ROME, JULY 8, 2003 (Zenit.org).- In a book-length interview, Father Marcial Maciel speaks to a wide public audience about how he founded the Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement.
In “Christ Is My Life” (Sophia Institute Press), Father Maciel also addresses key issues for the future, including globalization, Internet and the world after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Here, the book’s author-interviewer Jesús Colina, director of ZENIT, reveals some details of the preparation of the volume.
Q: How did the idea for this book come about?
Colina: As I explain in the Prologue, since 1992, when I began as a correspondent in Rome, I have had the chance to interview initiators and founders of the new ecclesial movements and communities, which are a genuine surprise, both within and outside the Church. No one had foreseen their birth and yet, within them, millions of people, especially young people, have discovered their vocation and a way of profound Christian commitment.
I was, and am, interested in understanding better how this phenomenon has taken place. From my point of view, few have answered this question in depth. I wished to do so by asking the opinion of Father Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ and of the Regnum Christ, two institutions that in recent decades have experienced an unexpected growth.
Q: What specific contribution does the book make?
Colina: Until now, Father Maciel had never expressed himself in a book with so much detail and spontaneity.
The Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi, as is the case with the new ecclesial institutions, are at times the object of criticisms that show a lack of firsthand knowledge. In a certain sense, I think it is logical that this should happen, as the novelty that the new ecclesial institutions have contributed has been so unexpected and so vital, that misunderstandings or mistaken perceptions can easily arise.
This book presents in great detail the life, spirit, way of working of the Legionaries and of the members of the movement, as well as of their founder. Whoever wants to know what they believe, what their ideals, principles and criteria are, has only to read the pages of this book.
Q: As you mention, the Legion of Christ is one of the congregations in the Catholic Church which experiences the greatest growth in vocations to the priesthood. Moreover, in the Regnum Christi Movement, thousands of lay people — consecrated and non-consecrated — as well as diocesan priests are finding a life commitment and apostolate. After all those hours of conversation with Father Maciel, how do you explain this phenomenon?
Colina: The truth is that I was able to find the answer to this question in all the conversations that I had with Father Maciel.
For him, Christianity is not an ideology, it is not an abstract ethic or theory, it is not sanctimoniousness. For Father Maciel, Christianity is, above all, a personal encounter with Christ. It is the awareness of feeling loved by him with a unique and incomparable love.
On one occasion, he said to me: “When Christ, the Christ of the Gospel, true God and true man, is preached to people, especially young people, they feel captivated by the beauty of his message, by the fascination of his person. People are too tired of ideas and abstract notions. They need to give meaning to their life and Christ can give it. He gives it.”
Moreover, the Legion and the movement propose the living of charity, of dedication to others, with no distinction of social class, race or religion, in the manner of the first Christians. This is of crucial attraction and importance. Obviously, each one then lives it in keeping with his own limitations, but the spirit is there. And this is made evident in the book.
Q: What was your biggest surprise when preparing the book?
Colina: In fact, the conversations forced Father Maciel to recall the events of his life and, in a certain sense, I have been able, just as will be true for the reader, to “relive,” so to speak, up close and again the ups and downs of an amazing life.
He recalled with the greatest tranquility how he founded the congregation when he was 20, before he became a priest, and how he arrived for the first time in Europe to establish a vocation center and a novitiate at 26 with $20 in his pocket.
That young man managed to arrange to be received in audience by Pope Pius XII who, totally unexpectedly, took a personal interest in the congregation, despite the fact that at that time it was made up of a handful of adolescents in far off — for that time — Mexico.
And what is most impressive is that I was realizing that already since then it was very clear to him that those young men should be formed in the best universities so that they would become priests able to respond to the challenges of a new, exciting and complex world. I think that it is enough to read some of the first pages of the book for the reader to also “relive” this episode. Of course, from the point of view of human logic, it is impossible to understand.
Q: In articles that I have read about the Legionaries, they are placed on the Catholic right. Is this the impression you have from your interview with Father Maciel?
Colina: One would have to begin by saying that the Legion and the Regnum Christi do not have a political position.
In his answers, Father Maciel illustrates with great clarity how his mission is evangelization. The Legionaries are here to serve the Church and society. And we can see this in their works of apostolate. Some can label them of the right or the left according to their point of view. But I am convinced that these categories are not adequate for ecclesial institutions such as the Legion and the Regnum Christi.
To give you an idea of what can be said, I saw an article in a Web page in which the Legionaries were classified as part of the Masonry of the Great Orient. Incredible but true [laughs].
As I have just said, just as happens with John Paul II, it could be said that on some issues Father Maciel and the Legionaries might be classified by some as of the left and by others as of the right. In fact, what does it mean today to be of the right? I have lived in several countries on two continents and the answer to the question varies according to the country and, obviously, according to the position of the speaker.
Moreover, I must admit that my answer to this question is limited. The interviewer is not quite 35 yet and, therefore, does not have the maturity of life that an undertaking of these characteristics would require. This means that I did not live personally the angry divisions between left and right that took place in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. This even went so far as to divide the Church. For people of my generation, in the era of Internet, these categories have other meanings.
Q: Is it true that the Legionaries are rich?
Colina: Father Maciel told me that the Legionaries, contrary to what is usually done in some religious congregations, don’t even have a salary. They live from their community and in community. And this must not be at all comfortable. The Legionaries’ rooms are simple and in them, one will only find a kneeler, a table, a chair, a bed and some books.
It is true that their institutions, seminaries, schools, universities have a modern and rich architecture, which might give some this impression of wealth. Father Maciel told me that “as the Church is concerned with the true and the good, it cannot leave the beautiful to one side.”
This is what made it possible, for example in the Renaissance, for some of the most beautiful works of art of all times to arise within the Church. For Father Maciel and for the Legionaries, to live in a worthy and beautiful environment is not in opposition either to the Gospel or to the vow of poverty as, from what I have seen, not only are superfluous expenses avoided, but they also live with much austerity and a tremendous control of expenses of necessary things.
On the contrary, harmonious environments help to live the Gospel with serenity and depth, without implying by this a rejection of other possible forms of living poverty within the Church, which in truth are extremely attractive.
Now that you mention the topic, there is another issue that seems to me to be more important. The Legionaries are criticized in their proclamation of the Gospel because they are concerned that it be heard by the leaders of the different areas of society.
When speaking with Father Maciel, I understood something I had not seen clearly before. It is common to hear criticisms about the corruption of leaders — politicians, businessmen, people in entertainment, etc. However, I wonder: Isn’t it a normal phenomenon if Catholics are excluded a priori from proclaiming God’s message of love to these people? Rather, wouldn’t it be anti-evangelical to exclude from the proclamation of the Gospel a category made up according to our own criteria?
Q: What contribution do you think the Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi can make to the Church today?
Colina: Father Maciel answered this question in many ways during the interview. Personally, I think his insistence on highlighting the importance of evangelical charity, as the essence the doctrine of Christ, is something old but at the same time always new. It is a contribution of unlimited consequences if it is really taken seriously.
Just think what the world would be like if every Catholic, every Christian, lived to its ultimate consequences the mandate Christ gave at the Last Supper. And in a certain sense, this is the mission of the Legion and of the Regnum Christi Movement. In truth, it might be like the hinge of the new evangelization.
But this no longer depends on just one man, or on one congregation. It is the task and commitment of all Christians. In reality, it will be the future generations that will be able to respond to the question you asked me. They will be able to evaluate better what is and will be the contribution of these new ecclesial realities.