Miami, Florida. Wikimedia Commons

The Most Simple Thing in the World How the Movement Came to Miami

An exciting development of the growth of CL in America has been the burgeoning of a lively and diverse group in Miami...driven by the force of a yes and united by bonds of friendship–not a complex project, but a very “simple thing.”

“Everything began on the day of the death of Father Giussani.” This is how Jose “Pepe” Rodelgo-Bueno, a Memores Domini living and working in Miami, Florida, begins to tell the story about the recent flourishing of the CL charism in that archdiocese.

“The first thing I would like to ask you is to pray for the seminarians.” After Pepe arrived in Miami in 2005 to work for the Archdiocese of Miami, these were the first instructions given to him by Archbishop John Favalora.

These two statements encompass the two most interesting things about the recent growth of Communion and Liberation in the Archdiocese of Miami: first, that the charism’s growth is one of the first seeds to sprout after Fr. Giussani’s death, and second, that the Movement came to Miami to serve: its bishop, its diocese, and, especially, its seminarians.

Monsignor Albacete Comes to Miami. Really, it all began on the day of Father Giussani’s funeral.
On that day in February of 2005, Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete had been invited by Archbishop Favalora to address the seminarians at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami. After Father Giussani’s death and the announcement of the impending funeral, Msgr. Albacete had to decide whether he would cancel the Miami invitation in order to fly to Milan to attend the Requiem Mass.

The decision was actually an easy one. “It was the most simple thing in the world,” says Albacete. “If I wanted to honor Giussani, I would do his work.” Albacete had not been invited to speak in Miami as a representative of CL; he was merely going as a priest. “But, of course, everything I said was informed by the work of Giussani.”

He continues: “I really was somewhat excited because I thought, ‘Giussani can see me now, and he will find out whether I’ve been representing his views or not. He might ruin me!’ But that was only a momentary thought. I believed that he was now in a better situation, so he could help something good to come out of this trip.” So Albacete spoke to the young seminarians at St. John Vianney, in the presence of Archbishop Favalora, and, to this day, people remember his talk–not necessarily what he said, but the very fact that he had been there.

Almost everyone–seminarians, Pepe, even Auxiliary Bishop Felipe de Jesus Estevez–will tell you about the rapid developments that followed Albacete’s talk. According to Bishop Estevez, the Archdiocese of Miami has always been very open to the new movements and currents within the Church, going back to the first years after the Second Vatican Council–Bishop Estevez calls it an “openness pattern.” Last August, over 60 lay movements gathered together at the Cathedral of St. Mary in Miami at a special Mass commemorating the role of the laity in the archdiocese.

Welcome to Miami. CL was already known in Miami before Albacete’s visit. Archbishop Favalora had, a few years before, said Mass at a CL Diaconia in Fort Lauderdale. But before Albacete’s visit, only two people–Fr. Marino and Lucia Schito–were following the life of the Movement in Miami. After Albacete’s visit, Pepe was offered a job in October, and he came to live in a house across the street from the seminarians, where he was given his mission by Archbishop Favalora–first of all, to pray.

The Archdiocese of Miami, founded in 1958, is currently comprised of around 1.3 million Catholics, whose diversity of nationality and language reflects the diversity of Miami itself. The city has twelve universities. For the Church in Miami, this is a salient fact. And this fact is one of the reasons why Archbishop Favalora wanted CL to come to Miami.

“We saw it in terms of vocation ministry,” said Bishop Estevez, talking about the reasons why the diocese wanted a CL presence there. “A large percentage of vocations to the priesthood comes from the college level. We feel we need a deep reflection of faith at that level. Giussani was doing this already.” But the vocations aren’t just to the priesthood: “We are not saying necessarily to the priesthood, but to a greater commitment.”

Bishop Estevez first met the Movement in Chicago, about ten years ago, where he says he was moved by their openness and vitality. It was something attractive to him, and that he wanted for his flock. Archbishop Favalora agreed. “We wanted proximity to the seminary, and the positive influence of a mature vocation.” That would be Pepe.

Monsignor Carruthers, Rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary, says, “The seminary is academic, and it can become a place about ideas. CL reminds us that this, the faith, is something real.”

“Why Can’t I?”. Bishop Estevez cites Monsignor Albacete as a great witness to the mission of CL for the Church. “He explains it well: that it [the Movement] is not an organization, but a leaven serving the local Church. I find his vision very trustworthy.”

More trustworthy are concrete experiences. Among those is the experience of Luis Rivero, a seminarian who has graduated from St. John Vianney and recently re-entered theological studies at the major regional seminary, St. Vincent de Paul, in Palm Beach. He met the Movement in a time of his life when he was uncertain about whether he should continue pursuing the priesthood. A priest friend of his from Spain suggested that he meet people from CL, and that a man named Pepe would be coming to Miami, but Luis did not expect to follow up on that piece of advice–for one, he was wary of movements, but also he had a lot of other things going on.

But then Luis did meet Pepe, at a seminary function, and unexpectedly struck up a conversation with him. After that, a friendship developed, as did a School of Community, with two or three other seminarians. After he graduated from the seminary, Luis kept on commuting to it, every Friday, for School of Community.

In Pepe and the other Memores Domini, Luis saw “that they were living the same thing I was called to and that I was running away from.” This was during a critical period. “When I saw them live this way, I asked myself, ‘Why can’t I? I can’t run away from this life…’ I can now say that I stayed on the path thanks to them, thanks to their witness.”

Luis then began to live life differently in the seminary. “Usually, for a seminarian, there is a cloud hanging over him. We get nervous and ask, ‘Will they catch me doing something wrong?’ That was my M.O. Now, that was all gone. I was able to recognize that God gave me all my formators–the ones I agreed with and the ones I disagreed with–for a reason.”

Bonds of Friendship. The CL community has grown beyond the seminary. The Redondo family – Jose Pedro and Vicky, Jose Pedrin and Victoria–have become a center of the Movement, and GS is growing as well.

What is most striking about all of this is not how quickly it all happened, but the way in which it happened: Msgr. Giussani died; Msgr. Albacete quietly–well, maybe not so quietly–resumed his work; Pepe was invited to come, and accepted; Fr. Marino, Lucia, and Archbishop Favalora were there, preceding him, welcoming him. Everything was built by the bonds of friendship.

Friendship is the fundamental building block of CL in Miami. Everything that came to be, came to be because a few individuals chose to say Yes, including yes to each other. Everyone was free and said yes, and now, everyone is freer than before.