On Oct. 18 in 1914 a Pallottine priest, Father Joseph Kentenich (1885-1968), sealed a covenant of love with Our Lady. This was the founding act of the movement.
To mark the jubilee, Fr. Heinrich Walter, chairman of the General Presidium of the International Schoenstatt Movement and General Superior to the Schoenstatt Fathers, answered some of ZENIT’s questions.
ZENIT: The Apostolic Schoenstatt Movement will shortly celebrate its centenary. How did the movement come about?
Father Heinrich Walter: Schoenstatt began in 1914 in Vallendar on the Rhine. At the time Father Joseph Kentenich was chaplain to the young students who wanted to become Pallottine priests. In a talk to these students he lay out a programme to set up a Marian place of pilgrimage. They offered themselves to Our Lady and asked her to take up her abode in this place. Kentenich’s idea landed on fruitful ground. The young men put all their work but also their life on the line for this and invited others to do the same. So now we have a growing Christian faith community from all walks of life centred on that little chapel, which we now call the Original Shrine. Schoenstatt developed very quickly and soon had its own customs, rules and statutes.
ZENIT: So just how did the movement grow?
Father Heinrich Walter: The movement grew with the help of the youth who then brought it to adults. And soon different communities sprung up for priests, men and women.
The first self-independent community was the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary, who were founded in 1926. Through their missionary work, they were able to bring the movement in the 1930s to other continents. Today there are about 100,000 people who are committed to the Schoenstatt Movement worldwide plus millions more who have a lot of contact with Schoenstatt in over 100 countries
ZENIT: What is at the heart of the Schoenstatt spirituality?
Father Heinrich Walter: Every individual involved in Schoenstatt leads their life according to their own personal relationship with God and understands this relationship as a covenant with Him. The way to do this is through Our Lady. As a human she lived the deepest relationship with Christ. She is our model and guide in faith. She invites us to go this way with her to develop a personal relationship with her Son. This personal decision of faith we call a covenant of love. This covenant of love is an expressive form of our faith. It shapes how we listen to God, how we are attached to Our Lady and how we follow Christ. It also has a profound effect on how we work and live in daily life. The covenant is our catalyst with which we close or open doors through the stages of our life. For example: many families renew their covenant of love when a child is born.
ZENIT: Schoenstatt is an apostolic movement. What does this actually mean?
Father Heinrich Walter: Within the Church there are contemplative orders bound to a specific place and there are missionary movements who go to places where no-one has heard the Good News. Schoenstatt’s aim is to help people live their faith in a deeper way in all walks of life at all stages. We are sent out to all people to bear witness to our faith. Our apostolate consists of educational work, such as faith courses, the development and implementation of educational and social projects, scientific discussions on the questions of our time such as social networking and such things.
ZENIT: What is so particular to Schoenstatt is the Original Shrine. There are replicas throughout the world. What can you tell us about this?
Father Heinrich Walter: As the movement developed in other countries the problem arose as to how to explain to people what contributions to the capital of grace mean? In Uruguay they wondered could they not simply make a replica of the Original Shrine. Father Kentenich was in the concentration camp at Dachau at this time, but he heard about it and replied positively to their idea and that is how the first affiliate shrine came about. The shrines are identical to the one in Schoenstatt, Germany, regardless of country, language or culture. Schoenstatt members from all over the world have a shrine in their country. There are 210 replicas, where they can have that homely feeling. Just a month ago a new shrine was blessed in Austin, Texas.
ZENIT: On Sunday, 5thOctober the traditional day of prayer to Our Lady took place in Pompeii. What is the connection between Schoenstatt and Pompeii?
Father Heinrich Walter: The report on how the shrine to Our Lady at Pompeii was erected was an important divine wink from God to Father Kentenich. So we could say Pompeii was the initial spark. That is why at the moment 90 youth from 10 different countries are carrying the flame over 1800 km from Pompeii to Schoenstatt. But there is otherwise no connection in our work to Pompeii.
ZENIT: At the moment the family synod is underway in Rome. How important is the role of family life within Schoenstatt?
Father Heinrich Walter: Over the last 50 years the family branch has become a signpost for our movement. It is the part of the movement which is growing the fastest and has developed many life styles, forms and customs. There are numerous courses and projects around the world on marriage spirituality and education.
ZENIT: How does the movement support couples who are preparing for marriage or who are already married?
Father Heinrich Walter: We have a very broad spectrum on offer of intensive marriage preparation courses either as weekly courses or as modules or as evening courses spread out over several months. What has shown fruitful is also the weekend courses which take place after marriage, which then the groups continue if they so wish: there are courses specializing in education tips, how to form and train new coordinators – The academy for Marriage and Family Life. We want to enable families be there for other families so that a large family network develops.
ZENIT: Today many pastoral challenges are being spoken about for whoever is faced with the problem of divorcees. Does Schoenstatt also have a pastoral care course for couples who are having a crisis or have perhaps already separated?
Father Heinrich Walter: Schoenstatt does not ignore the reality of those who are divorced and re-married. There are several courses for them depending on the country and the challenge. In Paraguay for example we have the so-called Hope Pastoral Care course, which has received over a year recognition for its achievements. It is a pastoral care course just for divorcees who are re-married hoping to point out to them that they too do have a place within the Church. This project was developed with the help of the bishops’ conference.
ZENIT: What is Schoenstatt expecting from its 100th anniversary?
Father Heinrich Walter: To begin with we expect the experience of a multicultural community which has only one identity. We also expect inspiration on our way of renewal and mission from the source of our origins. And we hope that the fire burning within the young generation is a contribution towards the actual challenges of the future.
ZENIT: With what kind of spirit are you preparing for your meeting with the Holy Father, Pope Francis on Oct. 25thin the Vatican?
Father Heinrich Walter: We stand fully behind what he says in the accents he is setting for the Church. At the time of the Second Vatican Council Fr. Kentenich spoke of a humble and poor Church, a pilgrim Church that moves towards the people. He also spoke of a movement that is at the same time a family. We are really looking forward to our meeting with him where we want to ensure him of our solidarity and we are expecting an inspiring message from him. If the Church is a family, then Pope Francis is a father figure who strengthens the spirit of this family.
ZENIT: Thank you for this exchange.