A Methodology for a New Evangelization

Silvano Cola and Brendan Leahy

For some time now, names such as Charismatic Renewal, Communion and Liberation, Cursillo, Faith and Light, Focolare, L’Arche, Neo-Catechumenal Way, St. Egidio and other names of large and small communities are becoming part of the Church’s vocabulary. The new and fresh spiritual impetus they are bringing to the Church has been noted, for instance, in recent synods of Bishops. Pope John Paul II has pointed out that as well as bringing this new impetus, these new communities and movements are opening up a new apostolic methodology.

What one notices in these new Movements is a synthesis of the “highest contemplation” while at the same time “being immersed in the crowds” just like Jesus who, while living in a deep intimate relationship with his Father, moved among the crowds and was open to every kind of neighbour he met in order to communicate the Good News to all.

In a short meditation written in the 1950s, Chiara Lubich had already pinpointed this methodology. She wrote:
“This is the great attraction
of modern times:
to penetrate to the highest contemplation
while mingling with everyone,
as one person next to others.
I would say even more:
to lose oneself in the crowd
in order to infuse it with the divine…
I would say even more:
made sharers in God’s plans
for humanity,
to embroider patterns of light on the crowd,
and at the same time to share
shame, hunger, troubles
and brief joys with our neighbour.”

Recently, a theologian has written on this phenomenon saying that if there is one particular feature emerging in the Church today (and today the Church is increasingly understood as “image of the Trinity”), it is that “the Church is at one and the same time becoming more mystical and more historical. In other words, it is becoming more ecstatic and contemplative and at the same time penetrating further into humanity and history. It is more deeply rooted, more interior …but because of this it is more extrovert and open to the human”.

This is the experience the Holy Spirit is bestowing upon those Movements that have come to life in recent years. As we know, the Second Vatican Council highlighted the new awareness coming to the fore among the people of God. A new emphasis was placed on the value of baptism as a right/duty of lay people to strive for holiness and share in the evangelising mission of the Church. It’s enough to read two texts from the Council’s documents to see this focus.

“The Messianic people…established by Christ as a communion of life, love and truth…is taken up by him also as the instrument for the salvation of all; as the light…and the salt…sent forth into the whole world” (Lumen Gentium, 9).

“The Holy Spirit…gives the faithful special gifts…so that each and all, putting the grace received at the service of others, may…build up the whole body in charity” (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 3).

All of this is the background upon which John Paul II has vigorously promoted the laity and encouraged the New Ecclesial Movements and Communities to express their charisms. In doing this, he has highlighted the co-essentiality of the Marian and Petrine profiles of the Church. This, in turn, is bringing about a renewal in our vision of the Church as true icon of the Trinity because it is built upon the Apostles and Prophets who are bound together in deep communion.

More and more it is becoming apparent that there’s a great need for a New Evangelisation involving the whole Church in mission.

But where does the Pope see the laity already working for this New Evangelisation? He sees it among the New Movements and Communities. He gave recognition, in a particular way, to communion among the new Movements and Ecclesial communities when he invited them to Rome for the Pentecost Vigil on May 30, 1998. Speaking to over 300,000 members of 60 Movements gathered in St. Peter’s Square, he affirmed:

‘You, present here, are the tangible proof of this “outpouring” of the Spirit. Each movement is different from the others, but they are all united in the same communion and for the same mission’.

He repeated what he had said in 1996 when he invited the Movements to give their contribution to evangelisation through common witness and by collaborating together. He added that “in communion with the Pastors and linked with diocesan programmes”, the Movements would bring “their spiritual, educational and missionary riches to the heart of the Church as a precious experience and proposal of Christian life”.

So, hand in hand with statements about the co-essentiality of the Petrine and Marian profiles of the Church, the Holy Father has energetically promoted a fuller and synergetic communion between the Church/Institution and Charims/Movements since the Church is founded on the foundation of Apostles and Prophets. When it comes to speaking about dialogue between the Movements we can certainly note a change of paradigm from a “before Pentecost ‘98” to an “after Pentecost ‘98”. Before ’98 what came into relief was the multiplicity and diversity of the charisms brought to life by the one Spirit of God. But now John Paul II himself highlights how all the charisms are established in unity by the same Holy Spirit and that their unity “precedes” all diversification. Unity in the Spirit of charisms and institution is not primarily a goal to be reached but rather their very foundational reality.

This communion can be described as a Trinitarian relationship. On May 30, 1998 the Pope defined St. Peter’s Square as the “great upper room of Pentecost”. The One Church professing that it is always “the same Spirit… always the same Lord…the same God who is at work in them all” (1 Cor 12:4-6) was present there. That explains why the Pope could add: ‘Today, from this square, Christ says to each of you: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). He is counting on every one of you, and so is the Church’.

The most recent significant example of a new collaboration among the Movements was the meeting “New Ecclesial Movements and the New Evangelization” in which 1300 priests, deacons and seminarians took part. The goal was to come into direct contact with what the Holy Spirit is doing today in the Church through the charisms that lie at the origins of the new Movements. It was an opportunity to see just what is the novelty for evangelisation being indicated by the Holy Spirit through these new communities?

Organised by the Priests Centre of the Focolare Movement, the meeting was a powerful experience for all who attended because it showed how the diversity of charisms and the Movements are responding to the spiritual yearnings found in today’s world.

There were many surprising elements to the meeting.

For a start, it was amazing to get to meet in the course of just two days various founders and leaders of some of these Movements such as Chiara Lubich from the Focolare, Andrea Riccardi from St. Egidio, Fr. Michael Marmann from the Schönstatt Movement, Salvatore Martinez from the Renewal in the Spirit, Jesús Carrascosa and don Gerolamo Castiglioni from Communion and Liberation, Stefano Gennarini from the Neo-Catechumenate Way, and Bishop Vincenzo Paglia from St. Egidio.

It was also a grace to meet and hear Cardinal Francis Stafford, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, and Cardinal Van Thuan, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, as well as some theologians and first companions of the founders. It was all a great joy. It was an ecclesial experience lived in wonderful atmosphere of full communion.

Another surprising element was coming into direct contact with various forms of evangelisation being carried out by the different charisms that manage to bring the light and life of the Gospel into situations where normal diocesan and parish pastoral activity can’t reach. And, of course, a major surprise was the Holy Father’s message sent to Cardinal Stafford and read by him to the assembly. It expressed pleasure at the meeting and was full of enlightening pointers.

At the end of the meeting we received much feedback, but by way of summary, perhaps it suffices to convey the impression of the German group:

‘It seems to us that this congress has been an historical moment in the Church. What the Holy Spirit is doing today through the Ecclesial Movements has electrified and transformed us. We could sense a unanimous joy vibrating throughout the whole Mariapolis Centre in Castelgandolfo because it was as if we were all discovering a new face of the Church. We come away with a new enthusiasm for the Church, a new hope for her future. When we saw the film about Fontem in Cameroon entitled “A Miracle in the Forest” many of us had tears in our eyes. A rector from a large German seminary commented: “I am really, really happy. What I saw and heard was so strong and beautiful that I felt I was dreaming”’.