Venerable brothers in the Episcopate,
- You have gathered in Rome from countries of all the continents to reflect together on your concern as pastors regarding the ecclesial movements and new communities. It is the first time that the Pontifical Council for the Laity, in collaboration with the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith and for Bishops, gathers such a large and qualified group of bishops in order to examine together ecclesial realities that I did not hesitate to define as "providential" (cf. Address at the meeting with the movements and the new communities, n. 7, in L'Osservatore Romano, June 1-2, 1998) because of the stimulating effects on the life of the People of God.
I thank you for your presence and for your commitment in this important pastoral field. I express also to the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith and for Bishops my great pleasure at this initiative of undoubted usefulness for the Church's mission in the present-day world. The Seminar that has kept you occupied during these days is happily inscribed in an apostolic plan, very dear to me, sprung from my meeting with the members of more than fifty of these movements and communities, that took place on May 30th of last year in St. Peter's Square. The effects of your reflection, I am sure, will not fail to make themselves heard, thus contributing so that that plan and that meeting yield even more abundant fruits for the good of the whole Church.
- The Conciliar Decree on the Bishop's Pastoral Service indicates thus the very nucleus of the episcopal ministry: "In the exercise of their ministry of teaching, they should announce to men the Gospel of Christ; this is one of the principal duties of bishops; and let them do this in the power of the Spirit inviting men to faith or confirming them in the liveliness of faith. They should propose to them the whole mystery of Christ, in other words those truths ignorance of which means ignorance of Christ Himself." (Christus Dominus, 12) Every pastor's concern to reach men and to speak to their hearts, to their intelligence, to their freedom, to their thirst for happiness, is born from Christ's own concern for man, and from His compassion for those He compared to sheep without a shepherd (cf. Mk. 6:34 and Mt. 9:36) and echoes Paul's apostolic zeal: "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!" (1Cor. 9:16) In our times the challenges of the new evangelization express themselves not rarely in dramatic terms and press the Church and in particular its pastors to seek new forms of missionary announcement and action, more in keeping with the needs of our age.
Among the most urgent pastoral tasks today I wish to indicate, in the first place, attention for those communities in which there is a deeper awareness of the grace connected with the sacraments of Christian initiation, from which spring the vocation for being witnesses to the Gospel in all the ambits of life. The drama of our time spurs believers toward an essentiality of Christian experience and proposal, in everyday encounters and friendships, for a journey of faith enlightened by the joy of communication. A further pastoral urgency not to be underestimated is the fact of the formation of Christian communities that may be genuine places of welcome for all, in the constant attention to the specific needs of each individual. Without these communities it comes to be more and more difficult to grow in faith and one succumbs to the temptation of reducing to fragmentary and occasional experiences that very faith that on the contrary should enliven the whole of human experience.
- It is in this context that the theme of your Seminar on the ecclesial movements is situated. When on May 30, 1998 in St. Peter's Square, alluding to the flourishing of charisms and movements that happened in the Church after the Second Vatican Council, I spoke of "a new Pentecost," I wished, with that expression, to recognize in the development of the movements and new communities a motive for hope for the Church's missionary action. Due to the secularization that has weakened or even extinguished the faith in many souls and opened the way to irrational beliefs, in many parts of the world the Church has, in effect, to face an environment similar to that of her origins.
I am well aware that the movements and the new communities, as every work that-though under divine stimulus-develops within human history, have not aroused in these years only positive considerations. As I said on May 30, 1998, "their unexpected newness which is sometimes even disruptive… has given rise to questions, uneasiness and tensions; at times it has led to presumptions and excesses on the one hand, and on the other, to numerous prejudices and reservations." (Ibid., 6) But, in the common testimony given by these that day around the Successor of Peter and numerous bishops, I saw and see the arrival of a "new stage: that of ecclesial maturity," though fully realizing that "this does not mean that all problems have been solved," but that this maturity "is rather a challenge. A road to travel." (Ibid.)
This itinerary requires on the part of the movements an ever more solid communion with the pastors that God has chosen and consecrated to gather and sanctify his people in the radiance of faith, of hope, and of charity, because "no charism dispenses from referral and submission to the pastors of the Church." (Christifideles laici, 24) Therefore it is a task of the movements, in the ambit of the communion and the mission of the local Church, to share their charismatic richness in a humble and generous way.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate! Of you, whose task is to discern the authenticity of a charism so as to order its just exercise in the ambit of the Church, I ask magnanimity in far-seeing paternity and charity (cf. 1Cor. 13:4) toward these realities, because every work of man has need of time and patience for its due and indispensable purification. With clear words the Second Vatican Council writes, "The judgment on their genuineness (of charisms) and on their exercise belongs to those who preside in the Church, to whom it belongs especially not to stifle the Spirit, but to examine everything and keep what is good." (cf. 1Thess. 5:12, 19-21, Lumen gentium, 12), so that all the charisms collaborate, in their diversity and complementarity, to the common good. (Ibid., 30)
I am convinced, Venerable Brothers, that your attentive and heartfelt readiness, thanks also to opportune encounters of prayer, of reflection, and of friendship, will render your authority not only more amiable but more demanding, your indications more effective and incisive, and the ministry entrusted to you for the evaluation of charisms for "the benefit of all" more fruitful. For your first task is that of opening eyes, heart, and mind, in order to recognize the multiplicity of forms of the Spirit's presence in the Church, and sift and lead all of them to unity in truth and in charity.
- In the course of the encounters I have had with ecclesial movements and new communities, I have stressed many times the intimate connection between their experiences and the reality of the local churches and the universal Church of which they are fruit and, at the same time, a missionary expression. Last year, before the participants at the World Congress of the ecclesial movements, organized by the Pontifical Council for the Laity, I publicly witnessed "their readiness to put their energies at the service of the See of Peter and the local churches." (Message to the World Congress of Ecclesial Movements, n. 2, in L'Osservatore Romano, May 28, 1998). In effect, one of the most important fruits generated by the movements is precisely that of being able to release in many lay faithful, men and women, adults and youth, a lively missionary thrust, indispensable for the Church which is preparing to cross the threshold of the Third Millennium. This objective, however, is reached only where these "insert themselves with humility into the life of the local churches and are welcomed cordially by bishops and priests in diocesan and parochial structures." (Redemptoris missio, 72)
What does this mean in concrete terms of apostolate and pastoral action? This was one of the key questions of your Seminar. How are we to welcome this particular gift that the Spirit is offering to the Church in our historical moment? How are we to welcome it in all its import, in all its fullness, in all the dynamism proper to it? Answering adequately to such questions is part of your responsibility as pastors. Your great responsibility is not to render vain the gift of the Spirit, but on the contrary to make it bear ever more fruit in the service of the entire Christian People.
My heartfelt wish is that your Seminar be a source of encouragement and inspiration for many bishops in their pastoral ministry. May Mary, Spouse of the Holy Spirit, help you to listen to what the Spirit is saying today to the Church. (cf. Rv. 2:7) I am near you with my fraternal solidarity, I accompany you with my prayer, while I willingly bless you and all whom Divine Providence has entrusted to your pastoral care.
From the Vatican,
June 18, 1999
Iohannes Paulus PP. II