ROME—Ecclesial movements can contribute a lot to the life of parishes and dioceses, but it takes understanding and work from both sides.

That is one of the messages that came out of a major seminar June 16–19 that attracted Church officials and representatives of six of the largest ecclesial movements.

“Being closed in within one's own group can cause one to become estranged from the context of parochial and diocesan life,” Bishop Stanislaw Rylko, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, told participants. “The risk is to consider the community a sort of refuge where one hides in order to elude the problems of family and social life.”

The seminar, “Church Movements and New Communities and the Pastoral Care of Bishops,” was held at the request of Pope John Paul II and promoted by the Council for the Laity, with the help of the Congregations for Bishops and for the Doctrine of the Faith. It was held at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, run by the Legionaries of Christ.

The seminar drew more than 100 bishops, cardinals and Vatican officials, as well as representatives of groups such as Emmanuel Community, Neocatechumenal Way, Focolare Movement, and Communion and Liberation.

Guzman Carriquiry, undersecretary of the Council for the Laity, called it an extraordinary event “because it is difficult to be able to gather more that 100 bishops when it is not a question of a synod.”

Bishop Rylko, at one of the seminar talks, said, “The movements are a gift from the Spirit to the whole Church. And a gift always implies work; it challenges the recipient to responsibility. …

“It is well known that in the Pope's pastoral plans, the ecclesial movements occupy a special place — ‘one of the gifts of our time, which from the beginning of my pontificate I have pointed out as a reason for hope for the Church and for men.’”

Bishop Rylko stressed how the birth and growth of the movements “was not free of question marks, uneasiness and tensions; perhaps there was some presumption and intemperance on one hand, and not a few prejudices and reservations on the other. It has been a testing time in fidelity, an important occasion to verify the authenticity of the charisms.”

Among the limitations, defined by some as “teething problems” in the movements, Bishop Rylko referred to “the absoluteness of the movement in terms of membership and a sense of superiority over existing associations, accompanied by the desire to impose their own group on others.”

Bishop Rylko noted too that movements can be hampered by bishops and priests “who are influenced by their lack of knowledge of the movements … or by pastoral prejudices and mistrust. Too often, in fact, isolated experiences are generalized to disqualify the whole.”

Other problems include rigid concepts of ecclesial communion which admit of no diversity within the Church, he said. “Each (move-ment's) charism needs some free space, because only in this way can it achieve at the desired results.”

The bishop added, “The phenomenon of the ecclesial movements, in fact, challenges everyone: pastors and movements. Each one must assume his own responsibility. … The priest, moreover, must be very aware that the movements and other lay associations are not ‘a decorative addition,’ but an integral part of parish life and a significant indicator of the religious vitality of our communities.

“Our experience reveals how the charisms of the movements have helped many priests to live fully the richness of their vocation.”

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said that bishops “have the grace to discern grace.” He stressed their job was “not to extinguish the Spirit” but to help the movements to “purify” their practices.

Cardinal Lucas Moreira Neves, prefect of the Congregation for the Bishops, said of the phenomenon of the ecclesial movements: “Their missionary dynamism, programs and projects, proposals, apostolic formation and spirituality — are all universal. This fact contains richness, but it is very often the reason for much perplexity: How will they behave in the particular churches? Won't they want to impose methods that are not adaptable to different local realities?

“More than a few bishops … have difficulty in accepting the movements. They have the impression that, not being born in the soil of their own particular Church, this movement cannot be an active part of it.”

He added that movements must adapt themselves to the particular needs of their locality. “Without these complementary requirements there will always be crises.”

Antonio Gaspari is based in Rome.