New Movements in the Church

Different groups have been coming together in the past month to mark my tenth anniversary as Archbishop of Chicago. Each gathering has had a different spirit and each has brought its own joys. When we think of gathering the Catholics of Cook and Lake counties, what comes to mind are the priests, the religious men and women, the parishes, friends and benefactors. Another group, one that might not be so immediately before the mind of many Catholics, will be gathering on June 14: Lay Ecclesial Movements and New Communities.

The names of some of these groups may be familiar: the Legion of Mary, the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima, the Cursillo movement, the Charismatic movement. Others have names that are probably less recognizable: Schoenstatt, Communion and Liberation, Focolare, Couples for Christ. Whether familiar or not, these Movements and Communities, some begun in this country and some in Europe, are present throughout the entire Church. Pope Benedict XVI recently referred to them as "a gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church."

Many of the groups have their origins in the Second Vatican Council, although some precede the Council by a decade or two. All of them exist to help members become more actively involved in the practice of their faith in the Church. All of them witness to Christ in different ways in the world. They continue in a long historical line of special groups in the Church: Monastic Orders and Religious Communities, Sodalities, Third Orders, burial societies, Holy Name societies, and hundreds more over many centuries of the Church's existence.

These recent foundations are called Lay Movements because their members are largely, and sometimes exclusively, laity. They have canonical recognition through the Pontifical Council for the Laity. Although some members of some Lay Movements, such as Regnum Christi and Focolare, make private vows similar to the vows taken by men and women religious, most members of all the groups are women and men who go about their daily lives the same way as any other Catholic.

Then why become a member? Why join a Lay Ecclesial Movement? Because, while God calls everyone to holiness, there are paths to sanctity that fit some people and other paths that fit other people. Members of Lay Ecclesial Movements live their baptismal call to discipleship through a specific spiritual lens called a "charism" and have distinctive practices of life and ways of prayer proper to each Movement or Community. A member of the Charismatic Renewal, for example, might belong to a regular prayer group that makes the gift of the Holy Spirit's action immediately evident or might be part of a prayer service team that intercedes powerfully for the needs of others. A member of Regnum Christi might be a mother of a large family who also evangelizes by teaching baptismal preparation classes at her parish. The members of the Neo-Catechumenal Way embark on a long process of personal conversion in order to bring the graces that are ours through baptism to inactive Catholics and to the still unbaptized.

The Vigil of Pentecost each year is the occasion for the members of these more recently founded Movements and Communities to gather with the Pope in St. Peter's Square. Hundreds of thousands come from all over the world to pray with the successor of Peter. In the Archdiocese of Chicago, we are blessed to have a dozen of the Lay Movements and New Communities. Their names and relevant contact information can be found on the Archdiocesan website.

Since the Jubilee Year 2000, I have been gathering annually with the Lay Movements here, and I am looking forward to our gathering to celebrate my tenth anniversary. I always come from these meetings with a profound sense of gratitude for the spiritual riches available in the Church.

Pope Benedict, like Pope John Paul II before him, has remarked that a bishop can rely on the Lay Movements not only when he needs an organized group to help with the Church's mission but also when the bishop has personal needs, whether spiritual or corporal. I found this to be true last summer when I was operated on for bladder cancer. When members of all the Lay Ecclesial Movements were asked by the staff at our pastoral Center to help with a prayer vigil on the day of my surgery, they traveled to Holy Name Cathedral, some in the middle of the night, to pray for me and for the needs of the Archdiocese.

If you are looking to experience your faith more fully or want to become part of a small faith-formation community, look into the different Lay Ecclesial Movements in the Archdiocese. The Lord has a way to holiness for everyone. The Lay Movements are a special spiritual home for many. I thank God for them and their members in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Francis Cardinal George, OMI


Cardinal Francis George is the Archbishop of Chicago.

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  • Guest

    I have a question about the Cursillo Movement.  I belong to the St. Vincent dePaul Society in our parish.  Several members of SVDP have been invited to join Cursillo.  I finally asked someone why I never was invited.  I was told I was too old!  I'm 76 years old, not too old to be the treasurer for SVDP and Respect Life Committees.  What's with that?  Would the fact that my husband is not a Catholic be relevant?

  • Guest

    As a member of The Neocatechumenal Way I can say that it not only helps inactive Catholics, and the still unbaptized, it is also instrumental in helping culturally/active Catholics to become committed adult Catholics by rediscovering their baptisimal vows.  The Neocatechumenal Way is providing thousands of Catholics with a "way" that fundamentally leads to a solid adult faith capable of answering and withstanding the attacks of secularism.

    The movement mirrors what happened in the early Church when paganism and persecution threatened to stamp out Christianity. Through what was then called the catechumenate, new Christians were taught about Christianity and built up their knowledge of the faith to guard against pagan philosophers and to strenghten their morals so they could withstand persecution. 

    When Christianity triumphed over paganism, the need for the catechumenate ceased because the majority of Christians were born into Christian families where they were strenghtened in the faith.  At the treshold of the third millenium, confronted by widespread secularization, the attacks of the sects, the isolation of the individual in the large cities, the destruction of the family, etc., the Church needs an iitinerary of Catholic formation that will lead the parish to be "community of communities."

    JPII officially recognized the Neocatechumenal Way as "an itinerary of catholic formation, valid for our society and for our times" and he encouraged bishops and priests in the Church to "value and support this work for the new evangelization."

    "In a secularized, society like ours, where religious indifference is spreading and many live as though God did not exist, there are multitudes who need to rediscover the sacraments of Christian initiation, especially Baptism." said JPII in a September 2001 address to the priests and catechists of the Neocatechumenal Way.  "The Way is certainly one of the providential answers to this urgent need.

    It is my experience that the Neocatechumenal Way has been a gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church, because it is where I have come to learn what my Baptism means and what it calls me to. By reading scripture, salvation history, the gospels and being part of a community where one can share and participate and where you find Christ in the other, I have discovered my cross, I know that there is victory over death.   By embarking on this long and personal conversion I have found that I am called to be a witness of Christ, of his Cross and Resurrection and by grace, hope and charity to bring others this Good News.

    To Halliemae: You're never too old, or for that matter too poor, or too rich be part of the Neocatechumenal Way.  And my husband was not Catholic when he started in the Neocatechumenal Way, this past Easter we celebrated eight years of his conversion to the Catholic church.   We will be married 30 years this October and have been walking in the "Way" for 11 years. 

    May the peace of Christ be with you.