It’s one of the greatest untold stories in the Church.
The new movements are apostolic groups founded in the last several decades, in different places, with different aims. They aren’t religious orders. They aren’t parish groups. They are mostly lay-driven groups that participate in the sacramental and liturgical life of their parishes while also looking to leadership outside the parish and diocese for direction, formation, inspiration and outreach. By now, most have official statutes approved by Rome, but the Church is still learning how best to handle them on the ground.
The new movements have a variety of charisms. Focolare is concerned with interreligious dialogue. Communion and Liberation examines the Church’s interface with modernity. Regnum Christi is focused on finding new ways to serve the Church’s evangelizing mission.
Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, summed up the movements’ role in the Church when he said they offer “dynamism” and “formation” to lay people who then help invigorate their parishes.
Yet much of the Church seems to have little awareness of the new movements.
When Peter Steinfels wrote A People Adrift, whose title purported to describe the Church in our times, experts nodded in agreement — but Catholics in the movements shook their heads.
The Register tried to tell him how focused and energized the Church looks, from our perspective, in an article called “Not Adrift.” It traced how many activities there were, provided in large part by lay movements, even in places where parish life is stagnant. There are programs available for every stage of life — online, on video and in person everywhere from parishes to bars.
Movements offer exciting initiatives for every apostolic calling from evangelization to peace promotion.
But we’re not surprised Steinfels didn’t know about it.
Major Catholic bodies still haven’t understood the movements well enough to even measure them properly. According to a 2002 study done by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, there were an estimated 27,400 lay affiliates of Catholic religious orders — up more than 2,000 in just two years. But the description “lay affiliates of Catholic religious orders” is a phrase that captures third order Catholics, but not many of the movements.
A three-year research project by a team led by sociologist James Davidson of Purdue University tracked trends of belief and fidelity among Catholics in the 1990s. The research and the resulting book, The Search for Common Ground: What Unites and Divides Catholic Americans, was widely regarded as a thorough examination of lay attitudes — and the growing age gap.
His book showed a breakdown in orthodoxy among young Catholics in parishes. But it didn’t account for the remarkable growth of orthodox groups that didn’t originate in parishes.
It didn’t foresee the groups that surprised many in the Church in the Pentecost meeting of 1998, when the movements rallied around Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square.
“It was stunning,” reported Catholic journalist Sheila Gribben Liaugminas, a Time magazine alum. “My family just happened to be there at this event, on our own, by the sheer hand of providence. Never in my 20-some year career as a journalist have I witnessed anything like this. It felt like the rebirth of the Church. All day, all over Rome, from all directions, the multitudes just swarmed toward St. Peter’s Square in great masses, usually singing and waving flags.”
The Pentecost meeting of 2006 saw more members of movements rallying around a new Pope — and with the same energizing effect.
The movements received council-level acceptance at the Second Vatican Council, which established a curial office for the laity to track the movements. But decades later, at the 1988 Synod on the Laity, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk of Prague said that still, “The movements are regarded with fear, uncertainty and a degree of rejection.”
A Register series of articles has been highlighting parishes which have integrated the movements into their daily life — which is precisely what Pope Benedict wants.
The Holy Father told the gathering at the 2006 meeting that he hoped bishops “will be careful not to extinguish the Spirit” manifested in new movements and that ecclesial movements “will not fail to take your gifts to the whole community.”
Catholics would do well to heed his advice: Don’t ignore the movements. And the movements need to heed his words as well: Don’t neglect your local Church.