Fall 1998

The Theological Locus of Ecclesial Movements

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

"Only when the person is struck and opened up by Christ in his inmost depth can the other also be inwardly touched, can there be reconciliation in the Holy Spirit, can true community grow."

In his great encyclical on mission, Redemptoris missio, the Holy Father says:

Within the church, there are various types of services, functions, ministries and ways of promoting the Christian life. I call to mind, as a new development occurring in many churches in recent times, the rapid growth of "ecclesial movements" filled with missionary dynamism. When these movements humbly seek to become part of the life of local churches and are welcomed by bishops and priests within diocesan and parish structures, they represent a true gift of God both for new evangelization and for missionary activity properly so-called. I therefore recommend that they be spread and that they be used to give fresh energy, especially among young people, to the Christian life and to evangelization, within a pluralistic view of the ways in which Christians can associate and express themselves.1

It was a wonderful event for me personally when I came into closer contact with movements such as the Neocatecumenate, Communion and Liberation, and Focolare and experienced the energy and enthusiasm with which they lived the faith and were impelled by their joy in it to share with others the gift they had received. This was in the early 1970's, a time when Karl Rahner and others were speaking of a winter in the Church. And it did seem that, after the great blossoming of the Council, frost was creeping instead of springtime, and that exhaustion was replacing dynamism. The dynamism now seemed to be somewhere else entirely—where people, relying on their own strength and without resorting to God, were setting about creating a better world of the future. That a world without God could not be good, let alone a better world, was obvious to anyone who had eyes to see. But where was God in all this? Had not the Church in fact become worn-out and dispirited after so many debates and so much searching for new structures?

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1. Redemptoris missio, 72.