More than 100 bishops and cardinals have just completed a meeting June 16–19 in Rome on the growing phenomenon of new ecclesial movements and communities, which are groups of Catholics committed to a common spirituality and ministry.
In 1998, Pope John Paul II invited members of the new movements and communities to join him in St. Peter's Square to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. Hundreds of thousands of people from about 50 different groups responded to his invitation and the Holy Father praised them as a sign of a new springtime in the Church.
But all has not been smooth in the growth of these groups, such as Communion and Liberation, the Charismatic Renewal, Focolare, Regnum Christi and the Neocatechumenal Way. Many dioceses and parishes have struggled to see how such groups can fit into the life of the local Church.
Jay Dunlap of Register Radio News spoke with one of the participants in the Rome meeting, Archbishop Theodore McCarrick of Newark, N.J.
Dunlap: Do most bishops share your positive impression of the new movements?
Archbishop McCarrick: I think so. To a great extent what moves bishops as they look at the movements and the new ecclesial communities, such as the Neocatechumenal Way, is that they see an extraordinary growth of the presence of the Spirit in the people that they serve.
More than anything else, bishops are touched by the fact that there are people who are willing to give their lives in a very special way, as lay people, as husbands and wives, as mothers and fathers, as single people in the world. They are willing to give their lives in a special way to the work of the Lord.
Now these are people who are not full-time priests and religious. But they are brought into the wonderful opportunity of seeing God's presence and God's challenge in their lives to be really people who take ownership of the Church. I think that affects bishops and makes us all more ready to see the work of the Spirit in our time.
Did this bishops' seminar in Rome on the new movements and communities lead to some concrete proposals for working together, or was it more about building relationships?
It was more about building relationships. When I spoke at it, my major theme was to say to the bishops that we have to accompany the movements. We have to acccompany the ecclesial communities in order to make sure that they flourish and they prosper and to make sure that they are always in communion with the larger Church.
It is necessary for the bishop, as it is for the pastor in his own area, to accompany them. To walk with them. To know what's going on. To be a part of their lives. To be willing to accept the challenges that they face. To be willing to correct, to be willing to monitor, to be willing to guide, and to be willing to love them.
So many pastors at the parish level are concerned about added burdens, and in some ways fear the new movements and communities as another meeting they have to attend, another aspect of the parish that they have to keep a close eye on. How would you suggest pastors balance that concern with encouraging the new movements?
That is one of the greatest problems of our time. As we begin to feel the crisis in the numbers of vocations in each of our dioceses, so the pastors and the other priests generally feel an overwhelming burden of being moved from place to place or being wanted everywhere at the same time.
I would approach them by saying it's worth the sacrifice. It's worth the sacrifice of really trying to form these people who have been touched by the Spirit of the Lord and who have been given a desire to be more active in the Church and a desire to take ownership of the Church.
It's a blessing for the pastors to get involved with them because if they do get involved with them at the very beginning, they will find that they have multiplied their own hands. They've multiplied their own voices. They've multiplied their own ears to hear the needs of the people and to reach out to help them.
Though, no question about it … in the beginning it's going to be an added burden. Yet once these people are formed in the faith, once these people realize their potential and realize their opportunity to serve, I think the priests will find that they have unleashed a power in the Church which will help them and make their lives more effective and even more peaceful in the years ahead.
Do you encourage lay members of your flock to join the movements and communities?
The word “encourage” is an interesting one. I certainly am present to the movements and the ecclesial communities in our diocese, and I certainly try to give the impression to our people of their support by the bishop … that this is a good thing.
I have never gone out and made an advertisement, saying, “I think you should all join communities.” I think that's a very personal thing, and that is something that depends on the movements and the communities themselves.
My personal way of looking at it is to make sure that the movements that are in the diocese are really in touch with the Church, in line with the Church. And once I know that they are, to let the people know that I approve of them and am enthusiastic about them. And then the people can make up their own decisions about whether they will go in or not.
I just add that here in the Archdiocese of Newark we've had grave problems with one community, a charismatic covenanted community, years ago, that caused grave difficulties about unity and even theology in the Church. So we've always been careful to monitor whenever we would tell people that we are in favor of a movement or an ecclesial community. We have always been cautious about being the promoters of one specific manifestation of this new apostolate of the Church.