Sunday, August 02, 2009

Pastor Faces Ecclesial Movements

Some months ago roving catechists of the Neo-Catechumenal Way were knocking at my door, requesting me that they be given that opportunity to serve the Church of Tagbilaran through its charism. May they be allowed to proclaim the Kerygma to the faithful, form communities, and thereby establish the presence of the Catechumenal communities here in Bohol?

I personally know the Neo-Catechumenal Way. Through the years of its existence it has realized more and more that it is a genuine charism within the Body of Christ. It therefore is not just a movement for itself or for its members. It has a purpose and a mission in the universal Church and the particular Churches. It is there to serve and to help build up the Body of Christ. Its reason for existing is to live for and in unity of the Church.

Founded in 1964 in Madrid, the Holy Father himself has been aware of its existence and its contribution to the building up of the particular Churches where they have inserted themselves. Its catechesis founded heavily on the tripod ‘Word of God-Liturgy-Community’ has through the forty (40) years of its existence formed people into communities and led its members to mature faith. John Paul II on many occasions and in different ways, observed closely and spoke highly of the fruits of the missionary drive and the evangelical radicalism of the Catechumenal Way, and expressly stated that it is “an itinerary of Catholic formation, valid for our society and for our times” (AAS 82, 1990). For his part, Benedit XVI, who have been following intently the evolution of the Way, made this remark to the members of the Catechumenal Way: “Your apostolic action intends to take place in the heart of the Church, in total harmony with her directives and in communion with the particular Churches in which you are going to work, making the most of the richness of the charisms that the Lord has awakened through the Initiators of the Way” (Teaching of Benedict XVI II, 1, 2006). Due to the orthodoxy of doctrine and the precious contributions that the Way has consistently manifested in the ecclesial work of the new evangelization, the Pontifical Council of the Laity officially approved the Statute of the Neo-Catechumenal Way on 11th May 2008.

Vis-a-vis this unselfish offer for the opening of the New Evangelization, the priests of the Diocese of Tagbilaran made a momentary pause. They needed time to reflect. Is the new movement not a threat to the organizational set-up decreed by the Diocesan Synod? Does it not do havoc to the parish organizations, programs and activities that have been assiduously put into place and for so many years have served well the community? Will it not create a parallel Church, a group of people, that is, that would follow more the dictates of the Way than the provision of the Diocesan Statute?. Or, in time of conflict, do leaders of the group insist more on following the catechumenal mode of doing things than abiding with the policies laid down by the universal Church? In the midst of the diocesan thrust for the building up of the Basic Ecclesial Communities and the clusters, for deepening the faith of members, and awakening them more and more to the realities of their given rights and obligations as people of God, does the Catechumenal Way help or obstruct it? What will be its role? Uneasiness, apprehension, fear... feelings all that, in a nutshell, are expressed in this query: shall we accept the offer or not?

As the Bishop of the Diocese, I came in to allay these feelings of unease. After all, when we come into it, there is actually no conflict between the institutional and the charismatic aspects of the Church. What is needed is the right attitude. On the one hand the bishop and the parish priests must have a deep paternal attitude towards such new movements. On the other hand, these charismatic movements must have that readiness for discernment.

To establish this right relationship, basic principles have to be invoked. The section of the Code that specifically treats on private associations (Canons 312-329) recognizes and guarantees the continued existence of these faith movements in the Church. They have a right to exist in accordance with their particular charisms. As such the whole Church, pastors and the rest of the faithful, should respect this right. On the other hand, these movements have “grave obligation to let themselves be known as they are in daily life. To offer a partial vision implies to falsify their identity and impede the ecclesiastical authorities from being able make a declaration according to the truth of the ecclesiaslity of the reality”(cf. Luis Navarro, ROME, NOV. 13, 2008 Zenit.org).

In his address to the German bishops in 2006, Benedict XVI said: “Approach with great love the movements and new communities . . . in order to gain an adequate understanding of their reality, without superficial impressions or reductionist judgments... The ecclesial movements and the new communities are not a problem or an extra risk, added to our already weighty responsibilities. No! They are a gift from the Lord, a precious resource to enrich with their charism as the entire Christian community . . . Difficulties or misunderstandings on particular issues do not bring the right of isolation” (AsiaNews.It, Vatican City, 05/17/2008 15:47).

He further stated: “What might be feared is a journey along parallel lines, each for himself, the bishops on one side, the movements on the other. This would mean an impoverishing of both.” Thus Benedict XVI exhorts the pastors to "a service of discernment" and to "correction" of the values of the movements, and at the same time to resist "the temptation of making uniform what the Holy Spirit wants to be multiform, to contribute to the building and growth of the one Body of Christ, which the Spirit himself makes firm in unity". (cf. Ibid.).

With that, I came out with the decision to welcome the offer of the Neo-Catechumenal Community to the Diocese of Tagbilaran, with the provision, however, that the catechists, before starting any activity towards evangelization, must first approach the parish priests and discuss the charisms with them. In any activity after all there is no substitute to a wholesome meeting of minds.