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Ecclesial Movements and New Communities in the Catholic Church

by Birgit Oberhofer | March 26, 2009

Ecclesial Movements and New Communities in the Catholic Church

"The movements and new communities, providential expressions of the new springtime brought forth by the Spirit with the Second Vatican Council, announce the power of God's love which in overcoming divisions and barriers of every kind, renews the face of the earth to build the civilization of love". This is how John Paul II, in the homily of the Mass for Pentecost, Sunday May 31st 2000, blessed the representatives of the more than 50 ecclesial Movements who had gathered in Rome for their first World Congress. Afterwards, on the eve of Pentecost, they participated at a prayer Vigil with the Pope which was attended by at least 280,000 people.

Ecclesial Movements are based on a multifaceted variety of charisms, educational methods and apostolic forms and goals. The members of the movements belong to all kinds of vocations including families, consecrated members, religious, priests and a large number of young people. They are considered as “a concrete ecclesial reality with predominantly lay membership, a faith journey and Christian witness which bases its own pedagogical method on a precise charism given to the person of the founder in specific circumstances and ways.”
(Message of John Paul II for the World Congress of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities, May 27th 1998)

What unites the various people who participate in a particular movement is its spirituality and apostolic mission and outreach (e.g. evangelization, faith education, charitable work, social justice advocacy, ecumenism etc.)

I want to give you only a few examples out of a huge variety of movements active worldwide and in the US.
(A complete directory of International Associations of the Faithful can be found online: http://www.usccb.org/laity/publaygroups.shtml)

  • Catholic Worker Movement Founded in the USA in 1933 by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, this movement works for peace and the equal distribution of goods. There are 185 local communities providing social services. Mission: Hospitality towards those on the margin of society. http://www.catholicworker.org/
     
  • Community of St. Egidio Founded in Italy in 1968 by Professor Andrea Riccardi, the Community numbers 17,000 members worldwide committed to working for peace and ecumenical dialogue. Mission: Putting the Gospel into practice in daily life through prayer, service to the poor and friendship. http://www.santegidio.org
     
  • Communion and Liberation (CL) Founded in Italy in 1954 by Monsignor Luigi Giussani, CL has 150,000 members in 70 countries. Mission: The education to Christian maturity of its adherents, and collaboration in the mission of the Church in all spheres of life.
    http://www.clonline.org/
     
  • Focolare Movement Founded in Italy in 1943 by Chiara Lubich, it numbers over 5 million in 182 countries. Mission: Fostering unity and universal brotherhood in all aspects of life through its Gospel-based spirituality.
    www.focolare.org
     
  • L’Arche Founded in France in 1964 by Canadian Jean Vanier, L’Arche has 120 communities in 30 countries. Mission: Creating homes and programs for people with developmental disabilities based on Jesus’ Beatitudes.
    http://www.larche.ca/
     
  • Neocatechumenal Way Founded in Spain in 1964 by Kiko Arguello, it numbers 41,000 communities in 105 countries and produced a flourishing of both priestly and women religious vocations. Mission: Helping parishes with a program of adult Christian formation.
    http://www.camminoneocatecumenale.it/en/index.asp
  • Schoenstatt Movement Founded by Father Joseph Kentenich (1885 - 1968) in 1914. Schoenstatt, in the town of Vallendar near Koblenz, Germany, is the place of origin and the world center of the International Schoenstatt Movement. Every day pilgrims from all over the world travel to the Original Shrine, the center of Schoenstatt, both as a Marian place of pilgrimage and as an International Ecclesial Movement with twenty independent communities.
    http://www.schoenstatt.org/en/


My experience with the Focolare Movement:

History of the Movement

The Focolare Movement, (known also under its official name: Work of Mary) began in 1943, in Trent, Northern Italy, during World War II.
Amidst all the bombings and destruction, a group of young women, with 23 year old Chiara Lubich, made the great discovery that God is Love, an experience that radically changed their lives. They lived as persons whose actions and thoughts were based on the Gospel.

The last words and Testament of Jesus (“May they all be one, as you, Father and I are one, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21)) particularly struck their attention and became the program of their lives. Chiara and her friends understood that Jesus had died on the cross to bring this unity. The spirituality that developed was to be a collective spirituality, a way to go to God together.

The movement is made up of persons of all ages, races, vocations, and now it is spread in about 180 nations. It is articulated in various branches and structures.
Focolare means “fireplace” in Italian. This name was given to the first group of consecrated members, living together in the Focolare House by the people around them. The Focolare was a place where they could find warmth and light and felt at home.

The “focolare” is the first nucleus of unity from which the Movement developed. It is a small, modern community modeled after the family of Nazareth, composed of lay people, single men and women (in separate communities), as well as married people who live in their own families, yet are totally given to God according to their state of life. The first focolare started in 1944 in Trent, Italy, with Chiara Lubich and her first companions. In 1948, also the first men’s focolare house was opened. Today there are around 780 of these communities present in 87 countries.

The members have as their primary commitment that of living the commandment of reciprocal love totally, so as to keep alive always the presence of Jesus, which he promised to those who are united in his name (Mt 18:20).

A tree with many branches

From the very beginning, young people, families, older persons and children, laborers and professionals, politicians and academics, men and women religious from different orders and congregations and lay consecrated members of Secular Institutes, diocesan priests, and also Bishops have felt the call to live the spirituality of unity in a total way.

In this way 23 different branches of the Movement took shape; these branches, in turn, spawned mass movements as instruments for the renewal of society and the Church, and in this way, contribute to the fulfillment of Jesus priestly prayer: “Father, may they all be one.” (Jn 17:21) The young adult members for example call themselves ‘Gen’ (for New Generation) and animate the Movement “Youth for a United World”. (http://www.mondounito.net)

Some aspects of my life in the Focolare

Community Life
I live in a community with four other women from the U.S., Brazil and the Philippines in Hyde Park, Chicago. As in a family we share all aspects of our lives. We work in different professions, not necessarily in ministry for the Church as to bring God’s presence in all fields of our society. We share material and spiritual goods, also with the three married focolarine who are part of our community even if they live with their families. We have moments of prayer, of communion, recreation, apostolic activities, retreats, sports…

Vows
As consecrated members of the movement we take private vows of poverty, obedience and chastity. The vows help us to live better for unity: being detached from material possessions helps us to love better; being detached from ourselves makes us free to do the will of God, who leads to unity; being detached from human beings makes us have an open heart to love Jesus in everyone.

Different levels of membership
We live very closely with the members of the movement who have different vocations. We stay in close contact and share life as much as possible. We meet regularly and have common outreach activities (here in the U.S. we work especially in interfaith dialogues and programs for the youth). Worldwide members of the Movement advance schools of formation, social projects, ecumenism, cultural and political programs, etc.

What attracts me most is the communitarian aspect of our life: We know we are going to God together. Trying as much as possible to live among us Jesus’ new commandment, we can help each other on our spiritual journey. More than once I could experience that Jesus’ words, “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in their midst” (Mt 18:20), are true. And His presence among us leads to joy, inner peace and freedom. I don’t say that everything is easy, but with the support of Jesus among us I can start over every day and I know that He will never leave us alone.

Birgit Oberhofer

Author information Birgit Oberhofer

Birgit Oberhofer is originally from Munich, Germany where she graduated from Ludwigs-Maximilians-Universität with a Master of Arts in Education Science, Psychology and Theology in 1999. After two years of formation in Italy she became a consecrated member of the Focolare Movement, a lay ecclesial movement, living in one of their houses in Cologne, Germany. There she worked as a program developer and grant writer for one of the biggest charity organizations in Germany, running programs in the field of Adult Formation and Social Work. In December 2007 she moved to Chicago and became the Assistant Director of Catholics on Call in July 2008.

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