In the days leading up to the Pentecost Vigil in Saint Peter’s Square, we held the Second World Congress of ecclesial movements and new communities in Rocca di Papa near Rome from 31 May to 2 June 2006. The theme was “The beauty of being a Christian and the joy of communicating it”. The Pontifical Council for the Laity gathered together over 300 delegates from different countries and Church movements to reflect on the theme inspired by a statement made by Benedict XVI during his homily at the Mass for the inauguration of the pontificate on 24 April 2005: “There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him”. The aim of the Congress was to reflect on the very nature of being Christian, how it is lived out in the movements and new communities, on the education provided, and how it is communicated in order to meet the expectations and desires of people today.
It was not meant as an occasion for movements and new communities to present themselves. They already have decades of history and are spread far and wide in the Church. Most of these new groups already have canonical recognition by the Holy See and they work in the local Churches on all continents. The well remembered experience of 30 May 1998 contributed to greater awareness of the nature, service and activities of these movements who help to build the Church and renew its mission.
The Second Congress aimed for further growth towards “ecclesial maturity”, something called for by John Paul II. It was also a wonderful opportunity to share the richness of charisms, to point out the importance of education and to renew missionary thrust.
Among the 300 participants at the Congress there were founders, initiators and leaders of about 100 ecclesial movements, most of which are recognised by the Holy See at an international level. There were also a few groups that are recognised at the diocesan level and are present in several local Churches. The guests included representatives of certain Roman Curia offices, members and consultors of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, about forty bishops from around the world, and “observers” from various Catholic institutions and delegates from other Churches and Christian confessions.
The Holy Father’s message to the Congress was very rich in content. The Pope called on the movements to “bring Christ’s light to all the social and cultural milieus in which you live […] Dispel the darkness of a world overwhelmed by the contradictory messages of ideologies! There us no valid beauty if there is not a truth to recognize and follow, if love gives way to transitory sentiment, if happiness becomes an elusive mirage or if freedom degenerates into instinct”. He goes on to say: “Take the witness of the freedom with which Christ set us free to this troubled world.
The extraordinary fusion between love of God and love of neighbour makes life beautiful and causes the desert in which we often find ourselves living to blossom anew…”. Archbishop Stanisław Ryłko, President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, read the message to the participants at the start of the session. He spoke of the journey travelled during these eight years since the meeting with John Paul II in 1998 and mentioned the signs of ecclesial maturity in the movements. This includes “ever closer communion with the Pope and the pastors where all share their charismatic gifts”; “missionary engagement. The charisms […] generate itineraries of Christian initiation […] that bring people to live their faith with evangelical fervour”; “Maturity, this youthfulness of spirit […] fruit of their daily fidelity to the charism that gave rise to them”.
The three principle talks were given by Cardinals Christopher Schönborn, O.P., Marc Ouellet, P.S.S. and Angelo Scola who spoke on, respectively, the Christological aspects (“Christ, the most beautiful among the sons of Adam”), ecclesiological (“The beauty of being a Christian”) and pastoral (“Ecclesial movements and new communities in the mission of the Church: priorities and perspectives”). Cardinal Schönborn in his talk said that this Congress in preparation for the Pentecost meeting has the purpose of seeing how the seeds of beauty sown by Christ are growing and bringing forth fruit.
Christ himself is beauty, therefore “the true, the good and the beautiful are not attributes exterior to God but coincide with the very being of God. God is Truth, Good, Love, Beauty”. Jesus Christ brings us towards his own beauty, a divine beauty that was “made accessible through his incarnation”. To open up to Christ is “to allow a wave of beauty to flow over us, on the world tainted by sin and disfigured by evil”. The most precious fruit of the beauty of Christ is holiness: “there is nothing more beautiful in the world than holiness. We could say of saints that which the letter to the Hebrews said about Christ: they are like “the radiance of the glory of God”. The Cardinal went on to describe the face of Christ that appears in the psalms: the face of a man of sorrows, abandoned by men, an object of scorn, a face without beauty that repels our gaze. It is the face of the Crucified One. However, it is from the cross that a different beauty springs forth, that of mercy. It is this love that led Saint Paul to say: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified”.
Cardinal Ouellet, Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada, posed some questions as a basis for his talk: Is aesthetics really the right path for the Church to follow today? In a certain sense, does Christianity today, uprooted from its living forces, run the risk of being tied to the cultural residue of an earlier epoch? He went on to say that he would dare to bet that the way of beauty is the way of the ecclesial movements and new communities, and that perhaps now, at the start of the third millennium, our point of departure is the beauty of Christ.
He referred to Hans Urs von Balthasar who said that the way of beauty goes out to meet the deepest yearnings of the human heart. He pointed out that today it is crucial that we explore the way of beauty because the outlook of truth and goodness is not so strong among people nowadays because they are caught up in scepticism and relativism. It is the task of the Christian to restore harmony between truth, goodness and freedom, setting out from an encounter with Christ that reawakens the hearts of human beings and gives meaning to their lives by opening them up to the totality of reality.
The keynote speech on the last day of the Congress, Friday 2 June, was given by the Patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Angelo Scola who outlined the priorities and perspectives of ecclesial movements and new communities in the mission of the Church. He reminded us that the driving force of the mission of individuals and the Christian community is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus Christ. The term “co-essentiality” when used in reference to the institutional and charismatic dimensions of the Church, are not “two components” from which the dialectical synthesis gives rise to the reality of the Church. The word “co-essentiality” means, on the contrary, the dual unity proper to the Church event as such: the institutional and the charismatic are dimensions of every action carried out by the Church. Cardinal Scola said that it was specious and mistaken to relegate movements to the charismatic dimension and dioceses, parishes and traditional groups to the institutional. Both of these dimensions, to varying degrees, are constitutive of each and every group. The Cardinal went on to say that to speak of perspectives and priorities is to indicate the essential conditions to which movements and communities should remain faithful if they want the gratuitous origin of their experience to become a permanent source of the free adherence of each of their members to an encounter with the Lord and a welcome path for the mission to our fellow human beings. Therefore, it is not a case of inventing new programmes or pastoral plans, but to comprehend how to remain faithful to one’s charism and to continue to pass it on at times of “generational change”. It is about demonstrating the fecundity of these “new charisms” to the extent to which they succeed in showing that Jesus Christ is present today. However, it is necessary to avoid the great risk of undue homologising. The mission of movements and new communities does not require that all must proceed the same way.
Cardinal Scola added that, “the time has come to recognise that action and reflection on the mission of the new movements in the Church can no longer be seen as a chapter apart. It must necessarily take place within the universal Church and the local Churches, in the joint symphony of all groupings of the laity, both new and traditional”.
The panel discussion provided an opportunity to look at two important dimensions of the movements and new communities: their educational itineraries and their witness to the beauty of Christ in the world today. The speakers were founders and leaders of the largest movements and communities, as well as experts in this field. The discussions and the working groups that followed the keynote speeches allowed participants to enrich the Congress with their experience and reflections. The Pontifical Council for the Laity is working on producing the Congress Proceedings, and this will be published in various languages in the coming months. This will serve as an important instrument in continuing the reflection.
The Congress took place in a climate of friendship, and this could be appreciated in the sessions as well as during intervals and meals which provided opportunities for mutual acquaintance and exchange. On the evening of 1 June there was a classical music recital, and on the evening of 2 June after the sessions, movements and new communities took the responsibility of organising encounters and prayer vigils in basilicas and churches of Rome.
Pilgrims to the “eternal city” had this special opportunity for prayer and spiritual preparation for the Pentecost Vigil in which they could open their hearts to welcome the gift of the Holy Spirit in communion with the Pope.