The Church Needs Catholic Action, Says John Paul II

Encourages Renewal of Lay Institution

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CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 15, 2003 ( Catholic Action must be renewed since it is a charism given by God to help the baptized serve «the cause of the Gospel,» says John Paul II.

«The Church cannot do without Catholic Action,» the Pope said in a message sent to the extraordinary assembly of Italian Catholic Action, which ended Sunday. The Rome event drew 800 delegates, representing 370,000 members and 200 diocesan associations.

The purpose of the meeting was to update the 1969 statutes of the largest Catholic lay institution in Italy.

«The Church needs you, it needs lay people who find a school of holiness in Catholic Action, in which they learn to live the radical nature of the Gospel» in daily life, the Holy Father explained.

For the Pontiff, Catholic Action is «a place where one grows as disciples of the Lord, in the school of the Word, at the table of the Eucharist.»

In this institution, the baptized must find «a gymnasium where they are trained to live in love and forgiveness, in order to learn to defeat evil with good, to knit with patience and tenacity a network of fraternity that embraces everyone, especially the poorest,» he added.

The fundamental criterion in writing the new statutes to renew the association, the Pope said, is that «each one of its members rediscover the baptismal promises, choosing with full awareness and willingness Christian holiness as the elevated measure of ordinary Christian life, in the daily conditions of life.»

In this way, Catholic Action will form lay people capable of «looking at the world with the look of God,» of «applying the Gospel to life,» but also of «effectively influencing civil society.»

Catholic Action traces its origin to 19th-century Italy, at a time when the Papal States had disappeared and Catholics voluntarily remained outside the political life in Rome.

In time, the «Catholic movement» relinquished its political character and took on a more spiritual character. Thus, the Italian Catholic Youth movement was born in 1868 followed in 1886 by the Association Catholique de la Jeunesse Française, which later gave rise to Catholic Action.

Following the distinctions made by Pius X in the lay apostolate, Pius XI (1922-1939) institutionalized Catholic Action as the highest form of «the laity’s participation in the hierarchical apostolate of the Church.»

The scheme of Italian Catholic Action later spread throughout the world. Today it operates in parishes but has a centralized national organization, divided into male, female, youth and adult branches.

In his letter, the Holy Father pointed to the example of men and women of Italian Catholic Action whom he himself has beatified, such as, PierGiorgio Frassati, Gianna Berretta-Molla and spouses Luigi and Maria Beltrame-Quattrocchi.

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