“Evangelization and Religious Life,” Pedro Arrupe (1974)

Pedro Arrupe issued the following position paper at a meeting of the Union of Religious Superiors General in Rome in February 1974. Arrupe believes that it is “clear that religious life must be an evangelizing force,” one that adapts in order to help the Catholic Church adapt as well. The “effectiveness” of an evangelizer, then, is “in proportion to his authentic realization of those ideals expressed in his own charism.” Arrupe argues that, with that realization, those in religious life must examine their own lives to determine if they meet “their special obligation to mirror the holiness of the Church.” To help that examination, Arrupe offers several questions for current practices and for future actions as well. All Jesuit major superiors received a copy of this paper in March 1974.

For more sources from Arrupe, please visit The Arrupe Collection.




Religious and Evangelization: This is a theme that touches upon the very essence of religious life, its daily internal rhythm and its activity in the service of the church and humanity. It is a vast theme, one of tremendous interest, that can serve as an immediate topic of dialogue between the Council of “16” and the Sacred Congregation for Religious as a proximate preparation for meeting at Villa Cavalletti this forthcoming month of May; and also help in the Synod of Bishops.


These pages do not pretend to be a study of the theme. My only desire is to suggest some preliminary considerations that will help us in our thinking and dialogue. Rather than an “ad extra” consideration of apostolic activities and methods, I would prefer an “ad intra” point of departure. This will provide a better knowledge and preparation of the instrument itself; i.e., Religious Institutes and their members, in view of evangelization.


This position paper is accordingly divided into three parts:

I. How the Church, during Vatican II, looked upon Religious in rapport with Evangelization, i.e., the ideal of religious life.

II. How we ourselves see the reality of religious life, and how it is looked upon from the outside.

III. Some questions concerning the future of our Institutes in regard to Evangelization.



I. Religious Life and Evangelization in the Light of Vatican II

The synodal document of 1973 defined evangelization as the action whereby the Gospel is proclaimed and explained, and whereby living faith is awakened in non-Christians and fostered in Christians: missionary preaching, catechetics, homiletics, etc.”


If Vatican II affirms that “the pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature, … for it is from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit that she takes her origin, in accordance with the decree of God the Father” … “and that every Christian should be an evangelizer;” it is quite easy, a fortiori, to see that “the more ardently they unite themselves to Christ through a self-surrender involving their entire lives, the more vigorous becomes the life of the Church and the more abundantly her apostolate bears fruit.”


In fact, because of a close relationship between religious and evangelization in the course of the Church’s history, “religious communities of the contemplative and of the active life have so far played, and still do play, a very great role in the evangelization of the world.”


Considering religious life in itself and in its characteristics, this relationship appears with even greater clarity.


1. Religious Life and Evangelization

Religious life as such is a “state of life constituted by the profession of the evangelical counsels which, although it does not belong to the hierarchical structure of the church, nevertheless it belongs inseparably to her life and holiness.”


There is question here of a state that tends, in a special way, to Christian perfection, that “imitates more closely … that form of life which the Son of God accepted in entering this world.” It is a state that, by means of the vows, aspires to total detachment, and by means of which community life strives to live the full sharing (“koinonia”) of the first Christians spoken of in the Acts of the Apostles, a sharing founded on evangelic charity, the true sign of the Christian and the fount of his apostolic zeal.


The end of the religious life is not introversion; nor is it so in reference to the contemplative life. The religious is “totally dedicated to God;” “assuming a firmer commitment to the ministry of the Church;” “and of all men.” “The entire religious life of the members (of Institutes of apostolic activity and beneficence) should be penetrated by an apostolic spirit, as their entire apostolic activity should be animated by a religious spirit.”


It is clear that religious life must be an evangelizing force, for the Council says “that all religious should spread throughout the whole world the good news of Christ by the integrity of their faith, their love for God and neighbor, their devotion to the Cross, and their hope of future glory. Thus will their witness be seen by all, and our Father in heaven will be glorified.” The great evangelizing force of religious life is evident: “The profession of the evangelical counsels, then, appears as a sign which can and ought to attract all the members of the Church to an effective and prompt fulfilment of the duties of their Christian vocation.” It witnesses to the fact of the new and eternal life acquired by the redemption of Christ; it foretells the resurrected state and the glory of the heavenly kingdom.”


Thus religious project the image of the Church in the various sectors of the world, giving the Church a visible service by their poverty, obedience, chastity, mutual charity and availability. Indeed, religious offer elements of adaptation, given that adaptation of the religious life is a help to the adaptation of the Church herself. All this shows the opportuneness of religious life and the witness value of religious. At the same time it shows the sense of responsibility that they bring forward before the People of God. For if their witness becomes impoverished, it brings about a blemish on the image of the Church herself.


2. Religious Institutes and the Work of Evangelization

On the supposition that “the spiritual life of religious should be devoted to the welfare of the whole Church,” Religious Institutes, by their very universality contribute characteristic aid to the work of evangelization. Universality is here understood in a geographical sense, for religious are to be found in both Christian and non-Christian countries. Equally to be considered is their pastoral universality, given their different charisms in all sectors of the Church, so that religious life “is experienced in every good deed.”


Referring to contemplative Institutes, the Council affirms that “the contemplative life belongs to the fullness of the Church’s presence, and should therefore be everywhere established.” One of the great merits of monastic life is precisely the evangelization which the members thereof realize by their prayer and witness: “Religious communities of the contemplative and of the active life have so far played, and still do play, a very great role in the evangelization of the world…. By their prayers, works of penance and sufferings, … contemplative communities have a very great importance in the conversion of souls…. In fact, these communities are urged to found houses in mission areas, as not a few of them have already done. Thus living out their lives in a manner accommodated to the truly religious traditions of the people, they can bear splendid witness there among non-Christians to the majesty and love of God, as well as to man’s brotherhood in Christ.”


The Church demands the same universal, evangelizing presence of Institutes of active life: “Working to plant the Church, and thoroughly enriched with the treasures of mysticism adorning the Church’s religious tradition; religious communities should strive to give expression to these treasures and to hand them on in a manner harmonious with the nature and genius of each nation. Because of the immensity of the work of evangelization in the whole world, “religious communities remain absolutely necessary.”


Referring to the building up of the community of nations, the Council affirms: “For the attainment of the universal common good, agencies of the international community should do their part to provide for the various necessities of men. In the field of social life this means food, health, education and employment. In certain situations which can obtain anywhere, it means the general need to promote the growth of developing nations, to attend to the hardships of refugees scattered throughout the world, or to assist migrants and their families.”


In all these fields of endeavor, one cannot help but visualize religious who, by their very vocation, have a characteristic role to play.


That they might render better service to the Universal Church, some Religious Institutes enjoy the privilege of exemption: “Any institute of perfection and its individual members can be removed front the jurisdiction of the local Ordinaries by the Supreme Pontiff and subjected to himself alone. This is possible by virtue of his primacy over the entire Church.” Alluding to this availability of religious Paul VI said to a group of Superiors General: “Religious are, always and everywhere, subject in the first place to the authority of the Roman Pontiff, because he is their supreme Superior. Consequently, religious Institutes remain at the disposition of the Roman Pontiff for those tasks that are concerned with the good of the universal Church.”


For this universal service, Religious Institutes, by their presence in so many countries, can have a universal vision of the whole Church. They can thus realize a wider missionary planning, one that surpasses the limits of dioceses and episcopal conferences. In this way they can, for example, create international teams; they have at their disposal the means to organize inter-diocesan or international works as well evangelical in scope as in the cultural or educational field, etc. This is due to the mobility of their members, whose talents can thus be employed where they will be most useful. Moreover, having in their ranks subjects coming from so many different races and countries, they are able to contribute to the intelligence and mutual understanding between races and nations.


In short, the real efficacy of religious requires an incarnation in the local Churches and a determined collaboration with the pastoral ensemble. “In fulfilling their duty towards the Church in accord with the special form of their life, the members of religious communities should show towards Bishops the reverence and obedience required by canonical laws. For bishops possess pastoral authority over individual churches, and apostolic labor demands unity and harmony.”


In like manner will their effectiveness be in proportion to their ability to adapt to the apostolic plan and upon their pastoral versatility, and to the very openness of religious life.


3. Religious and Evangelization

If we consider the ideal religious, we can say, without boasting, that the character and life of the religious responds to the evangelization of the modern world. The world of today needs God even though in word and expression it speaks of the death of God. The world stands in need of the values of a superior order, for materialism stifles it and makes it a slave. The world needs models of life that give meaning to its existence and usefulness to its energies. Finally, the world has need of committed men of which it can be proud, and who know how to direct the world in its restless search for peace and fellowship. Religious, when they can in truth meet the demands of the world, can help to satisfy the world’s hopes, since they try to be real men of God in all that this implies. They are nourished by, and live the spirituality of the Gospel which they desire to bring to perfection by the practice of the evangelical counsels in their daily life, even though it may be hidden. By their words and witness, religious preach the wisdom of the Beatitudes and those higher eschatological values which are all in opposition to a materialistic world. By their various charisms they offer authentic models of a higher life, since they enjoy interior freedom from the slavery of the modern world. They cover the wide scale of sanctity of the Church and are the evangelical guides in whom men can place their trust.


If faithful to their vocation and to their special charism, religious can become truly able to help the world in its most profound “human” problems. This they can accomplish by the very fact of keeping themselves available for service and by constantly striving to be interiorly free men, by positive cultivation of detachment, and by their opposition to a consumer society. This they can do to an even greater extent by being ever ready to live poorly, without dependence on family “without father, without mother, without ancestry,” without fixed abode; as it were, like “cives mundi;” by their unselfish commitment in opposing an industrialized society based on profit; by virtue of their vow of poverty in not acquiring anything for themselves, but for the community to which they belong or for the benefit of the apostolate (“quidquid monachus acquirit, monasterio acquirit”); by their efforts to become integrated, morally and administratively, moved solely by the force of the interior law of their own conscience, an obligation which must come from the very depths of their being.


Religious, on their part, must be convinced that “unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain,” and that only if they are moved by the force of love to give themselves to Christ and to all men to the extreme limit of sacrifice, for “a man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends”—only then will they be able to arrive at that fundamental interior disposition of soul that will render them truly able to be useful to the world.


This, then, is what makes the religious a “qualified” evangelizer. His effectiveness will be in proportion to his authentic realization of those ideals expressed in his own charism. It is this ideal which Paul VI emphasized in an allocution at the close of the Council: “Religious, you will render your service to the Church in the measure that you are faithful to your fundamental charisms.”


Let us now put aside this concept of the ideal religious and try to confront the concrete reality of religious life such as it appears in the modern world.



II. Reflection on the Actual State of Religious Institutes

At this juncture, we should reflect with a measure of calm. If it is true that religious life as such and religious themselves possess an ideal that will be a very effective means of evangelization in the measure that this ideal is realized in an authentic and comprehensible manner for modern man, it is equally true that if this ideal diminishes in its concept and spirit, or should it fail in its outward manifestation, it can become a formidable obstacle, perhaps the greatest, to the evangelization of the world. (“Corruptio optimi pessima.”)


Modern man is less moved by words or doctrinal theory than by the witness of life and facts. Hence the importance of seeing whether or not our life and activity constitute a true witness. Many today entertain the idea of a church that is powerful, one that is rich, compromised in politics, in alliance with power and riches. Still others speak of a Church that impedes scientific research and the development of human progress; or yet of a Church that contributes nothing useful to modern man … of a Church whose ideal is money and pleasure. Such prejudices against the Church can only be dispelled or corrected by fact and example that will clearly demonstrate the contrary.


We must acknowledge that the impression of a wealthy Church, one enjoying extraordinary privileges, has, at least in part, been given by the manner of life and activities of religious—by their holdings, privileges, etc. … Seen through the eyes of modern man who often enough suffers from injustice and poverty, these aspects have come to be interpreted as a counter-witness to man’s expectations, giving the lie to what religious themselves preach. Unfortunately, many of our apostolic activities, the real poverty of many exemplary religious, etc., pass unnoticed. At times they are wrongly interpreted. This is often the case. Even so, our commitment should not consist precisely in “display” or “exhibition” of our exemplary lives and virtues. It is equally true that we should conduct ourselves in such a way that the authenticity of our evangelical lives and activity speak a language understandable by modern man, one that will offer him the help and support that the world cannot give him.


From whence it follows that, as a first step to discern the actual value of religious life and its activities in the evangelization of the world, a sincere examination of our life is necessary: criteria, priorities, activities, etc. The Council itself invites us to make this examination of conscience: “…communities dedicated to the active life should sincerely ask themselves in the presence of God … whether their members are involved as much as possible in missionary activity; and whether their type of life bears to the gospel a witness which is accommodated to the character and condition of the people.” By reason of their special obligation to mirror the holiness of the Church, the image that religious project of themselves is, for them, a motive implying tremendous responsibility.


Each one will know what points he should examine, and what questions he ought to ask himself. It is only to provide a basis for reflection that I take the liberty of suggesting some questions:


(1) Are we, by our imperfections, reducing or lessening the gospel values: by our parsimony, fear, our lack of courage to demand of ourselves or others what the gospel ideals require?


(2) Do we cultivate a love of our vocation by showing ourselves happy in our religious life? Do we live our apostolic commitment with enthusiasm or, contrariwise, with a sense of frustration?


(3) Are we deeply convinced of the necessity of prayer (personal encounter with God) for every evangelizer? Do we appear as men of prayer because we are such in reality?


(4) Are we giving real witness, such as we ought to give, by our obedience to the Church and to the Hierarchy? By our authentic poverty? By a chastity that lends credibility to our celibacy? By our life in community that is a realization of unity and solidarity in charity?


(5) Do our apostolic priorities respond to the necessities of the modern world?


(6) Are we more concerned with maintaining the prestige or good name of the Institute (big institutions, impressing the wealthy, etc.) rather than giving real evangelical service? What image are we actually projecting: one of power, or one of service?


(7) Are we not perhaps fearful of losing those friendships that actually hinder real apostolic activity and the preaching of an authentic Gospel message?


(8) Are we letting ourselves be carried away by the undertow of secularism on the one hand and, on the other, by the demands of a consumer society? Are we being made slaves to its propaganda, thus losing our total availability?


(9) In what positive way are we manifesting our prophetic sense in this historic moment? By a radical conviction of Gospel values, in apostolic creativity, by the effectiveness of a relevant Gospel critique?


(10) Are we, in our communities, encouraging a universal spirit, transcending nationalism, regional barriers, and all Western superiority complexes?


(11) In the sphere of personnel and economic means, are we giving to mission countries and the Third World the consideration they deserve?


(12) Are we using effective means to attain a certain “indignity” in our work for the Third World? Do we have sufficient confidence in its native members? Do we judge situations in those countries by Western standards? And do we let ourselves be influenced by the superiority complex of advanced countries and those with greater resources?


For further in-depth study of those themes, and to have a better knowledge of the actual situation, it would seem equally profitable to consider:

I. Into what errors can a Superior fall today, even when acting in good faith?

II. What impression do we give, or what image do we project? In other words, how are we looked upon from the outsideby the hierarchy, the laity?


(I-1) Under cover of the mantle of apparent prudence, a certain attitude of indecision when confronting dialectic tension which sometimes originates

—between charism and institution;

—between governing “suaviter” and “fortiter”;

—between centralization and subsidiarity;

—between innovating creativity and passive adaptation;

—between poverty and apostolic effectiveness.


(2) Under pretext of encouraging initiative, an excessive “permissiveness” and “laissez faire.”


(3) Attitude of immobility, a defense mechanism for preserving the Institute.


(4) Under guise of opening the way for dialogue and to encourage it, a cessation in the exercise of authority.


(5) Under pretext of effectiveness and speed, having regard only for what is urgent and personal, while at the same time neglecting well thought-out planning.


(6) Satisfied with orthodoxy, never arriving at “autopraxis;” lack of effectiveness … fear to launch projects that may not succeed.


(7) With the apparent motive of striving for effectiveness and apostolic solidarity, harboring suspicion of indigenous members of the Institute or, contrariwise, considering indigeneity wholly sufficient, even when other necessary qualities are lacking.


(II-1) How are we looked upon from the outside: by the hierarchy; the laity?


In these times of apostolic adaptation, many changes are taking place. They are justified and necessary. There is little doubt that many excesses are likewise being committed, with consequent scandal and injury to religious life. These are inevitably given a measure of publicity or are generalized. We should be conscious of the opinion which is in fact entertained of us, so that we might in turn study it objectively and thus learn some invaluable lessons. This is why it would be useful to think on the manner in which we are looked upon and judged from the outside; for example, by the hierarchy and the laity.


(2) The Hierarchy: There are few members among the hierarchy who do not entertain some reservations on the subject of religious life today. They also show a lack of confidence in Institutes as such even though they may be friendly towards individual religious. They complain that religious are too progressive, both theologically and culturally. (This complaint originates particularly from mission countries). They claim that this is evidenced both in oral and written preaching, in the direction of the laity, all of which eventu ally causes disquiet and division, as well among the religious themselves as among the laity.


The hierarchy lament the secularization of not a few religious and the revolt of those who end up in the role of “contestant.”


They deplore the lack of poverty among religious. (“Religious take the vow of poverty, and the secular clergy keep it.”) This shows up by greater power, a type of superiority over the secular clergy, and the better possibility of procuring financial aid. This sometimes causes diocesan apostolic planning to be upset.


Faced with these phenomena, they reproach the weakness of Superiors, accusing them of permissiveness towards the introduction of an attitude of laissez-faire.


The hierarchy sometimes fear that religious will go so far as to form a church within the Church; hence avoiding commitment and collaboration with the local churches. This fear also extends to the possibility that religious may eventually proceed to promote and impose a national or religious spirituality in the diocese—a thing foreign to the region and the faithful themselves.


(3) The Laity: Even while recognizing the value of the work of religious, the laity often have the impression that religious display a certain egoism or ingenuity which is not synonymous with simplicity; also appalling lack of responsibility particularly in the use and manner of administering money and the way of pursuing the work of the Institute, etc…..


Occasionally the laity feel that they are treated as inferiors by the religious, and the religious themselves seemingly dominated by a superiority complex.


Frequently enough the laity complain of the bad example given by some religious by their lack of poverty, their political activities, their frivolity in matters of chastity, etc….


They reproach religious for their want of understanding and their failure to produce what the laity expect of them. On the one hand the spirituality, religious and moral teaching handed out to them are too frequently abstractions—all of which neither helps them to resolve their many problems, nor to confront, in a responsible way, the difficult problems met with in ·the exercise of their profession or in social life. On the other hand, they sometimes receive counsel or solutions that are purely ideological, political or technical instead of the witness of evangelical principles of which they stand in such great need in order to give meaning and inspiration to their own life and activities in the world of today. Thus the laity look upon religious as not “involved” in their difficulties; they feel that religious are not with them in their search for truth. They rather look upon religious as standing apart in their “ivory tower” and, from there handing out orientations and solutions entirely too theoretic or abstract.


The majority of youth in particular consider the world of religious as a closed “ghetto” which they look upon with indifference. They don’t understand us. In their opinion religious speak a language foreign to their own. The ideals handed out don’t cut any ice with youth; they look for bread and are given a stone. They think that religious are lacking in a spirit of daring in presenting the Gospel message in all its sober reality, while this is precisely what the young are looking for. For them the symbols of religious life, with its scale of values, priorities and mental structures appear as belonging to an unreal and archaic world.


What are we doing to effect an evangelical rapprochement with a world that does not understand us? To what point are its criticisms justified, or to what degree are we ourselves the cause of the indifference of youth in our regard?


Let us think upon the truth contained in these impressions had of us, so that we may be able to correct them. Let us try to mirror, by our example, the ideals we have dwelt upon in the first part.



III. The Future of Religious Life

The point at issue is not to come up with a kind of “futurology,” nor of exercising a type of prophetic vision. God alone knows the future with certainty. He alone holds the future in his hands. We have but to let ourselves be led by his providence and by his “inscrutable designs.”


However, nothing prevents us from considering our apostolic future. The future, in fact, develops like the weaving of an artistic tapestry; its fabric taking shape with our collaboration in the plan of God and with the use of our freedom. These elements, in a mysterious way, are the warp and woof of man as he is, and of all humanity.


Providence leads the world and men, raised to the dignity of Sons of God, by natural and supernatural means, and by way of principles and laws that are permanently stable, but that must be constantly interpreted and adapted to the contingent and changing circumstances of a “Pilgrim Church” and of humanity reaching out to its goal.


Accordingly, our every effort to better understand these principles and divine-human laws, to better adapt them and, in a certain way to “rediscover” them at this time, will be of tremendous help in orienting and directing the evolution of our Institutes towards a more effective evangelization.


I hope that a deeper reflection on the future of our religious life in respect of evangelization will be done during the May meeting at Villa Cavalletti. After all, evangelization is our mission in the Church. At this point, may it be permitted me only to suggest some questions that may help us to think on our future; perhaps even to anticipate it. In this way we can take up certain positions, create options, and give directives that will stimulate the progress of our Religious Institutes to make them ever more faithful to the charisms of the Founders, and ever more efficacious in the service of the Church and humanity.


The answers to these questions, based on past experience, present dialogue or hopeful intuition, can be of help for the future.


Questionnaire on the Future of Religious Life in respect of Evangelization

(1) What are the motives for hope in the future of religious life considered as an evangelizing force?


(2) What are the principal points of concern regarding the apostolate?


(3) Can you indicate some key factors in the evolution of your Institute, considering its understanding of the charism and spirit of the Founder, and their relationship and application to the apostolate?


(4) Do you think that the formation being given to the young members of your Institute will produce a different type of religious apostolate? Is this being done consciously, or being forced by outside circumstances? Can you give some of the salient features of formation changes?


(5) Given the present-day circumstances influencing the apostolate, do you foresee essential modifications in the apostolic activities of your Institute?


(6) What importance is being given to “creativity” in your apostolic planning? With regard to evangelization, can you detect any “charismatic” or “prophetic” manifestations in your Institute?


(7) Is the rhythm of change verified in your Institute accelerating? Is it slowing down? As time passes?


(8) Do you foresee a prolonged period of changes? What is your present policy? Consolidating what is new, or pushing for evolution and the changes consequent upon it?


(9) Are you aware of any tension existing in an overall view of your Institute and its apostolic activity on the one hand, and on the other, in an overall view of your Institute and the concrete apostolate demanded by the local Church?


(10) Given that the problem of vocations is a vital one, what measures are you adopting so that your Institute will project an image that is acceptable and that gives a valid answer to the aspirations of youth?


(11) Could you give a brief description of the manner in which you hope that your Institute will evolve in the future?




Original Source:

Challenge to Religious Life Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—I, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1979, “Evangelization and Religious Life,” pg. 141–156.