The Encounter of Pope Benedict XVI with Ecclesial Movements and New Communities
Pentecost 2006 will enter the history of ecclesial movements and new communities as a new milestone on their path of life and of service to the Church. On 3 June 2006, vigil of the solemnity, Pope Benedict XVI met with them in Saint Peter’s Square which was overflowing with people. The crowds filled the Via della Conciliazione and even beyond. Hundreds of thousands of people had come together from all over the world to meet with the Successor of Peter. They were responding to his invitation to celebrate the mystery of Pentecost together with him.
From the time this encounter was first announced, preparations for 3 June in Rome began with close collaboration between the Pontifical Council for the Laity and the movements and communities. Leaders from over 100 organisations expressed their gratitude to the Holy Father for the invitation and they helped with the preparations for this major ecclesial event. Followers of movements and communities, large and small, came together for this gathering. They included the Neocatechumenal Way, Communion and Liberation, Focolari and the many groupings within the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. There were people from Regnum Christi, the Cursillo Movement, the Sant’Egidio Community, the Schönstatt Movement, the Christian Life Movement, the Emmanuel Community, the Pope John XXIII Community, Sermig, L’Arche, Faith and Light, the Teresian Association, Villaregia Missionary Community, Marianist Lay Communities, Teams of Our Lady, FASTA, the Living In Movement, the Work of Nazareth, the Prayer and Life Workshops, the Adsis Communities, and many more.
The years that have elapsed since that memorable experience of May 1998 when the first such meeting took place with the Servant of God John Paul II, were characterised by a significant growth in relations between the movements and new communities, and between them and the Pontifical Council for the Laity. These relations were lived in a spirit of communion and they brought about deeper awareness of each other and greater appreciation of their role in the work of the new evangelisation. Their contacts and collaboration with the Pontifical Council for the Laity were very significant, for it is their “common house” and natural point of reference. Now, after this meeting with Benedict XVI, we expect further progress towards the goal of “ecclesial maturity”, the desire of John Paul II. The Holy Father spoke to the ecclesial movements and new communities in the homily he gave during the Pentecost First Vespers. His words were simple and deep, clear and profound, and they contributed to our common reflection on the multiformity of this ecclesial reality, a path that we journey together.
Setting out with the question “who or what is the Holy Spirit? How can we recognize him? How do we go to him and how does he come to us? What does he do?”, Benedict XVI developed the topic by emphasising the theme of life and freedom, the first gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the theme of unity, because the Spirit works “with a view to the one body and in the unity of the one body”. “Life and freedom: these are the things for which we all yearn. But what is this - where and how do we find ‘life’?”, the Pope asked.
He pointed out that it certainly cannot be found in the experience of the Prodigal Son of the Gospel: “When all that people want from life is to take possession of it, it becomes ever emptier and poorer […] No, we do not find life in this way. […] It is only in giving life that it is found; life is not found by seeking to possess it. This is what we must learn from Christ; and the Holy Spirit teaches us that it is a pure gift, that it is God’s gift of himself. The more one gives one’s life for others, for goodness itself, the more abundantly the river of life flows”. This led to his appeal to the movements: “Dear friends, the Movements were born precisely of the thirst for true life; they are Movements for life in every sense. Where the true source of life no longer flows, where people only appropriate life instead of giving it, wherever people are ready to dispose of unborn life because it seems to take up room in their own lives, it is there that the life of others is most at risk. If we want to protect life, then we must above all rediscover the source of life; then life itself must re-emerge in its full beauty and sublimeness; then we must let ourselves be enlivened by the Holy Spirit, the creative source of life”. The Pope used the parable of the Prodigal Son also to speak about freedom: “He wanted life and therefore desired to be totally liberated. Being free, in this perspective, means being able to do whatever I like, not being bound to accept any criterion other than and over and above myself. It means following my own desires and my own will alone. Those who live like this very soon clash with others who want to live the same way. The inevitable consequence of this selfish concept of freedom is violence and the mutual destruction of freedom and life”. Christians know, however, that Holy Scripture teaches otherwise and that it “connects the concept of freedom with that of sonship”, and sons and daughters are not slaves. The Pope went on to say that “true freedom is demonstrated in responsibility, in a way of behaving in which one takes upon oneself a shared responsibility for the world, for oneself and for others. […] He [the Holy Spirit] involves us in the same responsibility that God has for his world, for the whole of humanity. […] We do not do good as slaves who are not free to act otherwise, but we do it because we are personally responsible for the world; because we love truth and goodness, because we love God himself and therefore, also his creatures. This is the true freedom to which the Holy Spirit wants to lead us”. For this reason, in order to be witnesses and promoters of this kind of freedom “the Ecclesial Movements want to and must be schools of freedom, of this true freedom. […] In this world, so full of fictitious forms of freedom that destroy the environment and the human being, let us learn true freedom by the power of the Holy Spirit; to build the school of freedom; to show others by our lives that we are free and how beautiful it is to be truly free with the true freedom of God’s children”.
Together with life and freedom, the Holy Spirit also brings unity. This unity does not mean uniformity, because “in him multiplicity and unity go hand in hand”. It is this that the Spirit wishes for the movements, the Pope explained as he spoke to the crowds of people from so many organisations: “He wants your diversity and he wants you for the one body, in union with the permanent orders – the joints – of the Church, with the successors of the Apostles and with the Successor of St Peter”.
The Pope at this point asked for renewal in missionary zeal in which the presence of the Holy Spirit can be seen, zeal in proclamation and witness within families, in the workplace and in every aspect of existence. There should be no discouragement or limits, but they should collaborate more and more with the Church: “Dear friends, I ask you to collaborate even more, very much more, in the Pope’s universal apostolic ministry, opening doors to Christ. This is the Church’s best service for men and women and especially for the poor, so that the person’s life, a fairer order in society and peaceful coexistence among the nations may find in Christ the cornerstone on which to build the genuine civilization, the civilization of love”. In Saint Peter’s Square there were two hours of activities in preparation for the First Vespers. This was introduced by Bishop Clemens. There were songs led by a choir that came together for the occasion and was composed of members of movements and new communities; personal accounts of the Congress in Rocca di Papa; a short video about the meeting in May 1998 including words by Pope John Paul II and the founders of some of the movements; readings from the writings of the then-Cardinal Ratzinger concerning the movements and from the encyclical Deus caritas est by Benedict XVI. When the Holy Father arrived, he went among the crowds in the popemobile along the pathways in the Square and right down the Via della Conciliazione so that everyone could feel they were near him. This was a symbolic embrace of the crowds that took half an hour, and it was followed by a greeting by Archbishop Ryłko who spoke on everyone’s behalf in thanking the Pope for the gift of that encounter and “for the fruits of holy lives, of communion, of courage and missionary creativity that these new charisms cause to flourish in the Church of our times and that are truly signs of a new Christian springtime”.
Chiara Lubich who was absent for health reasons, wished to participate through a message that was read in her name following the greeting by Archbishop Ryłko. The Pentecost First Vespers were enriched by commentaries to the psalms and canticle by Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Sant’Egidio Community, by Kiko Argüello, initiator of the Neocatechumenal Way, and by Reverend Julián Carrón, president of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation. Their words were meditations on the themes of the psalms and the canticle enriched by the experience of their own movements, an expression of the diversity of which the Holy Father had spoken during his homily. “A charism yields fruit with prayer and with the heart of children. Because it is a gift!”, Andrea Riccardi said. He spoke of how prayer helps us not to give up and not to give in to the “poverty” and “sterility” of today’s world, but how it is “the material where a charism is not extinguished nor emptied by pride, but where it yields fruit”. Kiko Argüello also spoke of these new charisms as he presented them to the Holy Father as “new realities that the Holy Spirit has given rise to in order to help priests, parishes, bishops and the Pope”. They are the way in which “the Lord rebuilds Jerusalem” today. Reverend Julián Carrón spoke of how the dramatic situation of the world today, poor and lacking in meaning, “makes more urgent the poignant question posed by Christ: “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk 18:8). “Answering this question makes us more aware of the importance of this meeting” and of “the urgency of the task we are called to”. Following the Pope’s homily, there was a memorial of the sacrament of Confirmation. With the music of the choir and orchestra directed by Msgr Marco Frisina that guided the vespers, and with the words of a prayer of invocation to the Holy Spirit, seven members of movements and new communities each lit torches representing the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to the faithful. A cold wind, unusual in Rome at the start of June, continued during the ceremony. It was mentioned several times during the evening that this wind was a reminder of the strong wind felt at the first Pentecost that impelled the first disciples to spread the gospel message to all peoples. This wind still calls us today to go forth, to feel impelled and also guided towards the peoples of our times to proclaim the beauty of encountering Christ.