Giussani with Pope John Paul II. Wikimedia Commons

Bishop in Action

We received and are happy to print here the witness of the Bishop of the Diocese of Portland, Oregon, who participated in the meeting on movements in Rome. His encounter with CL and the prospects of the mission. "Sanctity is founded on Baptism."
John Vlazny

From June 15th through the 19th I was privileged to participate, with nearly one hundred other cardinals and bishops from all parts of the world, in a symposium sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Laity. The topic of our reflection was "Ecclesial Movements and New Communities in the Pastoral Care of Bishops." From June 15th through the 19th I was privileged to participate, with nearly one hundred other cardinals and bishops from all parts of the world, in a symposium sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Laity. The topic of our reflection was "Ecclesial Movements and New Communities in the Pastoral Care of Bishops."

It was a real honor to be invited to this gathering, which certainly enlivened my personal faith and zeal. I have a suspicion that my invitation came through some CL friends back in my former diocese of Winona, Minnesota. I made their acquaintance through Msgr. Gerald Mahon, the pastor of St. John's Church in downtown Rochester. During my final year as Bishop there he had inquired about the possibility of welcoming some members of the CL Memores Domini group by establishing a home for them there in our largest community. Father Jerry learned about the Movement from an encounter with a physician who was doing some research at Rochester's Mayo Clinic. Some of them recently visited me here in Oregon. They are a blessing indeed.

As many of you know, back in May of 1998, these ecclesial movements-some 500,000 persons-were participants in an extraordinary gathering with our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, in the Piazza of Saint Peter's Basilica on the Vigil of Pentecost. The Pope reminded them that, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church has rediscovered, as constitutive of herself, this charismatic aspect. He went on to say, "The institutional and charismatic aspects are quasi co-essential to the constitution of the Church, even if in a diverse way, to her life, to her renewal, and to the sanctification of the people of God." This understanding provides both a great opportunity and a challenge to those of us who are involved in the leadership of the local diocesan churches all over the world; hence the invitation to come to Rome for a greater understanding of this gift of the Holy Spirit.

Several years earlier, in his important encyclical on mission, Rendemptoris Missio, Pope John Paul II wrote, "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 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 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."

Suddenly something unexpected
As I now serve the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon I am much more aware of the presence of movements in our local Church. In fact, on Friday, July 2, 1999, I ordained to the diaconate two men from the Brotherhood of the People of Praise, a movement with roots in prayer groups associated with the contemporary Charismatic Renewal. I have learned a lot about the potential for evangelization through members of movements like CL, the Neocatechumenate, and Focolare. My friendship with the Memores men back in Rochester has been a special grace in my life during recent years.

During the recent gathering in Rome, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, spoke with us bishops. He reflected on some of the hard times the Church experienced in the 1970s after the first effort to implement the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. Rather than a new springtime, the Church seemed to be going through a long and hard winter. Then suddenly something no one had planned took place. The Holy Spirit reawakened the faith, particularly among the young, "who embraced it without 'ifs,' 'ands,' or 'buts,' without escape hatches and loopholes." The enthusiasm the young brought to many of these movements led some church leaders to feel that this was interfering with their own intellectual discussions and plans for a completely different Church. Yet every activity of the Holy Spirit seems to upset human plans.

Furthermore, the movements brought with them their own growing pains. Movements, then and even now, can tend to a certain exclusivity and one-sidedness that make them incapable of becoming active participants in the life of parishes and dioceses. Their zeal and enthusiasm unfortunately tended to distance them from the "old institutional church" that was forever, in their judgement, dragging its feet. Like all of us, they too had to re-learn the importance of the permanent basic structure of the Church's life, which gives continuity to the organization of the Church through history. Parishes and dioceses also had to remember that the Holy Spirit is always full of surprises that revitalize and renew the Church. But they never occur without some pain and friction.

True ecclesial movements generally begin with a charismatic leader. They form communities that are serious about living the Gospel freely and fully. They recognize the Church as the ground of their life. Cardinal Ratzinger offered five criteria for the discernment of their true ecclesial nature: 1) They clearly stand by the Pope and the bishops as legitimate leaders of the people of God; 2) They desire to live the apostolic life with the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience as the core of their way of life; 3) their primary mission is always the proclamation of the Gospel, particularly to the poor; 4) Words are never enough to fulfill this mission, loving deeds are necessary too; and 5) a deep personal encounter with Christ, inspired by the charism of the founder, is presupposed.

A certain "testing" of movements is taking place in the Church at the present time. But it is important to remember that the movements are not merely decorative in the life of the Church. They, together with our local parishes and dioceses, are co-essential aspects of a Church founded by Jesus Christ whose mission is the proclamation of the Gospel. They do not offer an alternative structure for God's work, but rather they underscore the universality of the Church for Catholic dioceses which can often become rather localized and prefer to wish the movements away.

Miloslav Cardinal Volk of Prague offered a particularly impressive personal witness to the importance of the movements in the Church. He pointed out that, during the time of Communist leadership in the Czech Republic, every effort was made to destroy the structures of the Church with the intent of killing people's faith. Even though the dioceses and parishes of his nation were sealed off from outside Catholic influences, the Communists were unable to keep the Holy Spirit outside their borders. During the time of this repression, which ended only ten years ago, the Holy Spirit, through the ecclesial movements, sustained and supported the faith of many. The Cardinal said his own faith and priesthood might never have survived without his personal and, at the time, subversive contact with members of movements, particularly Focolare.

Downtown Rochester
Other bishops saw the movements as the "salt of the Church" and "hope for the future." One African, Archbishop Robert Sarah of Guinea, said there was a need to fight any fear of movements, which he described as the "light breeze" or "murmur" of the Holy Spirit. Archbishop Theodore McCarrick of Newark encouraged bishops to "accompany" the movements and to help them overcome any overly simplistic view of the world and its struggles with evil.

The call to His holiness for all of us is rooted in Baptism. This was the great rediscovery of the Second Vatican Council. The movements clearly help us in making sanctity the priority of all Christian renewal. All the baptized, not only the ordained and consecrated, are called by God to a unique service in the Church and in the world.

The movements are already helping us develop a better culture for vocations among all our people. The Memores Domini community and the CL leadership in Rochester have already established a youth group at Msgr. Mahon's downtown parish. There is a School of Community with about thirty adults who are presently involved. Msgr. Mahon has initiated a Studium Christi group of eight priests. Already the charism has a broad level of participation and complements life in his busy parish.

Certainly I remain grateful for the experience in Rome to meet many leaders of the movements and to learn more about them. I treasure my friendship with the Memores men in Rochester as well as those involved in CL, which is growing. I pray that God will assist me in providing good pastoral care for all the movements in my local Church in western Oregon.
*Bishop of Portland, Oregon