Pope Benedict XVI and the New Ecclesial Movements | Bishop Stanislaw Rylko | IgnatiusInsight.comPope Benedict XVI and the New Ecclesial Movements | Bishop Stanislaw Rylko, President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity | The Introduction to New Outpourings of the Spirit by Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)


Pope Benedict XVI has been following for many years, with the passion of a theologian and a pastor, the phenomenon of the movements and new communities that sprang up in the Church after the Second Vatican Council. His very first contacts with these ecclesial entities go back to the mid-1960s, when he was still a professor in Tubingen. [1] Then, with the passage of time, these relations became deeper and more intense and were transformed into a true friendship. In 1998, as Cardinal Ratzinger, he reminisced as follows: "For me personally it was a marvelous event when at the beginning of the seventies I first came into close contact with movements like the Neocatechumens, Comunione e Liberazione, and the Focolarini and thus experienced the enthusiasm and verve with which they lived out their faith and felt bound to share with others, from out of the joy of their faith, what had been vouchsafed to them." [2] These were the postconciliar years, difficult years for the Church, but these new entities unexpectedly appeared to the eyes of the theologian and pastor as a providential gift. As he later wrote, "Suddenly here was something nobody had planned on. The Holy Spirit had, so to say, spoken up for himself again. In young people especially, the faith was surging up in its entirety, with no ifs and buts, with no excuses or way out, experienced as a favor and as a precious life-giving gift." [3]

Alongside the Servant of God John Paul II, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger was an authoritative interpreter of the latter's magisterial teaching on the ecclesial movements and the new communities and became for them a sure point of reference. He saw in the movements, for which he has always been an attentive interlocutor and a generous source of wise counsel, "powerful ways in which faith is present", [4] a salutary challenge (something that the Church always needs), a sort of prophecy that heralded the future. Years ago he wrote: "Today there are Christians who drop out of this strange consensus of modern existence, who attempt new forms of life. To be sure, they don't receive any public notice, but they are doing something that really points to the future." [5] In other words, they play the role of those "creative minorities" which, according to Arnold Toynbee, are decisive for the future.

The first text presented in this anthology is an invaluable lecture that sets forth articulately and exhaustively the theological vision that Cardinal Ratzinger has of the ecclesial movements and the new communities. It is the conference entitled "Church Movements and Their Place in Theology", which he gave at the opening of the World Congress of Ecclesial Movements, held in Rome by the Pontifical Council for the Laity in May of 1998. [6] The conference, which combines extraordinary theological depth with considerable pastoral value, was received by the participants in the Congress with warm expressions of gratitude. In the magisterial and authoritative words of Cardinal Ratzinger, who had opened up new and fascinating theological horizons to their view, they saw a reflection and a confirmation of their experience of faith, their deeper ecclesial identity.

In order to frame correctly a theological discussion on the ecclesial movements-according to Cardinal Ratzinger--it is not enough to set up a dialectic of the principles: institution and charism, Christology and Pneumatology, hierarchy and prophecy, because the Church is not built dialectically but organically. [7] He therefore proposes another route, the historical approach, identifying in "apostolic succession" and "apostolicity" the true theological place of these movements in the Church. This perspective reveals that the ecclesial movements and the new communities have the same reason for existing: a mission that surpasses the confines of the local Churches and reaches "to the end of the earth". This, then, is the bond that unites them to the ministry of the Successor of Peter in the universal Church. "The papacy did not bring the movement[s] into being," Cardinal Ratzinger affirms, "but it was [their] essential anchor in the structure of the Church, [their] ecclesial support .... The pope is dependent on these ministries, and they on him, and, in the existence side by side of the two kinds of mission, the symphony of Church life comes to fulfillment." [8] The phenomenon of the movements, a constant feature in the life of the Church, is present throughout her history. And the interesting historical review that he provides demonstrates how they have given form to the timely interventions of the Holy Spirit so as to raise up saints and new charisms in response to the challenges the Church has had to face in every age. The impassioned lecture concludes with some practical criteria for discernment that should be useful for pastors and for the movements themselves. On the one hand, indeed, Cardinal Ratzinger warns these new entities against the dangers that result from their present stage of development, which is still in some respects "adolescent", such as forms of exuberance that are sometimes excessive, various sorts of one-sidedness, and the tendency to mistake particular customs and practices for absolutes. And on the other hand, he warns pastors and urges that they "not indulge in any pursuit of uniformity in their pastoral arrangements or planning .... Far better less organization and more Spirit!" [9] Indeed, charisms need room for freedom so as to be able to develop fully. To both parties, therefore, he directs an urgent appeal to allow themselves to be taught and purified by the Spirit." [10]

The second text that is presented here, albeit in abridged form, is of a completely different character from the first, yet surely complements it. It records the dialogue of Cardinal Ratzinger with a large group of bishops gathered from all five continents to participate in a seminar on the theme of "The Ecclesial Movements in the Pastoral Concern of the Bishops", held in Rome in June of 1999 by the Pontifical Council for the Laity in conjunction with the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. [11] The dialogue format, instead of the usual prepared talk, was very favorably received by the bishops, who were grateful for the opportunity to discuss directly with the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith some of the doctrinal and pastoral questions that are important to them. The exchange, which starts out from the authoritative speaker's per- sonal experience with the movements, is quite wideranging, touching on topics such as the relation between the old and the new charisms, the institutional dimension and the charismatic dimension of the Church, the ecclesial movements and the parishes, the movements and the Church's mission in a non-Christian society, the constitutive elements of an ecclesiology of the movements, the future of religious life. Among so many stimulating reflections, one notion in particular struck me: the idea of the movements as the "place" that helps Christians to "feel at home" in the Church. "The movements, it seems to me, have this specific feature of helping the faithful to recognize in a worldwide Church, which could appear to be no more than a large international organization, a home where they can find the atmosphere appropriate to the family of God and at the same time remain part of the great universal family of the saints of all times." [12] Today more than ever, as I reread this dialogue, I am impressed by the seriousness with which Cardinal Ratzinger takes each question and by the breadth and the substance of his answers, which always go into the subject in depth, without omitting any dimension of the questions that are posed. And the reader is impressed by the pastoral wisdom with which he discusses complex, knotty questions as well as by the hope that radiates from his words.

Since his election to the papacy, Benedict XVI has not stopped demonstrating his affection and his own pastoral concern in dealing with these new entities. Suffice it to recall these words addressed to the young people gathered in Cologne in August 2005 to celebrate the twentieth World Youth Day: "Form communities based on faith! In recent decades, movements and communities have come to birth in which the power of the Gospel is keenly felt." [13] And the words that he spoke to the German bishops, again on the subject of the movements: "The Church must make the most of these realities, and at the same time she must guide them with pastoral wisdom, so that with the variety of their different gifts they may contribute in the best possible way to building up the community," adding the incisive observation: "The local Churches and movements are not in opposition to one another, but constitute the living structure of the Church." [14]

Precisely this deep pastoral concern was the source of the Holy Father's decision to call together in Rome on the Vigil of Pentecost of this year [2006] the ecclesial movements and the new communities from all over the world, so as to give witness together once more to their unity within the diversity of their charisms. Eight years after the historic meeting of May 30, 1998, with Pope John Paul II-an event that signaled for the movements and the communities the beginning of a new stage on the way toward "ecclesial maturity"--the invitation of Benedict XVI was accepted by them with joy, enthusiasm, and profound gratitude. The scheduled meeting of the Holy Father with the ecclesial movements and the new communities is in perfect continuity with the one they had had with John Paul II. And we are sure that, like that one, thanks to the strong and illuminating words of the Successor of Peter, this year's meeting will become an important milestone in their life and in the life of the Church.

I commend the Italian publisher, Editrice San Paolo, for their felicitous proposal to publish these two important texts as part of the intense work of spiritual preparation that the ecclesial movements and the new communities are doing with a view to their meeting with Benedict XVI. These pages will serve them as a reliable compass and a valuable guide so that they might look to what is essential and rediscover again and again their own particular reason for being, that is, to serve their mission in the Church.


New Outpourings of the Spirit was translated by Michael J. Miller.

[1] See "The Movements, the Church, the World: Dialogue with Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger", in The Ecclesial Movements in the Pastoral Concern of the Bishops (Vatican City: Pontificium Consilium pro Laicis, 2000), p. 226. The revised English translation of that dialogue is printed, pp. 63-117.

[2] J. Ratzinger, "Church Movements and Their Place in Theology", in Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith: The Church as Communion, trans. Henry Taylor (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), p. 176; reprinted, pp. 17-61.

[3] See p. 20.

[4] J. Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth: The Church at the End of the Millennium, trans. Adrian Walker (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996), p. 16.

[5] Ibid., p. 128.

[6] See Ratzinger, "Church Movements", pp. 176-208; reprinted with slight revisions, below, pp. 17-61.

[7] See p. 32.

[8] See pp. 43, 52-53.

[9] See p. 59.

[10] See p. 58.

[11] The proceedings of the seminar have been published in Ecclesial Movements (see note 1, above).

[12] See pp. 90-91.

[13] Benedict XVI, "Homily, Holy Mass: Marienfeld Esplanade, 21 August 2005", L'Osservatore Romano, English ed., no. 34 (August 24, 2005), pp. 11-12, citation at 12; reprinted in God's Revolution: World Youth Day and Other Cologne Talks (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006), p. 61.

[14] Benedict XVI, "Address during the Meeting with the German Bishops, 21 August 2005", L'Osservatore Romano, English ed., no. 35 (August 31, 2005), pp. 2-3, citation at 3; reprinted in God's Revolution, p. 99.

Books by Benedict XVI/Joseph Ratzinger available from Ignatius Press:

Behold the Pierced One
The Blessing of Christmas
Called to Communion
Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures
Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year
Daughter Zion
The Dialectics of Secularization: On Reason and Religion
(with J. Habermas)
Europe: Today and Tomorrow
The Feast of Faith
God and the World
God Is Love/Deus Caritas Est
God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life
God's Revolution
Gospel, Catechism and Catechesis
Handing on the Faith in an Age of Disbelief
Images of Hope: Meditations On Major Feasts
Introduction to Christianity
Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church
Jesus, The Apostles, and the Early Church
Many Religions, One Covenant
Mary, The Church at the Source
(with Hans Urs von Balthasar)
Meaning of Christian Brotherhood
Milestones: 1927-1977
Nature and Mission of Theology
New Outpourings of the Spirit
On Conscience
On The Way To Jesus Christ
Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith: The Church As Communion
Principles of Christian Morality (co-author)
Principles of Catholic Theology
The Ratzinger Report
Salt of the Earth
Seek That Which Is Above
The Spirit of the Liturgy
Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions
Values In A Time of Upheaval
What It Means to Be a Christian
Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam

Books/DVDs about Cardinal Ratzinger/Benedict XVI:

Pope Benedict XVI: The Conscience of Our Age (A Theological Portrait) | Fr. D. Vincent Twomey, S.V.D.
The Way of Love: Reflections on Pope Benedict XVI's Encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est" | Edited by Carl Livio and Anderson Melina
Pope Benedict XVI: Servant of the Truth | Peter Seewald
God's Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church | George Weigel
The Spiritual Vision of Pope Benedict XVI: Let God's Light Shine Forth | Robert Moynihan
The Election of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI (DVD)

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