VATICAN – Pope Francis to Movements and new ecclesial communities: humility and gratuitousness so as not to suffocate the gifts of the Spirit

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Rome – “We must understand that evangelization is a mandate that comes from Baptism, the Baptism that makes us priests together, in the priesthood of Christ: the priestly population. And we must not wait for the priest to come, for the priest to evangelize, the missionary”. Thus Pope Francis recalled the apostolic vocation which calls every baptized person to live and bear witness to the Gospel in the ordinary circumstances of life. This is what he said on Thursday, September 16, during an audience to the participants in the meeting of moderators of lay Associations, Ecclesial Movements and new Communities, organized by the Pontifical Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life on the theme «The responsibility of governance in lay associations. An ecclesial service». In his long speech, enriched with considerations and references added to the text written in an extemporaneous way, the Pontiff offered useful ideas to consider the ecclesial and missionary fruitfulness of associations, movements and new communities that have flourished in the Church in recent decades starting from the charisms donated from the Spirit to their respective founders, outside the ordinary forms of pastoral planning. First of all, the Bishop of Rome expressed gratitude for the “ecclesial mission” accomplished by those who join associations, movements and new communities, trying with dedication “to make fruitful those charisms that the Holy Spirit, through your founders, granted to all the members of your groups, to the benefit of the Church and of the many men and women to whom you dedicate yourselves in the apostolate. You are too” recognized the Pope”though with the limits and sins of every day – thanks to God, that we are sinners and that God gives us the grace of recognizing our sins and also the grace of asking or going to the confessor. This is a great grace: do not lose it… though with these limits, you are a clear sign of the vitality of the Church. You represent a missionary force and a presence of prophecy that gives us hope for the future”. A future – continued the Pontiff that must be prepared here and now, ‘in the kitchen’ , with “the willingness to engage in a constant encounter with the Lord, a constant personal conversion”, also in order not to run the risk “of living in a ‘parallel world’, distilled, distant, far from the real challenges of society, of culture and of all those people who live alongside you and who await your Christian witness”.
In his speech, the Pontiff recalled with paternal frankness the temptations and real falls that have marked the path of many ecclesial aggregations that arose and developed spontaneously after the Second Vatican Council.
“Belonging to an association, a movement or a community, especially if they refer to a charism – remarked the Successor of Peter – should not lock us up “safe and sound”, make us feel secure, as if there were no need for any response to challenges and changes. We Christians are always all on the move, always in conversion, always in discernment”. The Gospel journey – the Pontiff insisted “is not a tourist trip”, and on this journey “every step is a call from God”. On the contrary, the temptation that often besieges movements and new ecclesial communities is that of “thinking of being ‘new in the Church’, not subjected to the need for changes, corrections and conversions. This temptation – Pope Francis warned – “can become a false security. Even novelties soon get old! For this reason, the charism to which we belong must be furthered more and more, and we must always reflect together in order to incarnate it in the new situations we live in. To do this, great docility is required of us, and great humility, in order to recognize our limitations and accept to change outdated ways of doing and thinking, or methods of the apostolate that are no longer effective, or forms of organization of internal life that have proved inadequate or even harmful”. In this regard, the Pontiff referred to the Decree on International Associations of the Faithful, promulgated on June 11, which also contains provisions relating to the “internal” governance of Associations, Movements and new ecclesial communities, including those concerning alternation in the positions of guidance and responsibility of these ecclesial realities. “At the origin of this decree”, the Pope clarified, “there is not some theory of the Church or lay associations that you want to apply or impose”. Rather, “it is the very reality of the last few decades that has shown us the need for the changes that the Decree asks of us. In this regard, the Pope recalled by analogy the flourishing of the last decades of new realities of consecrated life, several of which have ended up taking paths that made them feel and appear as an “entirely different Church”: they presented themselves almost as “the redeemers” Pope Francis highlighted that many “ended up in very difficult situations: they have ended up under apostolic visitation, they have ended up with terrible sins, they have been placed under commission…”. The exercise of governance within associations and movements” continued Pope Francis – must also be considered in the light of these cases of abuse”, which always have their root in the abuse of power”. An authentic ecclesial sensus – the Pope remarked – recognizes that the positions of government exercised within lay aggregations are only “a call to serve”, and cannot be exposed to the “desire for power” which, for example, manifests itself “when we believe, by virtue of the role we have, of having to make decisions on all aspects of the life of our association, of the diocese, of the parish, of the congregation”, or when the leaders of movements and new communities give in to the “desire to be everywhere”. Adding personal references “to the congregations I know best”, the Pontiff also cited certain “Superior Generals who eternalize themselves in power and do a thousand, thousand things to be re-elected and re-elected”. While “it is beneficial and necessary”, the Pope remarked, also alluding to the provisions of the June Decree addressed to ecclesial Movements and to the new Communities, “to provide for a rotation in the posts of government and a representation of all members in your elections”. These provisions – suggested the Bishop of Rome – can also represent a procedural barrier to the risk of falling into the “trap of treachery”, which is triggered when “In words we say we want to serve God and others, but in fact we serve our ego, and we bow to our desire to appear, to obtain recognition, appreciation”. Or when we present ourselves to others as the only interpreters of the charism, the only heirs of our association or movement”.
True service – Pope Francis emphasized in the concluding parts of his speech “is gratuitous and unconditional, it knows no calculations or demands. It habitually forgets the things it has done to serve others”. And “no one is master of the gifts received for the good of the Church – we are administrators -, no one should suffocate them, let them grow with me or with what comes after me. Instead, each one, where he or she is placed by the Lord, is called to make them grow, to make them and bear fruit, confident in the fact that it is God who works all things in all people and that our true good bears fruit in ecclesial communion”.