ROME — God is never outdone in generosity. On Nov. 26, Father Marcial Maciel experienced this truth once again as he incensed the main altar of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome to thank God on the 60th anniversary of his priestly ordination.
Joining Father Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement, were thousands of people from all over the world, cardinals, bishops and hundreds of priests who con-celebrated the thanksgiving Mass.
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City, six other cardinals, three Legionary bishops and 25 other bishops from the Vatican and various dioceses concelebrated at the Mass.
Pope John Paul II also joined the celebration. In a personal letter to Father Maciel, he wrote, “I am pleased to join spiritually in the joy and the thanksgiving that rise up to God, the source of all good, from you, Reverend Father, and from the hearts of all the members of this religious family on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of your priestly ordination on Nov. 26, 1944, in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.”
On behalf of the Holy Father, Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, substitute of the Secretariat of State for general affairs, read the Pope's letter at the end of the Eucharistic celebration.
Father Maciel's ordination was indissolubly linked to the founding of the Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement. “On that day,” John Paul II said in his message, “you reached the goal of the priestly formation you undertook at 16 years of age, with the heartfelt dream of stirring up priests totally dedicated to proclaiming the Gospel and to improving the moral and social standards of the poorest and most marginalized brothers and sisters. This project of love for Christ, fidelity to the Church and service to mankind began in Mexico City on Jan. 3, 1941, with the birth of the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ, whose constitutions I definitively approved in 1983.”
The religious community was established by then-20-year-old seminarian Marcial Maciel with 13 adolescents in the borrowed basement of a novelty store in Mexico City. Sixty-three years later, the congregation numbers nearly 2,500 seminarians and 650 priests serving the Church in 18 countries.
Father Maciel's priestly fidelity was never easy. For decades, he had to look for vocations, form his seminarians and priests, raise funds and guide the congregation and the Regnum Christi Movement in the midst of misunderstanding, slander, persecution, and physical and moral suffering. “The cross,” Father Maciel once wrote, “is the only prerogative, the only right of a priest.”
The cross, indeed, is the tree of bountiful fruits. “Your 60 years of priestly life, Reverend Father,” the Pope said in his letter, “have been marked by outstanding spiritual and missionary fruitfulness, with various institutions and apostolates, such as the Regnum Christi Movement, the network of Mano Amiga schools for the poor, numerous schools and charitable institutions with the purpose of promoting the values of the family and the human person, and university centers for study and formation. Particularly worthy of mention are the Legionary priests’ apostolates and the entire congregation's commitment to providing integral formation for future diocesan priests, especially in Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum and the two Mater Ecclesiae international seminaries in Rome and Sao Paulo.”
All these apostolates were created to serve the Church's needs. Throughout his life, Father Maciel has never tired of repeating that the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement exist from the Church, within the Church and for the Church.
The Holy Father also marked the anniversary by recognizing Regnum Christi as a work of God by granting definitive approval of the movement's statutes. Archbishop Franc Rodé read and signed the decree of approval at the end of the ordination Mass.
John Paul had more surprises for Father Maciel. On Nov. 26, he issued an apostolic letter motu proprio(on his own initiative), in which he entrusted the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center Pontifical Institute — an institution of the Holy See in the Holy Land for religious, cultural, social and educational purposes — to the direction of the Legionaries of Christ.
The Holy Father also sent several gifts to Father Maciel — an ornate chalice, vestments and an autographed papal blessing. On Nov. 30, the Holy Father granted a special audience at the Vatican's Paul VI Hall to the Legionaries of Christ, Regnum Christi members and friends who participated in the diamond jubilee celebration.
“In your presence, I would like to express my immense gratitude to our Lord,” said Father Maciel at the end of his jubilee Mass. “Gratitude to God for allowing me to fulfill and dedicate my priesthood to the service of the Church during these 60 years. He is the one who has sustained me at every moment throughout my long service. He is the one who has strengthened and comforted me. He is the one who has led me along his mysterious and providential paths.”
For more information about the jubilee celebrations, see www. legionariesofchrist.org or www. regnumchristi.org.
Legionary of Christ Father Alfonso Aguilar teaches philosophy at Regina Apostolorum Pontifical College in Rome.