Living the Church’s Co-essentiality of Gifts

Correspondence: Pope John Paul II and Chiara Lubich

A rich exchange of correspondence occurred on the occasion of the 2001 Congress. Firstly, Pope John Paul II sent a message to Cardinal Stafford. The participants at the Meeting responded by letter to the Holy Father’s message. A week later a letter arrived from the Secretariat of State to Chiara Lubich signed by Bishop Leonardo Sandri expressing the Pope’s joy at the “warm reception” of his words.

To the Venerable Brother
Cardinal James Francis Stafford
President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity

I have heard that on the Focolare’s initiative, a theological-pastoral meeting will be held from June 26-28 on the theme: “New Ecclesial Movements for the New Evangelisation”. I would ask you, whose task it is to accompany and direct the journey of “ecclesial movements” in the Church’s communion and mission, to pass on my greetings to Ms. Chiara Lubich, to her collaborators, the speakers at the Meeting and all the priests, permanent deacons and seminarians and students of theology who are taking part in it.

In the Apostolic Letter, Novo millennio ineunte, I outlined the directions for the journey that the Church, guided by the abundant outpouring of grace that occurred during the recent Jubilee, is called to take at the dawn of the third millennium. The Church must “start out again from Christ” with her glance fixed on him and, in immersing herself in his mystery, commit herself to being for all a school of communion and concrete charity. Supported by the power of the Holy Spirit, despite human frailty, the Church can in this way bear witness to the love of God in all areas where human life and the building up of society are at stake.

This mission is for all the Christian community. The ecclesial movements are a “providential gift” for this journey as I myself recalled at that memorable meeting on May 30th 1998 in St. Peter’s Square. It was for this reason that in the Apostolic Letter referred to above, I underlined ‘the promotion of forms of association, whether of the more traditional kind or the newer ecclesial movements, which continue to give the Church a vitality that is God’s gift and a true “springtime of the Spirit”’ (n.46).

Many priests take part together with lay faithful in many ecclesial movements, attracted by the charismatic, pedagogic, communitarian and missionary impetus that accompanies the new ecclesial realities. This experience is very useful because “it is capable of enriching the individual priest’s life and animating the presbyterate with precious spiritual gifts.” It is clear in the Catholic Church that priests are above all called to live to the full the grace of the sacrament through which they are configured to Christ, the head and Shepherd, at the service of the whole Christian community in cordial and filial reference to their bishop and fraternally united in the diocesan presbyterate. They belong to the particular church and collaborate in her mission. But it is also true that “the charisms of the Spirit always create affinities, destined to be a support for every one in their objective task in the Church”. This is precisely why movements can be useful also for priests.

Their positive efficacy can be seen when priests find “light and warmth” in movements that helps them to mature in a fervent Christian life and, in particular, in an authentic “sensus Ecclesiae” that urges them to a stronger fidelity to their legitimate Pastors. It makes them attentive to ecclesiastical discipline so that they can carry out with missionary zeal the duties of their ministry. Ecclesial movements are “source of help and support in the formation journey towards priesthood”, in particular for those who come from specific aggregative realities while always having the respect due to the discipline established in the Church for seminaries.

It is important, therefore, to avoid (the situation) whereby the participation of a priest, deacon or seminarian in movements or ecclesial aggregations would end up in a presumptious or restricted closure. It must open their spirit to welcoming, respecting and esteeming other modalities of participation of the faithful in the Church, urging them to be more and more men of communion, “pastors of the whole.”

On these bases, being involved in ecclesial movements will become for priests a possibility of spiritual and pastoral enrichment. By participating in them, presbyters can better learn to live the Church in the co-essentiality of the sacramental, hierarchical and charismatic gifts that belong to the Church, in accordance with the variety of ministries, states of life and tasks that build up the Church.

“Touched” and “attracted” by a charism, sharing in a common story, being involved in the same group, priests and lay people share an interesting experience of con-fraternity among the “christifideles” building each other up mutually without ever confusing things.

It would be a grave loss if ever there were a “clericalisation” of the movements. Likewise, it would be damaging if the witness and ministry of priests would be in some way obfuscated and progressively assimilated to the lay state. Over and beyond the functions and “mansions” that he is called to carry out within a Movement, the priest, through his link with the hierarchical ministry, must place himself within the movement as a presence of Christ, head and shepherd, minister of the Word of God and the Sacraments, and educator in the faith. Indeed, the growth of the movements in the “ecclesial maturity” I mentioned at the Pentecost 98 meeting depends much on their contribution.

I therefore encourage this decastery to look after the journey of ecclesial movements carefully, to encourage an intense dialogue with them and accompany them with pastoral wisdom, ensuring that when necessary they receive opportune discernment, clarifications and directions.

I entrust the meeting to Mary, the Faithful Virgin and while gladly assuring all who will talk at the meeting a remembrance in prayer, I send a special apostolic blessing to all.

From the Vatican, June 21, 2001

Focolare Movement, Castel Gandolfo, 27 June 2001

Holy Father,

With great joy and a long applause the entire assembly welcomed the marvellous message you sent to His Eminence Cardinal Stafford on the occasion of the theological-pastoral meeting on “The Ecclesial Movements and the New Evangelisation” that is taking place here at the Mariapolis Centre in Castel Gandolfo.

From the depths of our heart we thank you for the deep reflections you have sent us – a true Magna Charta that will remain as a beacon of light for the life of Ecclesial Movements and especially for the participation of priests in these Movements.

Thanks, Holy Father, for the great encouragement we have received from these prophetic words. Thanks for the luminous guidelines with which you are directing our journey, opening avenues full of promise for the life of the Church!

We will journey now with even greater speed in order to work with you to unleash everywhere through a full reception of charisms the “springtime of the Spirit” that humanity is awaiting.

As you know, Holy Father, this meeting came about following the vibrant call you directed to the whole Church at Pentecost ’98.

In contact with Chiara Lubich, Andrea Riccardi, Salvatore Martinez, Fr. Marmann from Schönstatt and other responsibles of Movements who have spoken to us, we have seen the face of the Church-communion radiate again with a beauty that can be seen only when mutual love and unity are full. All of this has filled us with great joy and has set alight in us a new and great hope.

Renewed by our meeting with the living Christ, we have proposed to put into practice and spread everywhere the “spirituality of communion” you speak of in Novo millennio ineunte so that the communities entrusted to us will become for all a “school of communion.”

Once again, Holy Father, a heartfelt thanks, together with Chiara Lubich who felt very moved on receiving your personal greeting to her. With all our heartfelt affection, united in our prayer that accompanies you always.

In the Lord,

The 1300 priests, permanent deacons and seminarians gathered at the Mariapolis Centre in Castel Gandolfo.

Secretariat of State
First Section – General Affairs
Vatican, 5 July 2001

To: Ms. Chiara Lubich
President of the Focolare Movement
Via di Frascati, 306
00040 Rocca di Papa (RM)

Dear Madam,

The many priests, permanent deacons and seminarians gathered at the Mariapolis Centre in Castel Gandolfo for the theological-pastoral meeting on the theme “Ecclesial Movements for the New Evangelisation” sent expressions of thanks to the Holy Father for the message that was sent in his name to His Eminence, Cardinal James F. Stafford, President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

His Holiness is happy to hear about the warm reception and full assent to his words that principally concerned the relationship between priests and Ecclesial Movements. In wishing that this deeper and shared awareness concerning such an important aspect of the Church’s life may contribute to building up the Church as an authentic school of communion, the Holy Father renews his blessing to you and those united to you in this sincere gesture.

With every kind wish,
In the Lord,

Leonardo Sandri