01-02-2007 - Traces, n. 2
The work of the Movement

The Greatest Grace
in the History
of the Movement

We offer here excerpts from the “Historical Notes” published in Fr. Giussani’s book, The Fraternity of Communion and Liberation (Società Cooperativa Editoriale Nuovo Mondo), in which the Vice-President of the Movement reviews the time leading up to the Holy See’s official recognition of the Fraternity on February 11, 1982

by Giorgio Feliciani

Starting in 1978 and up to the moment of official recognition of the Fraternity, on numerous occasions Father Giussani made an effort to clarify and deepen the concept of confraternity, attributing to its enactment a crucial role in the future of the entire Movement. Among the many definitions and descriptions, varying in depth, offered in numerous meetings, the most synthetic is perhaps that of “a reality of friendship and communion” (see p. 41 of the book), whose origin is the full responsibility of the adults who create it, whose all-encompassing motive is “the love for Christ, the mystery of Christ which exists among them,” and the result of their commitment to Christ is “industriousness; for this reason, the central factor of the confraternity is vocation (family and work).” Thus, the confraternity is simply “the lay concept of a convent” (see page 43).

The idea was adopted so enthusiastically that within just a few months “myriad ‘confraternities’” (see L. Giussani, Il movimento di Comunione e Liberazione. Conversazioni con Robi Ronza, Milan, Jaca Book, 1987) grew up, and the “confraternities movement” was pointed to as “the ideal, or ‘utopia,’ the outcome of our whole Movement, which aims at being a movement of adults, i.e., of persons who create with total responsibility.”...

But just this extraordinary vitality of the confraternity movement posed a serious problem. It was something that simply existed as a fact, but without a formally defined structure or any kind of legal recognition from ecclesiastical or civilian authorities. This was a decidedly inadequate situation for an association of adults who proposed, under their complete responsibility, to be an industrious presence in the Church and in society....
A priest in the direct service of the Holy See, Monsignor Mariano De Nicolò, currently Bishop of Rimini, happened to review, as part of his official duties, a file that illustrated and documented the Movement’s desiderata. Feeling that these aspirations deserved attention and further study, he suggested to Father Francesco Ricci, who at the time was sharing responsibility for the Movement with Father Giussani [for more about this priest, who died in 1991, see Francesco Ricci. Una passione, cento passioni, San Martino in Strada, Lit. Citienne, 1996], that he consult with Monsignor Giuseppe Lobina, an expert in Canon Law who, along with a solid formal training, had an unusual amount of experience with ecclesiastical praxis.
This advice was promptly taken and, only a few months later, Monsignor Lobina, after acquiring all the necessary information in various meetings with CL figures and Father Giussani himself, was drawing up what would soon be the Statute of the Fraternity, which has remained largely unchanged up to now.
Monsignor Lobina also undertook to find the ecclesiastical authority willing to approve the Movement, and found him in Abbot Martino Matronola, who, as provost of the monastery of Montecassino, had the same powers over the surrounding territory as the bishop of a diocese. This acceptance was even more welcome because Father Giussani felt that the concept of his Movement was very close to that of the Benedictines (see Giussani, op.cit., pp. 74-75).
The formal establishment of the Fraternity came shortly thereafter in a very discreet, unassuming way. On July 11, 1980–the solemnity of Saint Benedict, Patron of Europe, on the fifteenth centenary of his birth–a small group of twelve stood together with Father Giussani in front of the Abbot to be constituted as a canonical association. On that same day, Monsignor Matronola, by a specific formal decree, granted juridical status in the Church to the ecclesial movement called “Fraternity of Communion and Liberation” and approved its statutes and “works of apostolate and individual and social formation,” placing it under the “protection of the Immaculate Virgin and our Patron Saint Benedict” (see the Bollettino Diocesano di Montecassino, no. 3, 1980, pp. 223-224).
Thus, the Fraternity was born as a reality in the Church, recognized to all effects by the ecclesiastical authority and by virtue of this formal empowerment to act, in communion with its respective bishops, not only in Montecassino but also in the other dioceses. Indeed, in the same decree, the Abbot expressed his “fervent wish that wherever the Association exercises its apostolic activity, it may be benevolently welcomed, aided, and encouraged by their Excellencies the Ordinaries.”...

Despite the lack of any kind of organized promotion, adherence to the Fraternity was growing rapidly, to the point that within a year the number of members went from the original 12 to almost 2,000. ...

The Abbot of Montecassino was certainly aware that his decree would provoke harsh criticism from those bishops who did not view CL with a favorable eye. One of the leading figures in the Italian Bishops Conference went so far as to state that the decree had been illegally extorted from him. And, realistically, an attentive Canon lawyer noted, “The Abbot of Montecassino was brave (some would say bold) to approve an association that is not diocesan, but evidently multi-diocesan.” In this situation, the recognition generously and courageously granted by the Abbot of Montecassino was no longer sufficient to give the association a juridical form that corresponded with its actual reality. By now, the approval of a higher authority was needed, which could only be the Holy See, and more specifically the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the dicastery set up by Pope Paul VI to handle matters concerning the participation of the laity in the life and mission of the Church.

Consequently, as early as April 7, 1981, less than a year after the decree issued by the Abbot of Montecassino, Father Giussani, with the continued encouragement and advice of Monsignor Lobina, sent the President of the Council, at that time Cardinal Opilio Rossi, a formal application for pontifical recognition of the Fraternity. ...
In the end, the Holy Father, John Paul II himself, intervened: after being fully informed about the question, he encouraged the Pontifical Council to proceed to grant the desired approval without further delay (according to the Decree of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, p. 235).
Thus, we come to the Decree, issued on February 11, 1982, the liturgical feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, which “establishes and confirms as a juridical entity for the universal Church” the Fraternity, “declaring it to all effects an Association of Pontifical Right and decreeing that it be recognized as such by all.”