Importance of the ecclesial movements and new communities
Vatican City, 19, May, 2008 - "The ecclesial movements and new communities are one of the most important new developments prompted by the Holy Spirit in the Church for the implementation of Vatican Council II . . . this development is still awaiting adequate comprehension in the light of God's plan and of the Church's mission in the context of our time". The pope addressed these words to 100 bishops from 53 countries, who had come to Rome at the invitation of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.
The audience with the pontiff concluded the seminar organised by the Vatican dicastery "to reflect and dialogue on the reality of the movements in the Church". The seminar was held from May 15-17 in Rocca di Papa (Rome), and saw the presence of many representatives and founders of movements and new communities.
Benedict XVI has never concealed his affection for the ecclesial movements. Even as cardinal prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Caith, in 1999 he had participated in another seminar organised by the council for the laity, where he had defended the "coessentiality" of the movements together with the institutional element of the Church. On June 3, 2006, as pope, he had more than 100 ecclesial movements gather to meet with him in Saint Peter's Square, seeing in them "the luminous sign of the beauty of Christ, and of the Church, his Spouse".
In his address today, the pope recalled with gratitude "the unexpected eruption" following Vatican Council II of the "new lay realities that, in various and surprising forms, brought vitality, faith, and hope back to the entire Church". Thanks to these, membership in the Church came to be viewed as a value, and not as a burden, reawakening "a vigorous missionary impulse, moved by the desire to communicate to all the precious experience of the encounter with Christ, understood and lived as the only adequate response to the profound thirst for truth and happiness in the human heart".
In order to incorporate the novelty of these experiences within the fabric of the Church, there has been no lack of "numerous initiatives of reminder and orientation on the part of the pontiffs, who have begun an ever deeper dialogue and collaboration at the level of many particular Churches". In this way, "many forms of prejudice, resistance, and attention have been overcome". But now there is the need for a "more mature communion of all the ecclesial components, so that all the charisms, in respect of their uniqueness, may completely and freely contribute to the building up of the one Body of Christ".
Beginning with the theme of the seminar that has just concluded - a phrase that the pope had addressed to the German bishops in 2006, "Approach the movements with great love" - the pope exhorted the bishops to "approach with great love the movements and new communities . . . in order to gain an adequate understanding of their reality, without superficial impressions or reductionist judgments". A number of times, the pope repeated that "the ecclesial movements and the new communities are not a problem or an extra risk, added to our already weighty responsibilities. No! They are a gift from the Lord, a precious resource to enrich with their charism as the entire Christian community . . . Difficulties or misunderstandings on particular issues do not bring the right of isolation".
What might be feared is a journey along parallel lines, each for himself, the bishops on one side, the movements on the other. This would mean an impoverishing of both. Thus Benedict XVI exhorts the pastors to "a service of discernment" and to "correction" of the values of the movements, and at the same time to resist "the temptation of making uniform what the Holy Spirit wants to be multiform, to contribute to the building and growth of the one Body of Christ, which the Spirit himself makes firm in unity".
The pope recalls that the movements, "proud of their freedom and of their fidelity to their charism", have already demonstrated in the past that "fidelity and freedom are assured, and certainly not limited, by ecclesial communion, of which the bishops, united with the successor of Peter, are ministers, custodians, and guides".
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