Thursday, July 13, 2006

New Ecclesial Movements and the Diocesan Bishops (2)
Leonardo Y. Medroso, DD, JCD
Bishop of Borongan

The heavy downpour of 26 June 2006, mercilessly pelting the thousands of participants gathered together at the Luneta Park from 10AM to 7 PM, failed to dampen the festive mood that marked the 25th Anniversary of the CFC’s existence in the Church of the Philippines. On the contrary the inclement weather served as the opportunity for the CBCP president, Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, to utter these prophetic words: “We cannot tell nor describe how many and what kind of storms have been encountered by CFC through the years. But this much we can say: many storms have passed and you are still around” (Lagdameo, Homily, CBCP Monitor, July 3, 2006, p. 16).

That prophetic description can be aptly applied to the many other ecclesial communities and movements existing in the parishes and dioceses with this paraphrase: “Many storms have passed and they are still around.” The passage of time with all the variegated experiences that go along with it has not weakened the fervor and zeal of the members of the ecclesial movements and faith communities. They are still around, alive and active, members of the same communities where their initial awakening occurred. The reason for this persistence to live on in the life of the community is their genuine encounter with Christ. This was the conclusion made by Cardinal Ratzinger when he said: “Only when the person is struck and opened up by Christ in his inmost depth can the other also be inwardly touched, can there be reconciliation in the Holy Spirit, can true community grow” (Ratzinger, “Theological Locus of Ecclesial Movements,” The Crossroads).

It is for this reason that the local Church authority has to seriously consider the insertion of these communities into the organizational set-up of the parishes and diocese. However, to welcome these ecclesial movements and faith communities into the working organizational structure of the same demands from the diocesan bishop and the parish priest the exercise of a high quality of leadership. This implies above all the study of the Magisterium’s recent pronouncements on new lay movements and ecclesial communities.

John Paul II who has meticulously followed the evolution of the movements and the fruits of renewal has made through the years some insightful conclusions. These conclusions could serve as excellent guidelines to local pastors in their approach to these movements.

First, John Paul II concluded that ecclesial movements are important for the Church. As he observed these movements are deeply rooted in the Church; nay, the Church herself is a movement. As early as 1981 he already applied the term “movement” to the Church. He said: “as you know the Church herself is a “movement” (John Paul II, Homily, 27 September 1981). And as such she participates in the dynamism of the Blessed Trinity who even up to now works and acts in the day-to-day history of man. In a mysterious way she dispenses the mystery of the eternal Love of Father, of his fatherly heart, from which the mission of the Son and of the Holy Spirit begins (cf. ibid). As a movement therefore the Church not only initiates the redemptive works of God in humanity, but is ever opened to the initiative of the Holy Spirit who causes irruptions in the hearts and consciences of the baptized. Pope Benedict XVI in his address to the bishops in 1999 made a sweeping observation that the Church is not just programs and organizations. She is shaped by her spirituality born in her openness to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. He said: “It is important that the spiritual office, the priesthood, itself be understood and lived charismatically. The priest himself should be a ‘pneumatic,’ a homo spiritualis, a man awakened and driven by the Holy Spirit… It must not overinstitutionalize itself, but must always remain open to the Lord’s unforeseen, unplanned call” (Ratzinger,Theological Locus of Ecclesial Movements).

Second, John Paul II saw that charism is vital to the Church’s life. At the origin of these ecclesial movements and faith communities there has always been a charism granted to the founder. It is a grace, a gift freely granted by the Holy Spirit for the building up of the Church. It is therefore a boon to the community and not a bane; not a threat to the institution but a support to it. John Paul II in his 2 March1987 address clearly said: “In the Church, both the institutional and the charismatic aspects, both the hierarchy and associations and movements of the faithful, are co-essential and share in fostering life, renewal and sanctification, though in different ways.”

Third, the late Pope observed that communities are the fruits of charism. Charism builds communities. It is of its nature to reach out to people and lead them to unite together, eventually forming them into associations. Charism therefore takes its root in communities. John Paul II finely described this reality when he said: “In the Church’s history we have continually witnessed the phenomenon of more or less vast groups of the faithful, which, under the a mysterious impulse of the Spirit, have been spontaneously moved to join together in pursuit of certain charitable or sanctifying ends “ (ibid., Address 2 March 1987). .

Fourth, these movements lead the members to deeply appreciate the sacrament of baptism which they had received. No matter the diversity of forms, these ecclesial movements are marked by a common awareness of the newness and radicality of life which baptismal grace awakens in them. They deeply realize what it means to be a baptized person, that is, a person who is committed to the mystery of communion with Christ and with their brethren. In sum, these movements do not affect only partial aspect of Christian life, but are new ways of living the Christian message.

Lastly, the late John Paul II emphasized on the need of the movements for complete communion with the Church. This communion with the Church is for the pope the critical path which the movements have to trod. In Christifideles Laici he said: “This journey requires of movements an ever stronger communion with the Pastors God has chosen and consecrated to gather and sanctify his people in the light of faith, hope, and charity, because no charism dispenses the person from reference and submission to the Pastor of the Church” (n. 24).

Ecclesial movements and new faith communities are there for the taking. They are precious gifts of God to the particular Churches, ever ready to be tapped and availed of.


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