are consecrated for a mission. In effect, they make a profession to practice the evangelical counsels in order to "dedicate themselves totally to the apostolate" (PME, art. 1); they express and exercise their consecration through apostolic activity" (Can. 713, 1). Since they are laypersons, their apostolate will be that of the laity and will have the same extension. They are bound by the general obligation "to work so that the divine message of salvation may be known and received by all mankind." They are equally bound, each according to their condition "by a special duty to imbue and perfect the order of temporal affairs with the spirit of the Gospel. They thus give witness to Christ" (can. 225 § 1,2). This teaching of the Church is repeated in the part of the Code of canon law which treats of Secular Institutes (can. 713 § 2). "The lay members (of Secular Institutes) participate in the evangelizing mission of the Church in the world and by means of the world. " We will note that, in regard to the apostolate of lay Secular Institutes, this canon repeats a formula (in the world and as coming from the world, in saeculo et ex saeculo) from the Motu proprio Primo feliciter, published by Pope Pius XII a year after the Provida Mater Ecclesia. Here is the complete phrase: "This apostolate of the Secular Institutes is something that happens in the world, but it may almost be said to grow out of the world: its existence is in professions, activities, forms, places, circumstances of a secular nature, and so it must remain" (PF, II, 6).

If each Secular Institute participates in the apostolic mission of the Church, it is not necessary that it have an apostolate proper to it, determined by its constitutions, and even less that it have its own apostolic works. It is important to note this because a number of Institutes rightly form their members to the apostolate without their being dedicated to a particular sector of the apostolate.

The Practice of the Evangelical Counsels

Members of Secular Institutes are consecrated to God and, as we have seen, this means that they are given totally to Him whom they love above all else. Given to His service and His honour by the profession of the evangelical counsels (cf. LG, 44) in the heart of a specific Institute erected by the Church. Some of these elements cannot be missing, notably the evangelical counsels must be lived in conformity with the traditional doctrine of the Church. We have seen that the manner of observing the counsels will be different according to each Institute and they must in particular take into account the secularity proper to each one. But it is nonetheless true that all the members of Institutes of consecrated life must faithfully and integrally live these counsels (fideliter integreque servare: can. 598, § 2).

Thus, for example, the evangelical counsel of poverty cannot ask only a life poor in fact and in spirit but must also ask: "a dependence and a limitation in the use and disposition of goods according to the norm of the proper law of each Institute" (canon 600).

The evangelical counsel of obedience goes beyond the practice of this virtue as expected of all Christians: it obliges "a submission of the will to legitimate superiors who stand in the place of God when they command according to the proper constitutions" (can. 601). The imitation of Christ obedient unto death is lived therefore through a determined mediation: (under authority and the continuous moral guidance of the superiors or directors). For Secular Institute members the practice of obedience even calls for a search for this mediation. Their obedience will therefore be particularly active. Why? Because their dispersion in the world and their immersion in secular professions makes it difficult for their directors to discern the opportune moment and the best circumstances for an intervention. The initiative of each member will thus be necessary to make known concrete situations.

The exercise of authority, necessary for the practice of the evangelical counsels, will thus be different in the religious life and in Secular Institutes. In the first case, it can always be based on the structures of the common life; it is not the same in the second. Also, in Secular Institutes, a realistic service of authority will be more difficult, more exigent and will call for commitment at times deeper and more generous on the part of the directors.


Why does the legislation on Secular Institutes (cf. can. 719) give such importance to prayer and the spiritual life in general? Is prayer not a duty of all Christians? Why then this insistence and these special prescriptions? The response to this question is in consecration: it is a matter of that "particular consecration which is completely rooted in the baptismal consecration and expresses it with greater plenitude" (PC 5).

There is a direct rapport between prayer and consecration, a reciprocal relationship. The total gift of self by the profession of the three evangelical counsels is wholly in view of a greater love for God. Now prayer is at the same time the expression and the stimulant of our desire for God. It is therefore normal that to the fundamental commitment that we have taken through chastity, poverty and obedience, there correspond similar exigencies on the level of spiritual exercises.

If prayer is not the privilege only of consecrated persons, but the normal comportment I would say respiration of all those who are children of God by grace, it nevertheless occupies a notably more important place in the life of those who have taken the decisive step to follow Christ more closely (pressius, as can. 573 § 1 states). In effect, Jesus frequently slipped away from the crowds to pray and to retire into the desert or on the mountain alone or with some disciples. The life of Jesus was bound up with his prayer. It sprung from it. It animated his messianic ministry, especially during the agony and on the cross.

"I would like that you be without care," St. Paul tells us. "He who is not married has care for the things of the Lord: he seeks how to please the Lord" (I Co 7, 32). It is in a will which seeks to please the Lord a radical will which does not hesitate before the choice of means that we find the profound explanation of the option for the consecrated life. We want to give ourselves to the "affairs of the Lord. "That's why we chose celibacy for the kingdom of God but also a life of poverty and obedience. The "affairs of the Lord" (literally, "that which is of the Lord") are certainly not limited to prayer but cover the whole field of service to the Lord. Still, it is evident that prayer occupies a privileged place in it. The person who has chosen not to marry wants to belong entirely to the Lord. And it is to belong to the Lord that they took this decision. The will to belong to the Lord therefore comes first. They do not want to be "divided" (v. 33).The consecrated life thus becomes an area of availability for prayer.

The Church insists on this in its canonical code and demands that special attention be given to prayer, the reading of Holy Scripture, an annual retreat and other spiritual exercises; if possible, daily attendance at the Eucharist, a frequent reception of the sacrament of reconciliation and spiritual direction.

To illustrate what we are saying about the rapport between consecration and the exercises of the spiritual life, I would call your attention to the prescription concerning the sacrament of reconciliation. To all the faithful it is simply recommended that venial sins be confessed (can. 988 § 2). To members of Secular Institutes, frequent confession is prescribed (can. 719 §3).

It is also clear that the practice of the spiritual life must take into consideration the conditions of existence in the world. All the same this will not be to reduce their importance but only to adapt them to persons, places and circumstances. The times and places of the prayer of the laity will not necessarily be the same as those of religious who live in community with their own oratory. The texts of prayer can be different. Secular Institute members will spontaneously bring to their prayer the intentions of the world in which they live. But the nature of prayer does not change. Particular consecration to God retains all its exigencies.

Future Perspectives

The Synod on the laity clearly and forcefully reminded us that Secular Institute members are true laity. But that they are at the same time indissolubly consecrated. These Institutes are not a new variety - ¬more discreet and hidden of religious life but a distinct reality, a true elevation of the lay state by the profession of the evangelical counsels.

We have spoken little of the clerical Secular Institutes. But many things that we have said apply equally to them. In effect, belonging to a Secular Institute does not change their canonical condition within the people of God. This does not apply only to laypersons but also to secular priests (and deacons).

Today we see within the Church the rapid increase of spiritual and apostolic groups in Italy called ecclesial movements and in France, new communities. Some of them have already adopted the structure of the religious life or of Secular Institutes; others seem to be going in the same direction. But it is possible that not all will follow this way. Many of these groups have strong public and communitarian affirmation. This distinguishes them from Secular Institutes. Is it not the moment to remember that the Spirit breathes where he will and that the unity of the mystical body is made of a diversity of charisms and functions? Moreover, we know that the Church is ready to welcome new forms of consecrated life (can. 605), but also, more in general, new forms of Christian commitment. In any case this flourishing does not diminish in any way the proper role of Secular Institutes in the Church of today and of tomorrow.

"They remind us that the call to holiness is inscribed in the logic of baptism."

"They multiply the presence of authentic Christians capable of being apostles everywhere."

"They respond to the contemporary situation by providing the possibility for true Christians to be present in the profane structures of the world."

I quote these three phrases from Father J.M. Perrin, o.p. (DS, t. V col. 1783). By their nature, they are meant to give you full confidence in a form of consecrated life which you freely chose the day of your incorporation into your Institute and which has manifested itself as a work of the Spirit.

To summarise and conclude: you are consecrated and lay, you are the one and the other totally and inseparably. I repeat this once more because there is no deep understanding of Secular Institutes outside of it. In the Apostolic Constitution Provida Mater Ecclesia the Church wanted by means of the three evangelical counsels, to give full access to the consecrated life to laity who live and work in the midst of the world. Each Secular Institute is therefore a school of sanctity, which has received the guarantee of the Church. This is the essential that we must state and repeat and that we must meditate ever more deeply.


Christifideles Laici

Apostolic Exhortation of John Paul II


The Various Vocations in the Lay State

56. The Church's rich variety is manifested still further from within each state of life. Thus within the lay state diverse "vocations" are given, that is, there are different paths in the spiritual life and the apostolate which are taken by individual members of the lay faithful. In the field of a "commonly shared" lay vocation "special" lay vocations flourish. In this area we can also recall the spiritual experience of the flourishing of diverse forms of Secular Institutes that have developed recently in the Church. These offer the lay faithful, and even priests, the possibility of professing the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience through vows or promises, while fully maintaining one's lay or clerical state. In this regard the Synod Fathers have commented: "The Holy Spirit stirs up other forms of self giving to which people who remain fully in the lay state devote themselves". We can conclude by reading a beautiful passage taken from Saint Francis de Sales, who promoted lay spirituality so well. In speaking of "devotion", that is, Christian perfection or "life according to the Spirit", he presents in a simple yet insightful way the vocation of all Christians to holiness while emphasizing the specific form with which individual Christians fulfil it: "In creation God commanded the plants to bring forth their fruits, each one after its kind. So does he command all Christians, who are the living plants of his Church, to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each according to his character and vocation. Devotion must be exercised in different ways by the gentleman, the workman, the servant, the prince, the widow, the maid and the married woman. Not only this, but the practice of devotion must also be adapted to the strength, the employment, and the duties of each one in particular... It is an error, or rather a heresy, to try to banish the devout life from the regiment of soldiers, the shop of the mechanic, the court of princes, or the home of married folk. It is true, Philothea, that a purely contemplative, monastic and religious devotion cannot be exercised in such ways of life. But besides these three kinds of devotion, there are several others adapted to bring to perfection those who live in the secular state".

Along the same line the Second Vatican Council states: "This lay spirituality should take its particular character from the circumstances of one's state in life (married and family life, celibacy, widowhood), from one's state of health and from one's professional and social activity. All should not cease to develop earnestly the qualities and talents bestowed on them in accord with these conditions of life and should make use of the gifts which they have received from the Holy Spirit".

What has been said about the spiritual vocation can also be said - and to a certain degree with greater reason - of the infinite number of ways through which all members of the Church are employed as labourers in the vineyard of the Lord, building up the Mystical Body of Christ. Indeed as a person with a truly unique life story, each is called by name, to make a special contribution to the coming of the Kingdom of God. No talent, no matter how small, is to be hidden or left unused (cf. Mt 25: 24 27).

In this regard the apostle Peter gives us a stern warning: "As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace" (1 Pt 4: 10).


Builders of christian culture in the mission of the new evangelization

John Paul II

On 24 July 1992 the Secretary of State sent a letter to Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo,
Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life,
expressing the Holy Father's best wishes for and spiritual participation in the Fifth World Congress of Secular Institutes.

This is a translation of the letter, which was written in Italian.
(L'Osservatore Romano in English, 2 September 1992).

Your Eminence,

The Holy Father, informed of the Fifth World Congress of Secular Institutes, has charged me to express his cordial greetings to the meeting's organisers and all the participants.

First of all, His Holiness expresses his appreciation of the choice of the theme, "Secular Institutes and evangelization today", which is most opportunely inserted within the Church's vast involvement in fostering the new evangelization. It is a process of grace which reaches its climax in the ever necessary conversion of heart, which is to be understood as a return to God, the provident and merciful Father, and availability towards one's brothers and sisters, who expect understanding, love and an unwavering proclamation of the revealed word.

Today the Church's evangelising mission must take into consideration the profound cultural and social transformations of our day, which can frequently create obstacles to evangelising activity rather than promote it. Members of Secular Institutes are quite conscious of these challenges which they are called to face, because they have received the gift of a "new and original form of consecration, suggested by the Holy Spirit to be lived in the midst of temporal realities, and to insert the power of, the evangelical counsels that is, of the divine, eternal values into the human, temporal values" (Insegnamenti di Paolo VI, X, 1972, p. 943).

The Holy Spirit has granted them the grace of being more radically conformed to Jesus in the path he walked to reconcile mankind with God, to break down the walls of enmity (cf. Heb 2:14) and to create the New Humanity. A "new ardour" is needed to bring all this about; the Secular Institutes are asked to make theirs an extraordinary involvement in witnessing to the newness of the Gospel. Without a more zealous response to the call to holiness in order to communicate the Gospel of Peace to the world which is about to enter the new millennium, every effort would be reduced to attempts lacking apostolic effectiveness. New methods are also required for communicating the newness of the Gospel to the world. Towards such an end members of Secular Institutes must be open to new forms of communication offered to them by the progress of technology. However, they must not forget that the communication must also be adapted to the newness that it is called to spread. It must be distinguished by its Gospel simplicity and the fact that it is offered freely (cf. Mt 10:8) in order to promote a free, responsible and joyful response.

The experience of seeking the living God and having a personal encounter with him is the most valuable thing that can be offered to people. Without a doubt the call to holiness is at the root of the call to the new evangelization. This requires a deep ecclesial communion which begins within the Institutes themselves and extends in an affective and effective communion with the whole People of God. The close relationship between the building of a Christian community and service to the world was clearly expressed by the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici, where he states that "a mending of the Christian fabric of society is urgently needed in all parts of the world. However, for this to come about, what is needed is first to remake the Christian fabric of the ecclesial community itself" (n.34).

The new evangelization, however, also requires a service to the world. There are many ways to bring this about, according to one's particular vocation and the concrete necessities: witness of life; dialogue and militancy; personal contact; individual and prophetic denunciation; defence of truth; and the witness of love. It is important that, in a world marked by the "culture of death" but which yearns for the values of the Spirit, Secular Institutes are able to be signs of the living God and craftsmen of the "culture of Christian solidarity".

The Holy Father, therefore, urges everyone to continue on this path, to increase the many initiatives of Christian inspiration and not to fear being present in the various "modern Areopaguses" in order to bring the Good News of the Gospel there by the word and deed. Commitment to peace and development of peoples, the defence of human rights, promotion of women and the education of young people are some of there "Areopaguses" of the modern world in which the Secular Institutes must be involved.

With these wishes, invoking the protection of Mary most holy, Queen of the Apostles and Star of Evangelization, upon all those participating in the congress and upon all members of Secular Institutes, the Supreme Pontiff cordially imparts his Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of the most abundant heavenly favours.

I gladly take this opportunity to express my deepest regards.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano
Secretary of State


Apostolic Exhortation

Vita Consecrata

John Paul II, 3.25.1996

10. The Holy Spirit, who wondrously fashions the variety of charisms, has given rise in our time to new expressions of consecrated life, which appear as a providential response to the new needs encountered by the Church today as she carries out her mission in the world.

One thinks in the first place of members of Secular Institutes seeking to live out their consecration to God in the world through the profession of the evangelical counsels in the midst of temporal realities; they wish in this way to be a leaven of wisdom and a witness of grace within cultural, economic and political life. Through their own specific blending of presence in the world and consecration, they seek to make present in society the newness and power of Christ's kingdom, striving to transfigure the world from within by the power of the Beatitudes. In this way, while they belong completely to God and are thus fully consecrated to his service, their activity in the ordinary life of the world contributes, by the power of the Spirit, to shedding the light of the Gospel on temporal realities. Secular Institutes, each in accordance with its specific nature, thus help to ensure that the Church has an effective presence in society.

A valuable role is also played by clerical Secular Institutes, in which priests who belong to the diocesan clergy, even when some of them are recognized as being incardinated in the Institute, consecrate themselves to Christ through the practice of the evangelical counsels in accordance with a specific charism. They discover in the spiritual riches of the Institute to which they belong great help for living more deeply the spirituality proper to the priesthood and thus they are enabled to be a leaven of communion and apostolic generosity among their fellow clergy.

50. Constant dialogue between superiors of Institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life and bishops is most valuable in order to promote mutual understanding, which is the necessary precondition for effective cooperation, especially in pastoral matters. Thanks to regular contacts of this kind, superiors, both men and women, can inform bishops about the apostolic undertakings which they are planning in dioceses, in order to agree on the necessary practical arrangements. In the same way, it is helpful for delegates of the conferences of major superiors to be invited to meetings of the bishops' conferences and, in turn, for delegates of the episcopal conferences to be invited to attend the conferences of major superiors, following predetermined formats. It would be a great help if, where they do not yet exist, mixed commissions of bishops and major superiors were set up at the national level for the joint study of problems of common interest. Likewise, better reciprocal knowledge will result if the theology and the spirituality of the consecrated life are made part of the theological preparation of diocesan priests, and if adequate attention to the theology of the particular Church and to the spirituality of the diocesan clergy is included in the formation of consecrated persons. [...]

52. Fraternal spiritual relations and mutual cooperation among different Institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life are sustained and nourished by the sense of ecclesial communion. Those who are united by a common commitment to the following of Christ and are inspired by the same Spirit cannot fail to manifest visibly, as branches of the one vine, the fullness of the Gospel of love. Mindful of the spiritual friendship which often united founders and foundresses during their lives, consecrated persons, while remaining faithful to the character of their own Institute, are called to practice a fraternity which is exemplary and which will serve to encourage the other members of the Church in the daily task of bearing witness to the Gospel. [...]

53. A significant contribution to communion can be made by the conferences of major superiors and by the conferences of Secular Institutes. Encouraged and regulated by the Second Vatican Council and by subsequent documents, these bodies have as their principal purpose the promotion of the consecrated life within the framework of the Church's mission.

By means of these bodies, Institutes express the communion which unites them, and they seek the means to reinforce that communion, with respect and esteem for the uniqueness of their different charisms, which reflect the mystery of the Church and the richness of divine wisdom. I encourage Institutes of consecrated life to work together, especially in those countries where particularly difficult situations increase the temptation for them to withdraw into themselves, to the detriment of the consecrated life itself and of the Church. Rather, these Institutes should help one another in trying to discern God's plan in this troubled moment of history, in order better to respond to it with appropriate works of the apostolate. In the perspective of a communion open to the challenges of our time, superiors, men and women, "working in harmony with the bishops," should seek "to make use of the accomplishments of the best members of each Institute and to offer services which not only help to overcome eventual limits but which create a valid style of formation in consecrated life''.

I exhort the conferences of major superiors and the conferences of Secular Institutes to maintain frequent and regular contacts with the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, as a sign of their communion with the Holy See. An active and trusting relationship ought also to be maintained with the episcopal conference of each country. In the spirit of the document Mutuae Relationes, these contacts should be established on a stable basis, in order to provide for constant and timely coordination of initiatives as they come up. If all this is done with perseverance and a spirit of faithful adherence to the directives of the Magisterium, the organizations which promote coordination and communion will prove to be particularly helpful in formulating solutions which avoid misunderstandings and tensions both on the theoretical and practical levels. In this way they will make a positive contribution not only to the growth of communion between Institutes of consecrated life and the bishops, but also to the advancement of the mission of the particular Churches.

54. [...] Members of Secular Institutes, lay or clerical, relate to other members of the faithful at the level of everyday life. Today, often as a result of new situations, many Institutes have come to the conclusion that their charism can be shared with the laity. The laity are therefore invited to share more intensely in the spirituality and mission of these Institutes. We may say that, in the light of certain historical experiences such as those of the secular or third orders, a new chapter, rich in hope, has begun in the history of relations between consecrated persons and the laity.

56. A significant expression of lay people's sharing in the richness of the consecrated life is their participation in various Institutes under the new form of so called associate members or, in response to conditions present in certain cultures, as people who share fully for a certain period of time the Institute's community life and its particular dedication to contemplation or the apostolate. This should always be done in such a way that the identity of the Institute in its internal life is not harmed.

This voluntary service, which draws from the richness of the consecrated life, should be held in great esteem; it is however necessary to provide proper formation so that, besides being competent, volunteers always have supernaturally motivated intentions and, in their projects, a strong sense of community and of the Church. Moreover, it should be borne in mind that initiatives involving lay persons at the decision-¬making level, in order to be considered the work of a specific Institute, must promote the ends of that Institute and be carried out under its responsibility. Therefore, if lay persons take on a directive role, they will be accountable for their actions to the competent superiors. It is necessary for all this to be examined and regulated by special directives in each Institute, to be approved by higher authority. These directives should indicate the respective responsibilities of the Institute itself of its communities, associate members and volunteers.

Consecrated persons, sent by their superiors and remaining subject to them, can take part in specific forms of cooperation in lay initiatives, particularly in organizations and institutions which work with those on the margins of society and which have the purpose of alleviating human suffering. Such collaboration, if prompted and sustained by a clear and strong Christian identity and respectful of the particular character of the consecrated life, can make the radiant power of the Gospel shine forth brightly even in the darkest situations of human life.

In recent years, many consecrated persons have become members of one or other of the ecclesial movements which have spread in our time. From these experiences, those involved usually draw benefit, especially in the area of spiritual renewal. Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that in certain cases this involvement causes uneasiness and disorientation at the personal or community level, especially when these experiences come into conflict with the demands of the common life or of the Institute's spirituality. It is therefore necessary to take care that membership in these ecclesial movements does not endanger the charism or discipline of the Institute of origin, and that all is done with the permission of superiors and with the full intention of accepting their decisions.

78. [...] The Church's mission ad gentes offers consecrated women religious brothers and members of Secular Institutes special and extraordinary opportunities for a particularly fruitful apostolate. The members of Secular Institutes, by their presence in fields more suited to the lay vocation, can engage in the valuable work of evangelizing all sectors of society, as well as the structures and the very laws which regulate it. Moreover, they can bear witness to Gospel values, living in contact with those who do not yet know Jesus, thus making a specific contribution to the mission.

97. [...] Because of the importance that Catholic and ecclesiastical universities and faculties have in the field of education and evangelization, Institutes which are responsible for their direction should be conscious of their responsibility. They should ensure the preservation of their unique Catholic identity in complete fidelity to the Church's Magisterium, all the while engaging in active dialogue with present day cultural trends. Moreover, depending on the circumstances, the members of these Institutes and societies readily become involved in the educational structures of the State. Members of Secular Institutes in particular, because of their specific calling, are called to this kind of cooperation.

99. [...] Furthermore, consecrated persons, especially members of Secular Institutes, should willingly lend their help, wherever pastorally appropriate, for the religious formation of leaders and workers in the field of public and private social communications. This should be done in order to offset the inappropriate use of the media and to promote higher quality programs, the contents of which will be respectful of the moral law and rich in human and Christian values.


Opening Address to the International Symposium to celebrate
the 50th Anniversary of the Provida Mater Ecclesia,

Card. Eduardo Martinez Somalo
January 31st, 1997

My dear participants at this Symposium,

I thank the Lord for the auspicious opportunity to meet such a large number of members of the various Secular Institutes, gathered at the Pontifical University which, for over 400 years, has been among the leaders in prestigious, highly qualified theological research and culture.

I thank all those who worked so hard to plan this Symposium: the World Conference of Secular Institutes, whose Executive Council organised these meetings to celebrate a very significant date in the life of all Secular Institutes: the 50th anniversary of the Apostolic Constitution Provida Mater, promulgated on February 2, 1947 by the late Holy Father Pius XII.

It has also been fifty years since the Dicastery, to which Mons. Dorronsoro and I belong, has been responsible for this form of consecrated life. By now, it is a consolidated way of life which has determined its specific mission in the large family of the Church.

Our joy and our gratitude to the Holy Trinity are undoubtedly shared by those who, in the consoling mystery of the Communion of Saints, already live forever in God, and participate with us in the joys of the entire Church. It is herewith necessary to recall the wise and enlightened author of the event we are celebrating, the venerable Father Arcadio Larraona, of the Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Missionaries (Claretians). Later raised to Cardinal, Fr. Larraona at the time held the post of Under-secretary of the Sacred Congregation of Religious. His memory continues to live on in many of us. In 1941, the Supreme Pontiff Pius XII gave him the task of studying these new Institutes, creating a Commission composed of members of the former Sacred Congregations of the Holy Office and Religious, to help determine adequate legislation. This was followed by the publication of the Pontifical document that outlined the theological and juridical foundations of the Secular Institutes and the particular laws which govern them.

The following year, Pius XII also defined the doctrine concerning the new form of consecrated life in the Motu Proprio Primo feliciter. The same year, the Sacred Congregation of Religious highlighted several points in the Instruction Cum Sanctissimus .

We can say the Church has been enriched by these documents in that those people who choose to remain in the world may be recognised as being wholly consecrated, thus uniting secularity and consecration as integral elements of the new Institutes. Full consecration and complete secularity are declared not only compatible, but are also considered reciprocal aids which respond to the needs of modern times; the images of salt and yeast, which lend flavour and expand, are emphasised together with the classic evangelical references to the city on the mountain top and the light of the candelabrum.

Papal teachings later confirmed the doctrine and practices of the Secular Institutes; thus, the Second Vatican Council recommended them to preserve their unique identity and dedicate their energies to divine and human teachings (cf. PC 11). Moreover, Pontifical teachings recognised that consecrated seculars are very effective in missionary work, offering a sign of complete dedication to the evangelization of the world (cf. AG 40). And in celebrating this solemn anniversary twenty-¬five years ago, Pope Paul VI encouraged you to offer witness to consecrated secularity so that the Church may assume the new attitude or approach that the world demands today! (cf. Pope Paul VI, discourse for the XXVth anniversary of Provida Mater, Rome February 2, 1972).

The illustrious speakers who will soon present their discourses will delve deeper into these issues, tracing the main themes and events of the past fifty years which led us to the post synodal Apostolic Exhortation on Consecrated Life. In that document, the Holy Father Pope John Paul II again invites the world's consecrated persons to release into society the new energy of Christ's Kingdom, to transfigure the world with the power of the Beatitudes (cf. VC 10). In the Exhortation, the Holy Father reflects further on the magnificence of Christ's undivided succession, generating amongst us a true feeling of filial gratitude.

Not much left remains for me to say, save to offer all of you my sincerest wishes and prayers. My best wishes and prayers are with you so that the Secular Institutes may always remain faithful to their charism, aiming for the right balance between secularity and consecration; that they may tap the source of their spirituality, and accurately and courageously interpret the wishes of their Founders. It is they who responded to inspiration from the Spirit of Truth and began this holy mission adopted by the Church. All those who serve in this mission are certain to respond generously to the divine call.

I am sure that in the new evangelization marking the Third Christian Millennium all of you will be committed and active protagonists in proclaiming the world's Salvation through Jesus Christ, Who remains the same yesterday, today and forever, and Whom we glorify and offer thanks!

Rome, 31st January 1997


Bearing witness to Christ in Secular Life

On the occasion of the International Symposium to mark the 50th anniversary
of the Provida Mater Ecclesia

John Paul II, 1.2.1997

Your Eminence, venerable brothers and sisters,

1. I welcome you with great affection at this special audience to recall and celebrate an important date for Secular Institutes. I thank Cardinal Martinez Somalo for his words which shed the proper light on the meaning of this meeting, which gathers together in this hall countless people from all over the world. I also thank your representative who spoke after the Cardinal.

The Church's motherly concern and wise affection for her children who dedicate their life to Christ in the various forms of special consecration was expressed 50 years ago in the Apostolic Constitution Provida Mater Ecclesia, which was meant to give a new canonical structure to the Christian experience of Secular Institutes (cf. AAS 39, 1974, 114 124).

With good insight and anticipating several themes that were to be suitably formulated by the Second Vatican Council, Pius XII, my predecessor of venerable memory, confirmed with his apostolic authority a way and form of life that had already been attracting many Christians for a century, men and women committed to following Christ chaste, poor and obedient, while remaining in the state of life proper to their own secular status. In this first phase of the history of Secular Institutes, it is beautiful to recognise the dedication and sacrifice of so many brothers and sisters in the faith, who fearlessly faced the challenges of new times. They offered a consistent witness of true Christian holiness in the most varied conditions of work, home and involvement in the social, economic and political life of the human communities to which they belonged.

We cannot forget the intelligent passion with which several great men of the Church accompanied this process in the years immediately preceding the promulgation of Provida Mater Ecclesia. Among the many, in addition to the Pope just mentioned, I like to remember with affection and gratitude the then Substitute of the Secretariat of State, the future Pope Paul VI, Mons. Giovanni Battista Montini, and the Undersecretary of the Congregation for Religious at the time of the Apostolic Constitution, venerable Cardinal Arcadio Larraona, who played an important role in elaborating and defining the doctrine and in making the canonical decisions this document contains.

2. Half a century later we still find Provida Mater Ecclesia very timely. You pointed this out during your international symposium's work. Indeed this document is marked by a prophetic inspiration which deserves to be emphasised. In fact, today more than ever, the way of life of Secular Institutes has proved a providential and effective form of Gospel witness in the specific circumstances of today's cultural and social conditions, in which the Church is called to live and carry out her mission. With the approval of these Institutes, crowning a spiritual endeavour which had been motivating Church life at least since the time of St Francis de Sales, the Constitution recognised that the perfection of Christian life could and should be lived in every circumstance and existential situation, since it is the call to universal holiness (cf. Provida Mater Ecclesia, n. 118). Consequently, it affirmed that religious life - understood in its proper canonical form - was not in itself the only way to follow the Lord without reserve. It desired that the Christian renewal of family, professional and social life would take place through the presence and witness of secular consecration, bringing about new and effective forms of apostolate, addressed to persons and spheres normally far from the Gospel, where it is almost impossible for its proclamation to penetrate.

3. Years ago, in addressing those taking part in the Second International Congress of Secular Institutes, I said that they were "so to speak, at the centre of the conflict that disturbs and divides the modern soul" (Insegnamenti, vol. III/2, 1980, p.469; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 29 September 1980, p. 4). With this statement I meant to re examine several considerations of my venerable predecessor, Paul VI, who had spoken of Secular Institutes as the answer to a deep concern: that of finding the way of combining the full consecration of life according to the evangelical counsels and full responsibility for a presence and transforming action within the world, to mould, perfect and sanctify it (cf. Insegnamenti di Paolo VI, vol. X, 1972, p. 102).

In fact, on the one hand we are witnessing the rapid spread of forms of religious expression offering fascinating experiences, which in some cases are exacting and demanding. The accent however is on the emotional and perceptible level of the experience, rather than the ascetical and spiritual. We can acknowledge that these forms of religious expression are an attempt to respond to a constantly renewed desire for communion with God, for the search for the ultimate truth about him and about humanity's destiny. They display the fascination of novelty and facile universalism. However these experiences imply an ambiguous concept of God which is far from that offered by Revelation. Furthermore, they prove to be detached from reality and humanity's concrete history.

This religious expression contrasts with a false concept of secularity in which God has nothing to do with the building of humanity's future. The relationship with him should be considered a private decision and a subjective question which at most can be tolerated as long as it does not claim to have any influence on culture or society.

4. How, then, should we face this terrible conflict which divides the heart and soul of contemporary humanity? It becomes a challenge for the Christian: the challenge to bring about a new synthesis of the greatest possible allegiance to God and his will, and the greatest possible sharing in the joys and hopes, worries and sorrows of the world, to direct them towards the plan of integral salvation which God the Father has shown us in Christ and continually makes available to us through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The members of Secular Institutes are committed precisely to this and express their full fidelity to the profession of the evangelical counsels in a form of secular life full of risks and often unforeseeable demands, but rich in a specific and original potential.

5. The humble yet daring bearers of the transforming power of God's kingdom and the courageous, consistent witnesses to the task and mission of the evangelization of cultures and peoples, the members of Secular Institutes, in history, are the sign of a Church which is the friend of men and can offer them comfort in every kind of affliction, ready to support all true progress in human life but at the same time intransigent towards every choice of death, violence, deceit and injustice. For Christians they are also a sign and a reminder of their duty, on God's behalf, to care for a creation which remains the object of its Creator's love and satisfaction, although marked by the contradictions of rebellion and sin and in need of being freed from corruption and death.

Is it surprising that the environment with which they have to contend is often little inclined to understand and accept their witness?

The Church today looks to men and women who are capable of a renewed witness to the Gospel and its radical demands, amid the living conditions of the majority of human beings. Even the world, often without realising it, wishes to meet the truth of the Gospel for humanity's true and integral progress, according to God's plan.

In such a condition, great determination and clear fidelity to the charism proper to their consecration is demanded of the members of Secular Institutes: that of bringing about the synthesis of faith and life, of the Gospel and human history, of total dedication to the glory of God and of unconditional willingness to serve the fullness of life of their brothers and sisters in this world.

Members of Secular Institutes are by their vocation and mission at the crossroads between God's initiative and the longing of creation: God's initiative, which they bring the world through love and intimate union with Christ; the longing of creation, which they share in the everyday, secular condition of their fellow men and women, bearing the contradictions and hopes of every human being, especially the weakest and the suffering.

Secular Institutes in any case are entrusted with the responsibility of reminding everyone of this mission, witnessing to it by a special consecration in the radicalness of the evangelical counsels, so that the whole Christian community may carry out with ever greater commitment the task that God, in Christ, has entrusted to it with the gift of his Spirit (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata, nos. 17 22).

6. The contemporary world appears particularly sensitive to the witness of those who can courageously assume the risk and responsibility of discerning the times and of the plan for building a new and more just humanity. Our time is one of great cultural and social upheaval.

Thus it seems ever more apparent that the Christian mission in the world cannot be reduced to giving a pure, simple example of honesty, competence and fidelity to duty. All this is presupposed. It is a question of putting on the mind of Jesus Christ in order to be signs of his love in the world. This is the meaning and the goal of authentic Christian secularity, and thus the purpose and value of the Christian consecration lived in Secular Institutes.

In this regard, it is all the more important that members of Secular Institutes intensely live fraternal communion within their own Institute and with the members of different Institutes.

Precisely because they are dispersed like leaven and salt in the midst of the world, they should consider themselves privileged witnesses to the value of brotherhood and Christian friendship, so necessary today, especially in the great urban areas where the majority of the world's population now lives. I hope that each Secular Institute may become this burning hearth from which many men and women can draw light and warmth for the life of the world.

7. Lastly, I ask Mary to bestow on all the members of Secular Institutes the clearness of her vision of the world's situation, the depth of her faith in the word of God and the promptness of her willingness to fulfil his mysterious designs for an ever more effective collaboration in the work of salvation.

Entrusting to her motherly hands the future of Secular Institutes, a chosen portion of God's people, I impart my Apostolic Blessing to each one of you present here, and I willingly extend it to all the members of Secular Institutes scattered throughout the five continents.


To the participants in the World Congress of Secular Institutes

Trainig for discerniment

John Paul II
Monday, 28 August 2000

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. I am pleased to welcome you on the occasion of your congress; the Jubilee celebration currently taking place gives it an orientation and a special encouragement. I greet you all with deep cordiality, extending a particular greeting to Cardinal Eduardo Martínez Somalo, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, who has warmly expressed your sentiments.

In the Year of the Great Jubilee, the Church invites all the laity, but especially the members of secular institutes, to engage in spreading knowledge of the Gospel and in bearing a Christian witness in secular realities. As I said at our meeting for the 50th anniversary of Provida Mater Ecclesia, by your vocation and mission you are at the crossroads between God's initiative and the longing of creation: God's initiative, which you bring to the world through love and intimate union with Christ; the longing of creation, which you share in the everyday and secular condition of your fellow men and women (cf. Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, vol. XX/1, 1997, n. 5, p. 232). Consequently, as consecrated lay people you must live contemporary realities with active awareness, because the following of Christ, which gives meaning to your lives, seriously involves you in that world which you are called to transform according to God's plan.

2. Your world congress focuses attention on the theme of the formation of the members of secular institutes. They must always be able to discern in the complexity and variability of the signs of the times God's will and the paths of the new evangelization in every "today" of history.

In my Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici, I amply covered the theme of the formation of Christians with their historical and secular responsibilities as well as their direct collaboration in building the Christian community; and I indicated the indispensable sources of this formation: "a receptive listening to the Word of God and the Church, fervent and constant prayer, recourse to a wise and loving spiritual guide, and a faithful discernment of the gifts and talents given by God, as well as the diverse social and historic situations in which one lives" (n. 58).

Thus formation embraces the whole life of the consecrated person. It is also nourished by the analyses and reflections of experts in sociology and the other human sciences, but cannot disregard, as its vital centre and criterion for the Christian evaluation of historical phenomena, the spiritual, theological and sapiential dimension of the life of faith, which provides the ultimate, crucial keys to the interpretation of the human condition today and to the choice of the priorities and styles of an authentic witness.

The gaze we turn to the realities of the contemporary world, which we would like always to be filled with the compassion and mercy that our Lord Jesus Christ taught us, does not pause to identify errors and dangers. Of course, it cannot ignore the negative and problematic aspects but is immediately directed to identifying ways of hope and pointing out prospects of fervent commitment for the person's integral advancement, liberation and full happiness.

3. In the heart of a changing world in which unheard-of injustices and sufferings persist and are worsening, you are called to give a Christian interpretation to events and to historical and cultural phenomena. In particular, you must be harbingers of light and hope in contemporary society. Do not let yourselves be deceived by ingenuous optimism, but remain faithful witnesses of a God who certainly loves this humanity and offers it the necessary grace to work effectively building a better world, more just and more respectful of the dignity of every human being. The challenge to the faith of contemporary culture seems precisely this: to give up the facile tendency to paint dark and negative scenes, in order to mark out possible paths that are not deceptive, of redemption, liberation and hope.

Your experience as consecrated people in secular conditions demonstrates that one must not expect a better world to come about only from the choices of higher responsiblities and from the top of great institutions. The Lord's grace, which can also save and redeem this historical epoch, is born and grows in believers' hearts. They accept, support and encourage God's initiative in history and make it grow from below and from within simple human lives, which thus become true messengers of change and of salvation. It is enough to think in this regard of the action of countless throngs of saints, even those who have not been officially declared as such by the Church, who made a deep mark on the time in which they lived, contributing to it values and energies of goodness whose importance escapes the instruments of social analysis, but is clearly visible to God's eyes and to the thoughtful reflection of believers.

4. Formation in discernment cannot ignore the basis of every human project which is and remains Jesus Christ. The mission of secular institutes is to "make present in society the newness and power of Christ's kingdom, striving to transfigure the world from within by the power of the Beatitudes" (Vita consecrata, n. 10). The faith of disciples thus becomes the spirit of the world, according to the well-chosen image of the letter "To Diognetus", and gives rise to a cultural and social renewal which should be made available to humanity. The more distant and alien to the Gospel humanity is, the stronger and more convincing the proclamation of the truth about Christ and man redeemed through him must be.

Of course, attention must always be paid to the methods of this proclamation so that humanity does not feel it is an intrusion and imposition on the part of believers. On the contrary, it will be our task to see that it is ever clearer that the Church, which carries out Christ's mission, cares lovingly for human beings. She does not do so for humanity in the abstract, but for this real, historical human being, in the conviction that "this man is the primary route that the Church must travel in fulfilling her mission ... the way traced out by Christ himself, the way that leads invariably through the mystery of the Incarnation and the Redemption" (Redemptoris hominis, n. 14; cf. Centesimus annus, n. 53).

5. Your initial and continuous formation, dear superiors and members of secular institutes, should be nourished by these certainties. It will yield abundant fruit to the extent that it continues to draw from the inexhaustible riches of revelation, interpreted and proclaimed by the Church with wisdom and love.

I entrust your journey on the routes of the world to Mary, Star of evangelization, who is an image of the Church beyond compare. May she be close to you, and may her intercession make the work of your congress fruitful and give enthusiasm and renewed apostolic dynamism to the institutions which you represent here, so that the Jubilee will mark the beginning of a new Pentecost and a profound interior renewal.

With these wishes I impart my Apostolic Blessing to you all, as a pledge of constant affection.