Our Order is above all a social reality. For it consists of several congregations, monasteries, and ultimately individuals joined to one another multiple relations. Each one of us should form for himself a clear image of this concrete reality -- not only of the status of the monks with regard to their numbers but above all of the vocation, tasks, and aspirations of the members and the concrete circumstances in which this vocation is lived.

Cistercian monasteries exist today in Europe, Asia, Africa and in both Americas under the most diverse economic and cultural conditions. Some of these are in mission lands, while the majority are in those lands which up to our own times were imbued in the Christian tradition and for the most part still are. Some of our monasteries belong to one of the so-called Oriental churches (the Ethiopian monks), but the others differ greatly among themselves because of language, mentality, and education proper to each region. Even though our Order numbers barely more than 3, 000 members (divided almost equally between the monks and nuns), this geographic, cultural, social, and ecclesiological diversity constitutes a very complex state of affairs. In many issues virtually each community has its own problems and desires, which are explained from its own special situation. (Declaration The Essential Elements of Cistercian Life Today, 15)