Historians of religious life know well that in the course of Church history some religious institutes, both male and female, have disappeared after years of fruitful life. They also know that each new cycle of religious life – the transition from monasticism to mendicancy, from mendicancy to modern apostolic congregations – has in some way thrown the previous cycle into crisis. Time to recover and adapt has been needed. This is a positive process: Western religious life has been enriched by the experience of the desert, the periphery and the frontier.
Today, however, something different and new is happening in the Western world, affecting all religious institutes: a shortage of vocations and inverted demographic pyramids, with many elderly religious at the top and few young people at the bottom, as well as many leaving religious life. The question is: Why are they leaving?
This widespread situation causes uncertainty about the future of religious life and, in many cases, generates a climate of fear or panic: Will religious life disappear from the Churches of the Christian West? In time, will the same phenomenon occur in Asia and Africa? Will there be a move toward new communities of religious? Will new lay movements replace traditional religious life?