How Ecclesial Movements Fit In With Parishes

Interview With Professor Arturo Cattaneo

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ROME, JAN. 9, 2005 ( At its plenary assembly in November, the Pontifical Council for the Laity reflected on the need “to rediscover the true face of the parish.”

The topic of the relationship between the parish and ecclesial movements was presented by Father Arturo Cattaneo, professor of canon law in Venice, and of ecclesiology in Rome and Lugano.

In this conversation with ZENIT, Father Cattaneo explains the conclusions of his address.

Q: Ecclesial movements continue to grow. Will they eventually replace parishes?

Father Cattaneo: No, because the parish will always play a fundamental and irreplaceable role.

It is, as John Paul II has said, the ultimate presence of the Church in a territory and, in a certain sense, the Church itself, close to the homes of its sons and daughters. Because of this, one must think of the parish as the “common home of the faithful,” the “first place of the incarnation of the Gospels”; it cannot be replaced with movements.

Q: Why, then, does the Holy Father consider the development of the movements so positive and promising?

Father Cattaneo: It is obvious that the parish is not the only way in which the Church responds to the exigencies of evangelization.

The parish cannot contain every possible form of Christian life, whether individual or group, as if it were a diocese in miniature.

Q: What contributions do movements make to parishes?

Father Cattaneo: John Paul II has often manifested his confidence in the capacity of movements to renew the Church’s apostolic action, and, especially, that of parishes. At times, we see parishes that are languishing, turned into mere “providers of pastoral services.”

In this case, the role of movements is especially important and providential, given the challenge of de-Christianization, and the response to the demands of religiosity, increasingly urgent in the West.

Q: Can you clarify this idea a bit more?

Father Cattaneo: Each movement has its own charism, and those who participate are called and helped to live it in family, social, professional, political, cultural, sports, etc., life. Precisely this one-to-one presence of Christian life is the main contribution of movements to the parish.

As professor Giorgio Feliciani observed recently: “The first and most important contribution that movements can make to a parish community is their presence in the territorial realm of those that John Paul II has described as ‘mature Christian personalities, conscious of their own baptismal identity, their own vocation and mission in the Church and in the world.’ And, therefore, capable of offering all those they meet a significant testimony of Christian life.”

Q: Sometimes there is talk of the danger that movements might constitute a parallel Church. What do you think?

Father Cattaneo: Above all I would say that this slogan might be an unjust simplification, which tends to give a negative image of movements, and does not help in their contributing to the revitalization of parish life.

The ecclesiastical authority, which approves the statutes, and watches over the activity of these movements, is the competent entity to avoid their becoming a parallel Church.

In the measure that parishes accept and promote the “school of communion,” requested by the Pope in the apostolic letter “Novo Millennio Ineunte,” which will avoid the “parochial mentality.”

Q: What, specifically, does “school of communion” mean?

Father Cattaneo: The Pope has suggested the challenge of having the “look of the heart on the mystery of the Trinity that dwells in us.” From this deep spiritual reality, measures and postures will arise that favor the development of ecclesial communion.

In a society like ours, so permeated by individualism, in which many suffer from loneliness, all this seems to me to be very timely and important.

Q: What can the parish priest do to promote this communion?

Father Cattaneo: The instruction of the Congregation for Clergy, on “The Priest, Pastor and Leader of the Parish Community,” states that above all “the parish priest is called to be a patient builder of communion between his own parish and the local Church, and the universal Church.”

He should also be a “a model of adherence to the perennial magisterium of the Church and to its discipline” [No. 16]. The movements are often exhorted to respect and promote the unity of the Church. But it must not be forgotten that this is also true for parishes and that, at times, these also have defects in regard to a unity of this nature.

Q: And if a parish priest belongs to a movement?

Father Cattaneo: This will surely be, for the parish priest himself, a source of support and spiritual enrichment, which will be manifested in growing pastoral dynamism, for the benefit of the whole parish.

Nevertheless, the parish priest must be careful that the movement to which we belong does not monopolize the parish’s activities and that no one is discriminated against.

Q: Today there is much talk about the need for the missionary renewal of the parish. In your opinion, what does this mean?

Father Cattaneo: The Holy Father referred to this aspect in the audience granted to participants in the plenary assembly of the Council for the Laity, when he emphasized that “the parish must be constantly renewed so as to be a true ‘community of communities,’ capable of truly effective missionary action.”

In this perspective, the enrichment the parish receives from the apostolic vitality of movements is appreciated. Monsignor Renato Corti, vice president of the Italian episcopal conference, observed recently that to “underline the great and urgent task of evangelization will make us all more sensitive to the unity of the mission, and will give us the courage to take the necessary steps toward conversion.”

Q: In defense of the movements, the freedom of the faithful is sometimes recalled. Don’t you think that this might undermine the necessary unity of the Church, including that of the parish?

Father Cattaneo: The freedom of the faithful certainly finds its intrinsic limit in the obligation to maintain the communion of the Church and therefore its unity.

But, thinking it through, freedom and unity are not opposed, as if affirming the first might lead to negating the second.

Rather, it is about two simultaneous and harmonious exigencies of ecclesial communion. The unity of the parish implies respect for the freedom of each one. Lack of freedom would not go down well with unity. On the contrary, it would be the cause of disintegration.

Q: What do you think are the main exigencies that the movements must take into account to maintain a beneficial relationship with the parish?

Father Cattaneo: All that I have just said in regard to the parish, so that the latter will be a “school of communion” and “missionary,” is also true for movements. But the latter have, in part, characteristics that are different from those of the parish. One of these is to transcend the parish realm.

However, the integration of movements in the diocese is essential as is, therefore, unity with the bishop. Several texts of the magisterium have also emphasized some “criteria of ecclesiality” for movements. In my address, I preferred to reflect on the manner in which the parish can make this relationship beneficial.

Q: Could you mention the main criteria of ecclesiality for the movements?

Father Cattaneo: Above all, the capacity to integrate their charism in the local Church. The strong sense of belonging, experienced within a movem
ent, might obfuscate the sense of belonging to the local Church itself, and the proper responsibility in regard to the latter.

Members of movements, remaining faithful to their own charism, must try to insert it creatively in the life of the local Church. Which does not necessarily mean that they must be present, as representatives of a movement, in diocesan or parish organizations. The first area of ecclesial action proper to the lay faithful is that of family, social, professional, political, cultural, sports, etc. life.

Another exigency that movements must take into account is the esteem of other ecclesial realities.

Awareness of the variety and complementarity of the different charisms and vocations in the Church, will lead the members of every movement to understand that the latter, even if admirable, is only one of the elements that make up the symphonic ensemble that we call “Catholicity.”

In this way, the members of movements will also be able to appreciate other experiences and styles of Christian life. Speaking of the sign that each movement offers to the life of the Church, Monsignor Luigi Giussani, founder of Communion and Liberation, has gone so far as to affirm: “The first sign is that those who live it are full of esteem, attention, appreciation and collaboration with other movements.”

Mention must also be made of the spirit of service, which will lead members of movements to be happy to support the initiatives of the bishop and parish priest, according to the characteristics of the charism itself.

The members of a movement, will thus avoid falling into action that is not very ecclesial, which might turn out to be counterproductive for the harmonious integration in the communion of the local and parish Church.

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