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On Ecclesial Movements and New Communities

4/2/2006 - 6:00 AM PST

(Page 3 of 4)

is the motivation behind their pedagogical strength? The "secret," so to speak, is found in the charisms which have produced them and which constitute their very soul. It is the charism which produces the "spiritual affinity between individuals"[12] animating a community and a movement.

And thanks to this charism, the fascinating original experience of the Christian reality, of which each founder is a witness, can be relived and reproduced in the lives of many people and of many generations of people without losing its novelty and freshness. The charism is also the source of the extraordinary educating power of the movements and new communities. Here I refer to a formation whose departure point is a deep conversion of heart. It is no accident that these new ecclesial realities include many converts, people who "come from afar."

At the beginning of this conversion process there is always a personal encounter with Christ which radically transforms life; an encounter made possible by credible witnesses who relive in the movement that unique experience of the first disciples: "Come and see" (John 1:46). There is always a "before" and "after" in the lives of those who belong to ecclesial movements and communities. For some, the conversion of heart is often a gradual process which takes time. For others, the conversion is an unexpected and all-encompassing "lighting bolt" experience.

But in both cases the conversion is lived as a free gift of God, a gift that fills the heart with joy and becomes a spiritual benefit for the whole of one's life. How many members of movements and new communities can repeat the words of the convert André Frossard: "God exists, and I have experienced him."

Formation is the privileged environment in which the various movements and communities express their charisms. Each group bases its formative process [of the person] on a distinct, specific pedagogical approach which is typically Christ-centered. It focuses on what is truly essential, which is the awakening in the person of that baptismal vocation or identity that characterizes true Christian discipleship. It is radical in the sense that it refuses to dilute the Gospel by proposing holiness as an ideal worthy to be pursued. It develops within small Christian communities which serve as an indispensable reference point and support, in great contrast to today's "atomized" society where loneliness and depersonalized relationships are the norm; and it is integral in the sense that all the dimensions of life are embraced and challenged, producing in the member a complete sense of belonging.

Yet this sense of "belonging" is distinct from membership in other religious groups or circles. The member of a movement or new community typically manifests a strong sense of belonging to, and love for, the Church. Therefore, there is no danger in affirming that these new movements and communities are true schools for the formation of Christian "adults." As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote some years ago, they are "forceful ways of living the faith that stimulates individuals, giving them joy an vitality; their faith really means something for the world."[13]

Our picture would not be complete without some mention of the role these groups can play in the context of the Church in Latin America, where popular piety is deeply rooted and diffused. The ecclesial movements and new communities offer pedagogies of evangelization capable of shaping this religiosity: The important aspects of popular piety can be assimilated and deepened, and their value in the life of the people can be retained.[14]

4. The movements and new communities respond to a second urgent need of great importance, which is the need for "strong testimony." All Christian formation ought to have a missionary element because the Christian vocation is, by its nature, a call to apostolate. Missionary outreach helps baptized persons discover the fullness of their own vocation; it helps them overcome the temptation of egoistic selfishness and the subtle danger of seeing the movement or community as a refuge or a way to flee the problems of the world in an environment of warm friendship.

Notable among the characteristics of missionary commitment found in ecclesial movements and new communities is the indisputable ability to awaken the apostolic enthusiasm and missionary courage of the laity. They know how to draw out the spiritual potential of the laity by helping them smash the barriers of timidity, fear, and false complexes of inferiority which today's secular culture creates in the hearts of so many Christians. Many of their members have experienced a deep inner transformation, at times to their own surprise; in fact, many never would have imagined themselves preaching the Gospel in this way or participating so actively in the Church's mission.

Movements know how to awaken a desire to "make ...

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