Feb. 4 is the World Day for Consecrated Life. Cardinal Franc Rodé, prefect of the Congregation of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, spoke recently with Register correspondent Edward Pentin about encouraging signs of renewal in contemplative religious life and about the challenges the Church faces in this area.

Cardinal Camillo Ruini, head of the Italian bishops’ conference, revealed last year that there is a “boom” in contemplative orders in Italy, and pointed out there were 300 vocations to the contemplative life among women in 2005. What encouragement do you draw from this news?

These figures, these hundreds of religious contemplatives who are joining each year, are figures I know about in a general sense.

I must stress that this phenomenon is particular to Italy. One cannot say the same for other countries, such as France and Spain. Yes, Poland, for example, certainly has more. But in Europe and the West in general, Italy is an exception in this sense.

That we have 300 sisters, young sisters, joining contemplative convents every year, is a fact that shows the vitality of the Church in Italy. The life of the Church in Italy — if it’s framed most generally — shows what young generations are looking for today: a space for silence, where they can enter into this silence, recollect, and therefore they find themselves, and find God.

And they find him: They are able to dialogue with God, in this closed space, in the monastery, in contemplative life. For sure, they flee the distractions, the superficiality, the noise of the world, and look for a space for harmony, silence, concentration.

They’re looking for that essential interlocutor who is God. He is an interlocutor who is more immediate, more intimate, more profound for each human being.

Young people who enter a monastery take into account the possibility for a personal, essential and vital dialogue with God because the space that a monastery affords is one that is more favorable, proper and adaptable for this essential dialogue between man and God.

You’ve spoken in the past of religious orders being the source of a spiritual rebirth and being necessary to recover an apostolic dynamism. Is that still your view?

Since prayer is the source of apostolic dynamism and quality evangelization in the Church, monasteries and convents of the contemplative life serve as the focus of spiritual dynamism in a diocese.

Obviously, the number of quality, contemplative monasteries and convents is also a sign of the vitality of the Church. If the Church is lacking this kind of contemplative life, then it’s missing something very important. These institutions have reserves of spiritual energy, of apostolic dynamism, for the Church of that country.

It must also be understood that not only women and men who live in convents and monasteries are called to live the contemplative life; every Christian, every believer, above all, every priest, bishop, is called to contemplation. The quality of the apostolic ministry of a priest, bishop, religious and committed layperson is determined by a balance between contemplation and action.

How important is contemplative life to the laity in your opinion?

As just mentioned, all Christians are called to develop a truly spiritual life proper to their particular vocation. This spirituality of communion must continue to grow.

Today, more and more laity are going to monasteries and other religious houses to assist in the Divine Office, Vespers, Lauds and Masses, in order to participate in this contemplative life. For example in Spain, in the monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos near Burgos, north of Madrid, Vespers on Saturday evening is filled to the brim with people who come from Madrid to assist and take part in this prayer.

The same is true of their Sunday Mass. Although this monastery is in an isolated place, the abbot has decided to open up parts of it to accommodate people from the outside.

We can see, therefore, that the laity are also growing in their awareness of the need for this element of contemplation in their Christian lives.

What can the Church and the Vatican do to attract more vocations to the contemplative life?

Each religious vocation to the contemplative life, to the priesthood and to consecrated life, is indicative of the vitality of the ecclesial community. If one experiences an atmosphere of profound faith and fervor — and this is most important — vocations are born and grow spontaneously. Where the spiritual atmosphere is cool, indifferent or tired, vocations cannot be born or grow.

Have you seen the new film, Into the Great Silence, a documentary on the life of monks in a Carthusian monastery in France?

I haven’t seen it yet. I must see it — it’s almost an obligation for me. But I have read in a French newspaper, Le Monde I think, that the film was produced sensitively, and they created a very religious reportage.

Its [success] is a symptom of a need for a center, for profundity, for silence, for the interior harmony that orients one to the essential Word of God.

Such a life points out what many people in today’s society lack, a sense of peace and silence?

Yes, this lack of peace, silence in the face of noise, restlessness. The humanity of today — as always — is looking for peace. And in the words of St. Paul, Christ is our peace.

You recently ordained 55 Legionary priests. How valuable is the order’s contribution to the life of the Church?

I am very close to the Legionaries. I have a great esteem for their charism. I believe its charism is excellent in the way it adapts to the current moment and also to the geographical area where it was born — Mexico, United States, Ireland, Latin America and now in other places in Europe, the West and Asia.

It’s essential that today’s Christians are disciplined, ordered people and faithful to the Pope and the Holy See. The strength of the Legionaries of Christ is their discipline. Unfortunately discipline, an essential element in a good Christian life, is often lacking in today’s world.

I am sure this religious congregation has a great future. Their strength seems to be their evident fidelity to the Pope and to the Holy See. They have been successful in recruiting new members. I am informed that they now have 18 universities — universities of the highest quality.

They have experienced a vitality which has convinced them that they will be able to move forward, and move forward well.

And continue to produce many good fruits?

Yes, certainly.

Edward Pentin

writes from Rome.