01-05-2006 - Traces, n.5
Movements In preparation for June 3rd

The Surprise
of an Encounter

Some questions and answers during the Bishops’ Assembly with then–Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at the seminar organized by the Pontifical Council for the Laity, on “Ecclesial movements and new communities in the pastoral care of the bishops,” Rome, May 16, 1999

Forty years ago there was a Catholic culture that sustained the faith, but now it has been destroyed. What can we do?
After the events of 1968, there has been an explosion of secularism which has radicalized a process that had been going on for two hundred years: the Christian foundation has diminished. Think of the fact that up until forty years ago it was unthinkable to have legislation that treated a homosexual union almost like marriage. Now we must reformulate our reasons in order to reach once again the conscience of today’s man and we must accept a conflict of values, in which we must defend mankind, not only the Church, as the Pope has written in many of his encyclicals. Faced with secularization, in the effort to be contemporary with today’s man we must not however lose the contemporaneity of the Church with all times. For this it is necessary to have a very clear identity of faith, inspired by a joyous experience of God’s truth. And thus we return to the movements, which offer this joyous experience. The movements have this specific nature: in mass society, they help us find, in a Church that could look like a great international organization, a home where we find the familiarity of God’s family and at the same time we remain in the great universal family of the saints of all times. In our time, we note a certain prevalence of the Protestant spirit in a cultural sense. The protest against the past seems to be modern and to respond better to the present. In this, for our part, we must show that Catholicism bears the heredity of the past for the future, even if it does so going against the current in these times.

On May 30, 1998, the first phase of the history of the movements was concluded, in which the question of making space for them (on the part of Church institutions) was addressed. Now we are in the second phase, that of the recognition of the substantial unity of the realities of the charisms with that of the institution. When the Pope says that “the Church itself is a movement,” what does this mean for us bishops?
The bishop becomes less a monarch and more the shepherd of a flock, who stands face to face with his flock and is a pilgrim among pilgrims. As St. Augustine said, we are all disciples in Christ’s school. It is thus necessary to avoid the danger of an over-institutionalization; the many “councils,” while useful, cannot be like a governing group that complicates the life of the faithful and makes them lose direct contact with their pastors. As someone said to me one day, “I would like to talk with my pastor, but they always tell me he’s in a meeting!” We have to achieve a collaboration among all the components of God’s people, so that the unity will be richer.

Will the Church be increasingly in the minority? And what is the importance of the movements?
The developments of the last fifty years show that religiosity doesn’t go away, because it is an inalienable desire of the human heart. However, it is necessary that it not be misdirected, because then we would have religious pathology. For this reason, we have the responsibility to offer the true answer, and this is a historic responsibility of the Church in this moment in which religion can become a sickness that offers not God’s face, but substitutes which are not healing. Even if in the minority, for us the priority is the announcement. In the West, statistics speak of a reduction in the number of believers; we are living an apostasy of the faith; the identity between European-American culture and Christian culture almost dissolves. The challenge today is to keep the faith from retreating into closed groups, but to act in a way that it illuminate everyone and speak to everyone. Think of the Church in the first centuries: the Christians were few in number, but people listened to them, because they were not a closed group, but bore a general challenge for everyone which touched everyone. We too today have a universal mission: to make present the true response to the need for a life that corresponds with the Creator. The Gospel is for everybody and the movements can be a great help because they have the missionary impulse characteristic of beginnings, even though their numbers are small, and they can encourage the life of the Gospel in the world.