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

The Theological Locus
of Ecclesial Movements

Excerpts from the opening speech of the then-Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the World Congress of Ecclesial Movements, Rome, May 27, 1998

In his great encyclical on mission, Redemptoris Missio, the Holy Father says: “Within the Church, there are various types of services, functions, ministries and ways of promoting the Christian life. I call to mind, as a new development occurring in many churches in recent times, the rapid growth of ‘ecclesial movements’ filled with missionary dynamism. When these movements humbly seek to become part of the life of local churches and are welcomed by bishops and priests within diocesan and parish structures, they represent a true gift of God both for new evangelization and for missionary activity properly so-called. I therefore recommend that they be spread and that they be used to give fresh energy, especially among young people, to the Christian life and to evangelization, within a pluralistic view of the ways in which Christians can associate and express themselves.” (72)
It was a wonderful event for me personally when I came into closer contact with movements such as the Neocatecumenate, Communion and Liberation, and Focolare and experienced the energy and enthusiasm with which they lived the faith and were impelled by their joy in it to share with others the gift they had received. This was in the early 1970s, a time when Karl Rahner and others were speaking of a winter in the Church. And it did seem that, after the great blossoming of the Council, frost was creeping instead of springtime, and that exhaustion was replacing dynamism. The dynamism now seemed to be somewhere else entirely–where people, relying on their own strength and without resorting to God, were setting about creating a better world of the future.
That a world without God could not be good, let alone a better world, was obvious to anyone who had eyes to see. But where was God in all this?
Had not the Church in fact become worn-out and dispirited after so many debates and so much searching for new structures? What Rahner was saying was perfectly understandable. It put into words an experience that we were all having. But suddenly here was something that no one had planned. Here the Holy Spirit Himself had, so to speak, taken the floor. The faith was reawakening precisely among the young, who embraced it without ifs, ands, or buts, without escape hatches and loopholes, and who experienced it in its totality as a precious, life-giving gift. To be sure, many people felt that this interfered with their intellectual discussions or their models for redesigning a completely different Church in their own image–how could it be otherwise? Every irruption of the Holy Spirit always upsets human plans.
Let us ask the question then: What does this origin look like? There is no doubt that, from Pentecost on, the immediate bearers of Christ’s mission are the Twelve, who very soon appear also under the name “Apostles.” It is their task to bring the message of Christ “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8), to go out to all nations and to make disciples of all men (Mt 28:19). The territory assigned them for this mission is the world. Without being restricted as to place, they serve the upbuilding of the one body of Christ, the one people of God, the one Church of Christ.