ROME, JAN. 31, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ and the Catholic lay Regnum Christi movement, died Wednesday at age 87.
A communiqué from the Legionaries of Christ reported that Father Maciel died in the United States and that he had “communicated to Father Álvaro Corcuera, general director of the congregation, his desire that the funeral be celebrated in a climate of prayer, in a simple and private way.”
“The Legionaries of Christ and the members of the Regnum Christi movement announce with sorrow the loss of their dear father founder who was the instrument of God in beginning this work at the service of the Church and society,” the note added.
Father Maciel suffered various health conditions, aggravated by his advanced age.
“He leaves as a legacy the congregation of the Legionaries of Christ and the apostolic movement Regnum Christi, present in nearly 40 countries,” the communiqué stated. “In his 87 years of life, Father Maciel dedicated his energy to completing the mission that God entrusted him of contributing to the evangelizing mission of the Church, so that more men and women of all social conditions would know, live and spread the love of Jesus Christ and the good news of the Gospel.”
“The Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi movement ask prayers for the eternal rest of his soul and earnestly appreciate all the condolences and signs of appreciation and affection,” the note concluded.
Marcial Maciel was born in Cotija de la Paz, Mexico, in 1920. During his childhood, Mexico suffered the religious persecution of the 1920s. Maciel left for the seminary at age 15, studying under his great uncle, Bishop Rafael Guízar of Veracruz, who was running a clandestine seminary in Mexico City. Bishop Guízar was canonized Oct. 15, 2006.
At age 20, before his priestly ordination, Maciel founded the Legion of Christ, establishing a minor seminary where 13 adolescents began studies for the priesthood.
Maciel was ordained four years later, in 1944.
In the 1960s, Father Maciel began the group Regnum Christi, made up of laypeople (including lay consecrated men and women) and diocesan priests.
In the 1970s, Pope Paul VI entrusted the Territorial Prelature of Chetumal in southern Mexico to the Legionaries of Christ. The prelature, renamed in 1996 to Cancun-Chetumal, is populated by a large number of Mayans, and includes popular tourist destinations such as Cancun and Playa del Carmen.
The Holy See approved the constitution of the Legion of Christ in 1983 and the statutes of Regnum Christ in 2004.
In 2005, Father Maciel stepped down as superior-general of the Legionaries of Christ, after having been elected for another term by the General Chapter. The congregation elected as his successor Father Álvaro Corcuera Martínez del Río.
In May 2006, after accusations against Father Maciel, which he repeatedly denied, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “taking into account both the advanced age of Father Maciel as well as his poor health [invited] him to a reserved life of prayer and penance, renouncing all public ministry.”
The Vatican note at that time recognized “the distinguished apostolate of the Legionaries of Christ and of Regnum Christi,” saying they were “acknowledged with gratitude.”