Movements and New Communities
The Response of the Holy Spirit to Today's Challenge of
By Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko
President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity
1. The greatest challenge facing the Church at the beginning of
the new millennium is the task which has always been entrusted
to her: evangelization. The Church is called in every epoch, and
therefore in our own, to embrace anew the missionary mandate of
the Risen Christ: "Go therefore and make disciples of all
nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything
that I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:19-20).
For Matthew, making "disciples" and making "Christians" are one
in the same. "Making disciples" is at the very heart of
Church's ongoing vocation and mission. The Church, founded by
Christ, is sent to evangelize the world; it lives in a permanent
state of mission and finds its very reason for being in that
The evangelization of today's world -- the new evangelization
and of such great interest to and so often spoken about by the
Servant of God John Paul II -- is a task in which the Church
places great hope; yet the Church is fully aware of the
innumerable obstacles she faces in this work due to the
extraordinary changes happening at a personal and social level
and, above all, to a postmodern culture in serious crisis.
The expanding process of secularization and an authentic
"dictatorship of relativism" (Benedict XVI) have produced a
tremendous absence of values in many of our contemporaries,
which is accompanied by a joyful nihilism that ends in an
alarming erosion of faith, a type of "silent apostasy" (John
Paul II) and a "strange forgetfulness of God" (Benedict XVI).
This situation, so sadly prevalent in countries of ancient
Christian tradition, is contrasted with a type of "religious
boom" characterized by ambivalence and ambiguity. The Holy
Father mentioned this phenomenon in Cologne last August, saying:
"I do not wish to discredit everything that fits this
description (…). But often religion is turned into a consumer
product. One picks and chooses what he wants, and some even know
how to draw profit from it."
Consider the invasion of religious sects, the spread of New Age
attitudes and lifestyles, and pseudo-religious phenomena such as
magic and the occult. In truth, the globalized world has become
a gigantic mission territory. As the Psalmist says so
dramatically: "The Lord looks down on the sons of men if any are
wise, if any seek God" (Psalm 14:2). It is more urgent than ever
today to preach Christ in the great modern areopagus of culture,
science, economy, politics and the mass media. The evangelical
harvest is great and the laborers are few (cf. Matthew 9:37).
This vital field of action for the Church requires a radical
change of mentality, an authentic new awakening of conscience in
everyone. New methods are needed, as are new expressions and new
As the Servant of God John Paul II exhorted the Church at the
beginning of the third millennium: "I have often repeated the
call for a new evangelization during these years. I repeat it
again in order to emphasize that we must renew that original
impulse and allow ourselves to be filled with the zeal of the
apostolic preaching after Pentecost. We must awaken in ourselves
those sentiments of St. Paul who exclaimed: "Woe to me if I do
not proclaim the Gospel!" (1 Corinthians 9:16).
And in his words to the German bishops in Cologne, Pope Benedict
XVI manifested a profound apostolic desire: "We must reflect
seriously on how we might carry out a true evangelization today,
not just a new evangelization, but often a true first
evangelization. People don't know God, they don't know Christ. A
new paganism is present, and it is not enough just to maintain
the community of believers, although this is very important. (…)
I believe that together we must find new ways of bringing the
Gospel to today's world by preaching Christ anew and by
establishing the faith." The words of these two Popes will
serve to guide our reflection on the connection between the
evangelization of today's world and the ecclesial movements and
2. Among the many fruits produced for Church life by the Second
Vatican Council, the "new associative moment" of the lay
faithful undoubtedly holds a special place. Thanks to the
ecclesiology and the theology of the laity developed by the
Council, many groups referred to today as "ecclesial movements"
or "new communities" have appeared alongside the traditional
Once again the Spirit has intervened in the history of the
Church, raising up new charisms that possess an extraordinary
missionary dynamism which responds in an opportune way to the
challenges of our time, great and dramatic as they are. The
Servant of God John Paul II, who followed these new ecclesial
realities with particular attention and pastoral care, affirmed:
"One of the Spirit's gifts to our time is truly the flourishing
of the ecclesial movements which, from the beginning of my
pontificate, I have seen and continue to see as a reason for
hope for the Church and for society." The Pope was deeply
convinced that these ecclesial movements were a manifestation of
a "new missionary advent," of a great "Christian springtime"
prepared by God at the threshold of the third millennium of the
Redemption. Truly this was one of the great prophetic moments
of his pontificate.
The ecclesial movements and new communities contain a precious
evangelizing potential urgently needed by the Church today. Yet
their richness has not yet been fully recognized or valued. John
Paul II said: "Often in today's world, which is dominated by a
secular culture that proposes models of life without God, the
faith of many is greatly tested and often suffocated and put
out. Therefore there is an urgent need for a strong testimony
and a Christian formation that is solid and deep. What a great
need there is today for mature Christian personalities who are
aware of their baptismal identity, of their call and mission in
the Church and in the world! What great there is of living
Christian communities! This is where the ecclesial movements and
new communities appear: they are the answer which has been
raised up by the Holy Spirit to this dramatic challenge at the
end of the millennium. You are this providential answer!"
Here the Pope notes the two fundamental priorities of
evangelization, of "making disciples" of Jesus Christ today: a
"solid and deep formation" and a "strong testimony." These are
two areas in which the new ecclesial movements and new
communities are producing stupendous fruits for the life of the
Church. These groups have become true "laboratories of faith"
and authentic schools of Christian life, holiness, and mission
for thousands of Christians in every part of the world.
3. The first and greatest priority is, therefore, Christian
formation. Here we touch on a central point, since today the
very foundations of the educational process of the person are
being weakened. As Cardinal Ratzinger pointed out, "a
dictatorship of relativism is being created that sees nothing as
definitive, and whose only limit is the personal "I" and its
whims." The dominant culture of our time tends to produce
fragmented, weak, and inconsistent personalities.
As one commentator warns: "the very ability of an entire
generation of adults to educate its children is presently in
crisis. For years there has been preached from the 'new pulpits'
-- the schools, universities, magazines and television -- that
freedom is the absence of history and foundation; that one can
become great without belonging to anything or to anyone, but
simply by following personal choice or whim. Today it is the
norm to think that everything is essentially the same, that in
the final analysis nothing has value except money, power and
social position. People live as if the truth didn't exist, as if
the desire for happiness which is at the heart of human
experience is destined to remain unanswered."
Christians are not exempt from the influence of today's culture.
It produces individuals whose Christian identity is weak and
confused; faith is little more than a routine practice often
influenced by a dangerous syncretism of superstition, magic and
New Age. Membership in the Church, often superficial and
distracted, fails to impact their choices and behavior in any
significant way. Today we are witnesses to a worrisome lack of
educational environments not only outside the Church, but even
within the Church. The Christian family is no longer capable on
its own of passing on the faith to the next generation, and
neither is the parish, even though it continues to be the
indispensable structure for the Church's pastoral mission in any
Parish boundaries, especially in large urban centers, are
frequently too extensive -- and where the parish is little more
than a bedroom community -- for meaningful personal
relationships that could serve as a place for true Christian
initiation. What are we to do? Precisely in these cases the
ecclesial movements appear as places for a Christian formation
that is both solid and deep. The movements and new communities
are characterized by a wide variety of methods and educational
approaches of extraordinary effectiveness. And what is the
motivation behind their pedagogical strength? The "secret," so
to speak, is found in the charisms which have produced them and
which constitute their very soul. It is the charism which
produces the "spiritual affinity between individuals"
animating a community and a movement.
And thanks to this charism, the fascinating original experience
of the Christian reality, of which each founder is a witness,
can be relived and reproduced in the lives of many people and of
many generations of people without losing its novelty and
freshness. The charism is also the source of the extraordinary
educating power of the movements and new communities. Here I
refer to a formation whose departure point is a deep conversion
of heart. It is no accident that these new ecclesial realities
include many converts, people who "come from afar."
At the beginning of this conversion process there is always a
personal encounter with Christ which radically transforms life;
an encounter made possible by credible witnesses who relive in
the movement that unique experience of the first disciples:
"Come and see" (John 1:46). There is always a "before" and
"after" in the lives of those who belong to ecclesial movements
and communities. For some, the conversion of heart is often a
gradual process which takes time. For others, the conversion is
an unexpected and all-encompassing "lighting bolt" experience.
But in both cases the conversion is lived as a free gift of God,
a gift that fills the heart with joy and becomes a spiritual
benefit for the whole of one's life. How many members of
movements and new communities can repeat the words of the
convert André Frossard: "God exists, and I have experienced
Formation is the privileged environment in which the various
movements and communities express their charisms. Each group
bases its formative process [of the person] on a distinct,
specific pedagogical approach which is typically
Christ-centered. It focuses on what is truly essential, which is
the awakening in the person of that baptismal vocation or
identity that characterizes true Christian discipleship. It is
radical in the sense that it refuses to dilute the Gospel by
proposing holiness as an ideal worthy to be pursued. It develops
within small Christian communities which serve as an
indispensable reference point and support, in great contrast to
today's "atomized" society where loneliness and depersonalized
relationships are the norm; and it is integral in the sense that
all the dimensions of life are embraced and challenged,
producing in the member a complete sense of belonging.
Yet this sense of "belonging" is distinct from membership in
other religious groups or circles. The member of a movement or
new community typically manifests a strong sense of belonging
to, and love for, the Church. Therefore, there is no danger in
affirming that these new movements and communities are true
schools for the formation of Christian "adults." As Cardinal
Joseph Ratzinger wrote some years ago, they are "forceful ways
of living the faith that stimulates individuals, giving them joy
an vitality; their faith really means something for the
Our picture would not be complete without some mention of the
role these groups can play in the context of the Church in Latin
America, where popular piety is deeply rooted and diffused. The
ecclesial movements and new communities offer pedagogies of
evangelization capable of shaping this religiosity: The
important aspects of popular piety can be assimilated and
deepened, and their value in the life of the people can be
4. The movements and new communities respond to a second urgent
need of great importance, which is the need for "strong
testimony." All Christian formation ought to have a missionary
element because the Christian vocation is, by its nature, a call
to apostolate. Missionary outreach helps baptized persons
discover the fullness of their own vocation; it helps them
overcome the temptation of egoistic selfishness and the subtle
danger of seeing the movement or community as a refuge or a way
to flee the problems of the world in an environment of warm
Notable among the characteristics of missionary commitment found
in ecclesial movements and new communities is the indisputable
ability to awaken the apostolic enthusiasm and missionary
courage of the laity. They know how to draw out the spiritual
potential of the laity by helping them smash the barriers of
timidity, fear, and false complexes of inferiority which today's
secular culture creates in the hearts of so many Christians.
Many of their members have experienced a deep inner
transformation, at times to their own surprise; in fact, many
never would have imagined themselves preaching the Gospel in
this way or participating so actively in the Church's mission.
Movements know how to awaken a desire to "make disciples" of
Jesus Christ, a desire that often moves individuals, married
couples, and even entire families to leave everything in order
to embrace the mission. The movements and new communities
propose not only personal example, but also the direct
announcement of the Christian message, thereby rediscovering the
value of the kerigma as a method of evangelization and
catechesis. In this way the movements and new communities are
responding to one of the most urgent needs of the Church today,
which is the catechesis of adults, understood her as an
authentic Christian initiation manifesting the value and beauty
of the sacrament of baptism.
One of the greatest obstacles to the work of evangelization has
always been routine or habit, which eliminates the freshness and
persuasive power of Christian missionary outreach and witness.
The movements break with the habitual way of doing apostolate;
they re-examining the methods, approach, and propose new forms.
They direct their efforts courageously and naturally at today's
modern areopagus which is present in culture, in the mass media,
politics and the economy. They give special attention to those
who suffer, to the poor and marginalized. How many social works
have been born of their initiative!
They do not wait for those no longer practicing the faith to
return to the Church on their own: They seek them out. They do
not hesitate to reach out by taking to the streets and city
squares, by entering supermarkets, banks, schools and
universities and wherever people can be found. Their missionary
zeal carries them "to the ends of the earth." And they grow --
showing that the charisms from which they spring are capable of
feeding the Christian life of men and women of all places,
cultures and traditions.
And not just this. Present as they are within the fabric of the
local Churches, they are transformed into eloquent signs of the
universality of the Church and its mission. Their special
relationship with the ministry of Peter's Successor finds its
origin here. Indeed, it is truly surprising to witness the
missionary vision which the Holy Spirit has raised up today by
means of these new charisms. The movements and new communities
have become true missionary "schools" for so many lay people. In
today's Church there is much talk of evangelization: congresses,
symposia, seminars on the topic are organized; book and articles
on the topic are published, and official documents promulgated.
While we do well to discuss evangelization in this way, since it
is so vital to the Church and to the world, there exists a very
real danger of remaining at the level of pure theory, of making
plans that remain, so to speak, inert on paper. But these new
charisms generate groups of people -- men and women, youth and
adults -- who are solid in their, full of zeal, and ready to
preach the Gospel. Here we are not talking about theoretical
concepts, but rather "living" projects experienced in the
concrete, personal lives of individuals and in the life of so
many Christian communities. These are projects ready to happen.
… This is the great richness of the Church in our day.
How we marvel at the quantity and quality of the fruits produced
in the Church by the new charisms! The Gospel principle "you
shall know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:16) remains true
today. Thanks to these charisms, many people have met Christ for
the first time and believed in him or have returned to the
Church and the sacraments after years of being away. So many
people have gone from being Christians in name only to believers
who are convinced and committed. How many fruits of authentic
holiness of life! How many families that have been reconstituted
in mutual love and fidelity! How many vocations to the
priesthood, consecrated life, and new expressions of lay life
according to the evangelical counsels! These new charisms
proclaim this fundamental message to today's world: Christianity
is truly worthwhile; following the call of Christ is worthwhile.
Try, and see for your yourself!
5. As we have seen, the ecclesial movements and new communities
are a truly "providential gift" of God to the Church, a gift
that should be received with a living sense of gratitude and
responsibility so that the opportunity they represent is not
squandered. This gift is both a task and a challenge for the lay
faithful and the Church's Pastors. What task and what challenge?
John Paul II never tired of insisting that the ecclesial
movements and new communities are called to take their place
"humbly" in dioceses and parishes, serving the Church with an
attitude wholly devoid of pride or superiority with regard to
other realities and with a true spirit of sincere collaboration
and ecclesial communion. And at the same time the Holy Father
insisted that Pastors -- bishops and parish priests -- ought to
welcome these groups "cordially," recognizing and respecting
their particular charisms and accompanying them with paternal
care. St. Paul's golden rule applies here: "Do not quench
the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test
everything; hold fast to what is good" (1 Thessalonians
The great novelty brought to the Church by the ecclesial
movements and new communities obviously raises frequent
questions and causes a certain confusion with regard to the
established way of doing things at the day-to-day pastoral
level. As John Paul II said, "When the Spirit intervenes, we are
always surprised. The Spirit causes events whose newness
startles us." As we have repeated so often, the movements
represent a challenge and a healthy invitation to which the
Church must respond by vocation. The movements' radical
Christian "way of being" is an indictment of that "tired
Christianity" (Benedict XVI) of so many baptized persons, that
superficial Christianity rife with confusion.
Alexander Men, a Russian dissident priest assassinated in 1990,
remarked provocatively during the years of religious persecution
that the greatest enemy of Christians was not the militant
atheism of the Soviet state, but rather the pseudo-Christianity
of so many baptized persons. These words jar our
consciences. In the final analysis, the true and greatest enemy
of the Christian is mediocrity and resistance to true faith in
With their overflowing passion for the mission, the movements
also challenge our preconceived notions of "being Church" which
are perhaps too comfortable and too adapted to the spirit of the
age. A few years ago Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger made reference to
"a gray pragmatism in the Church's daily life (…) in which
everything appears to be "business as usual," but in which faith
is actually eroded and cast into confusion.
The "calm conservation" vision of the Church which is so
prevalent in certain circles today comes under direct challenge
by the movements' vision of a missionary Church courageously
projected toward new frontiers. This latter vision ought to help
diocesan and parish pastoral programs recover a much needed
prophetic, militant element. The Church of today is greatly in
need of this. It must be open to the newness of produced by the
Spirit: "I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do
you not perceive it?" (Isaiah 43:19).
With regard to the ecclesial movements and new communities, the
magisterium of Pope Benedict XVI has given perfect continuity to
the teaching of John Paul II. The present pope has long been
aware of the service they provide to the mission of the Church.
While still prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the
Faith, he wrote: "One notes that something new is beginning:
Here Christianity appears as a new reality, and is perceived as
a way to live -- to be able to live -- in today's world by
people who have often come from afar." And he added: "Today
there are "isolated" Christians at the margins of our strange
understanding of modernity who are willing to try new ways of
living. While they may not get much attention from public
opinion, their way undoubtedly points to the way of the
According to the then Cardinal Ratzinger, the ecclesial
movements and new communities provide something new which makes
them a type of prophecy of the future. And now as Pope, Benedict
XVI continues to remain faithful to this very subtle and
personal understanding of the situation of the Church. At the
closing of World Youth day in Cologne in August 2005, he told
the German bishops: "The Church must value these realities while
guiding them with pastoral wisdom, so that they might contribute
their own gifts to the building up of the community in the best
way possible." And he concluded: "The local Churches and the
movements are not separate realities, but rather both constitute
the living structure of the Church." These are important
signposts that ought to serve as a compass in the Church's
evangelizing mission today.
* * *
 Cfr. L. Sabourin, "Il Vangelo di Matteo. Teologia e Esegesi,"
vol. II, Roma 1977, pp. 1069-1070.
 Benedict XVI, Holy Mass at Marienfeld, L'Osservatore Romano,
Spanish language edition, Aug. 26, 2005.
 Cf. John Paul II, Discourse to the 19th General Assembly of
CELAM, March 9, 1983, "Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II" VI, 1
(1983), pp. 690-699.
 John Paul II, apostolic letter "Novo Millennio Ineunte," No.
 Benedict XVI, Encounter with the German bishops,
L'Osservatore Romano, Spanish language edition, Aug. 26, 2005.
 Cfr. John Paul II, apostolic exhortation "Christifideles
Laici," No. 29.
 John Paul II, homily at vigil of Pentecost, L'Osservatore
Romano, Spanish language edition, May 31, 1996, No. 7.
 Cfr. John Paul II, encyclical "Redemptoris Missio," No. 86.
 John Paul II, to members of ecclesial movements and new
communities, at the vigil of Pentecost, L'Osservatore Romano,
Spanish language edition, June 5, 1998.
 J. Ratzinger, Holy Mass "Pro eligendo Pontifice,"
L'Osservatore Romano, Spanish language edition, April 22, 2005.
 "Se ci fosse una educazione del popolo tutti starebbero
meglio. Appello," Atlantide, No. 4/12/2005, p. 119.
 John Paul II, "Christifideles Laici," No. 24.
 Cfr. J. Ratzinger, "Il sale della terra. Cristianesimo e
Chiesa cattolica nella svolta del millennio," Edizioni San
Paolo, Milan 1997, p. 18.
 Cfr. Paul VI, apostolic exhortation "Evangelii Nuntiandi,"
 Cfr. John Paul II, encyclical "Redemptoris Missio," No. 72.
 John Paul II, to members of ecclesial movements and new
communities, cit. L'Osservatore Romano, Spanish language
edition, June 5, 1998.
 Cfr. T. Picus, Aleksander Mien, "Verbinum Warzawa" 1997, p.
 Cfr. J. Ratzinger, "Fede, Verità, Tolleranza. Il
cristianesimo e le religioni del mondo," Cantagalli, Siena 2003,
 Cfr. J. Ratzinger, Il sale della terra, op. Cit., pp.
 Benedict XVI, Encounter with German bishops, cit.