New Evangelisation and the Movements

Transforming Sydney luncheon, Parliament House

Most Rev. Julian Porteous, Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney
15 Nov 2011

Pope Benedict as a young Fr Ratzinger was a theological lecturer at Regensburg University during the student revolts of 1968. He was quite personally disturbed as his theological students began to publically challenge him in class. There was a rejection of authority and a challenge to traditional Catholic teaching. In this experience of hostility the young theological lecturer met some students who were firm in their faith and positive about the contribution of the Church to society. These young students were members of some new movements which were emerging in the church at this time.

Cardinal Ratzinger, addressing the World Congress of Ecclesial Movements in May 1998, spoke of his own early exposure to the existence of the movements in the Church. He said, "For me personally it was a wonderful experience when, in the early 1970s I first came into closer contact with movements such as the Neocatechumenal Way, Communion and Liberation and the Focolare Movement, and so experienced the energy and enthusiasm with which they lived their faith and the joy of their faith which impelled them to share with others the gift they had received"

This experience has led Josef Ratzinger to have a personal awareness of this particular phenomenon in the Church. He is very conscious of the emergence of new movements in the Church at this time. He is also aware of the contribution that these movements are making not only to the lives of those who participate in them, but also to the mission of the Church.

When one examines the history of the Church, we can note that at various moments significant new spiritual movements emerged at the time when the Church was struggling to respond to new challenges.

It is important to remember from the outset that the Church is not just a human institution. It is of divine origin and its very beginning was the result of the action of divine grace. It was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that "kick-started" the Church. The Acts of the Apostles reveals that the immediate effect from the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles was that Peter went and addressed the crowds outside and gave the first Christian sermon. St Luke tells us that 3,000 people were converted and baptised. So the Church began.

The story of Pentecost has been repeated in many diverse ways over the centuries. It would seem that when the Church was in its greatest need, that powerful and unexpected movements of the Holy Spirit led to the significant spiritual revitalisation of the Church. 

Three examples stand out:

1.   In the third and fourth centuries - when the period of persecution of the Church was about to conclude - tens of thousands of Christians experienced a call to retire to the desert and become monks and nuns. A most curious development. But it would reveal that this movement preserved and strengthened the inner spiritual vitality of the Church as it became more socially accepted.

2.   A second and well known example is that the St Francis of Assisi. At a time when the Church had become quite worldly and distant from the people, this young man experienced a call to radical poverty and radical Christian living according to Gospel teaching. He inspired a movement of men and women (St Clare) who lived and preached an evangelical way of life. They attracted thousands to join them.

3.   The third example is the extraordinary proliferation of saints in the sixteenth century would steered the Church through a counter Reformation. One thinks of St Ignatius of Loyola, St Teresa of Avia, the English martyrs, St Phillip Neri and many others. It was a powerful resurgence of Catholicism with a deep spiritual dimension.

There are many other examples that could be considered.

We know that the Church - and not just the Catholic Church but all Christians - are facing great challenges at the present time. There are very strong forces opposing the Christian presence in society. The Church struggles to effectively respond to these new forces. At this time of need we are witnessing the emergence of what are commonly called "the new movements".

What are they? They are not easy at one level to define.  They take many different forms but we can highlight some characteristics.

·         Most emerged in the period since the Second Vatican Council, others in the earlier part of the twentieth century (some earlier movements were Opus Dei, Schoenstatt, Focolare). To a certain extent the Council laid the foundations for them to flourish.

·         Many were begun by lay people and later attracted priests and consecrated people (here we can mention Emmanuel Community France, many of the Covenant communities like Disciples of Jesus in Australia).

·         These movements are "from below" and not officially instigated "from above". Though the movements seek recognition from the Church. The Vatican has formally recognised the statutes of 122 ecclesial movements.

·         Most remained principally lay in character, though a few became either monastic or religious (some examples of movements that moved to consecrated life include St John Community, Community of Jerusalem, Tibeirade)

·         The movements are marked by

o   An initial conversion experience of some kind

o   A strong focus on the living of the Christian life - prayer, Scripture, liturgy.

o   Apostolic activity, principally evangelisation.

o   Loyalty to the Holy Father.

·         They often embrace all forms of vocation within the Church - lay, married, single, priests and consecrated. They have come to be called "ecclesial movements" because they are not really lay, or clerical or religious.

One of the defining features of the movements is a radical commitment to evangelisation. They have been innovative and energetic in responding to the call of Blessed Pope John Paul II to engage in a "New Evangelisation"

Some examples:

·         The Neo Catechumenal Way sends out missionary families to all parts of the earth.

·         Emmanuel Community initiated a series of "City Missions" in the major urban centres in Europe

·         Cancao Nova in Brazil has television and radio facilities that reach tens of millions.

·         KTM in Indonesia is engaging in formation of priests from China to send back to China.

·         The Emmanuel Community in Brisbane sponsors NET which sends out young missionaries across Australia

·         The Disciples of Jesus Community has been holding Summer Schools for 27 years which have profoundly strengthened the faith of thousands of young people.

·         Many movements have expanded across the globe and provide support for smaller Catholic communities in Muslim countries.

·         And there are many other examples.

Pope Benedict, following the approach of Pope John Paul II, has been very supportive of the movements. One of his first acts after becoming pope was to plan a meeting with communities in April 2006. He has often spoken of the importance of these new movements describing them as "charisms which the Spirit arouses" amongst the laity. He says that they are "for the edification of the Church".  He says that they are "gifts to be grateful for".

Pope Benedict has said, "It is no longer possible to think of the life of the Church of our time without including these gifts of God within it." 

These new phenomena in the Church are a sign of the continuing presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church - working in new and unexpected ways. They are a sign that the Church is able to be ever old and ever new. They are a sign that the Church has the capacity to meet new challenges as they occur.