Signs of Hope
The text below is a slightly expanded version of an article appearing in the 2001 magazine of St John's Seminary, Wonersh. I would like to extend my thanks to the parishioners of Billingshurst and Pulborough for the constructive criticism they offered when this material was first presented as part of a Lent course.
"Christians are called to prepare for the Great Jubilee of the beginning of the third millennium by ... a better appreciation and understanding of the signs of hope present in the last part of this century, even though they often remain hidden from our eyes. ... In the church they include [among many other signs] a greater attention to the voice of the Spirit through the acceptance of charisms and the promotion of the laity." [TMA 46] In those words, Pope John Paul II challenged the People of God to "listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Churches" in the Jubilee Year 2000.
As my very first pastoral project, I decided to take up the Papal challenge by giving a series of Lent talks to parishioners in Billingshurst, West Sussex, looking at the many religious orders and ecclesial movements which have become active in the Church in the mid and late 20th Century. This was not meant to be a purely academic exercise; rather, I hoped that by exploring the spiritual and social projects which had met with success in other places, the People of God in Billingshurst might find some inspiration for their own mission.
New Movements in the Church
The importance of the new movements in the Church was examined by the world's bishops in the synod of 1987, and spelled out by the Holy Father in Christifidelis Laici: he recognised that we live in a "new era of group endeavours of the lay faithful" [CL 29], paid tribute to the amazing diversity of the different types of projects (charisms) pursued by their various initiatives, and asserted the right of the People of God to assemble and undertake any project in harmony with the mission of the Church. He also recognised [CL 31] that new movements often met with hostility and suspicion from their Pastors, but urged open-mindedness, good pastoral care of the various movements, and even recommended that local Church authorities should seek to give some of these organisations their official blessing!
Spiritan missionary George Boran notes that much strife occurs in mission work because different groups fail to recognise each other's gifts. Youth workers given captive audiences must engage with the young people's current concerns first, and gradually introduce the Gospel as a solution. Movements present their standard "weekend retreat spiritual package" to young people open enough to have come in the first place; and religious orders have their own distinct methods. For precisely this reason Pope John Paul II has pointed to the "ecclesial maturity" [CL 30] of those movements which succeed in recognising each other's gifts and in recent years (1998 and 2000) has brought them together in Rome at Pentecost, to meet one another and urge them to work together. Each movement, each religious order, each initiative has something to teach us. Are we willing to learn?
Signs of the Times
In researching the history of 20th century movements in the Church, one fact became apparent very quickly: there were three quite distinct periods when different types of movements became well-established. From the 1940s to the 1960s, the main growth was among organised kerygmatic lay movements; in the 70s and 80s, many new religious orders were founded. The last decade has begun to see the rise of various loose-knit lay initiatives quite distinct from the earlier movements. There is much to be learned from examining each of these in turn.
One caveat is in order: much of the research has been based on my own personal contact with various movements, both directly (as a leader in the youth evangelisation charity "Youth 2000" and a member of the Archdiocesan charismatic renewal team in Cardiff 1995-99) and indirectly through meeting members of various movements or surfing their websites. This does not guarantee an unbiased sample of all the new projects active within the Church throughout the world. There would be a good research degree project for anyone who devised an unbiased method of finding and comparing all the new movements across the globe!
Kerygmatic Lay Movements
The period from the Second World War to the Second Vatican Council witnessed the birth of several major lay movements around the Mediterranean. In a Church still practising the Tridentine liturgy, these movements placed great emphasis on the study of Scripture. Participants were challenged to read and understand the Gospel, and apply its message to their lives. Such movements can be called "kerygmatic", because this encounter with Scripture often radically changed the lives of those taking part. Notable among them were:
Focolare, founded in wartime Italy (1943) by Chiara Lubich who set out to "live the Gospel" with friends, and inspired many people to explore the true meaning of Christian love;
Communion & Liberation, founded in Italy in 1954 by a young priest, Don Giussani, to help young people to explore their "freedom in Christ";
The Neo-Catechumenal Way, founded in Spain by Kiko Arguello in the early 1960s, in which participants form a closed sharing and worship group for a programme exploring the meaning of their baptism, in a process which can last for many years.
Couples for Christ is a more recent initiative, founded in the Philippines in 1981, which has expanded to include groups for singles, youth and children too. There are now CFC groups in London and Birmingham.
The movements each offered a framework within which renewed Christians could make a formal commitment; members would worship and share their faith experiences together regularly, and work for the apostolate of the movement. At best, this commitment should complement the members' involvement in their local parishes, but at worst, because of members' enthusiasm and limited resources, every such movement risks becoming a "parallel church".
Some of the movements listed above have an unhappy history of attempting to evangelise and operate within Anglo-Saxon culture, such as the experience of the NeoCatechumenate in the Diocese of Clifton; they have been accused of divisiveness or creating a "church within a church." But in other places they have attracted a large number of Christians who have found their faith challenged and renewed through involvement in the movement. Following the Holy Father's advice, we should not rush to condemn the various groups for their failings; rather, we need to be open to the gifts which the Spirit has offered the Church through their apostolate, and learn from them. Their popularity shows that they have discovered some means of reaching out to the culture of the present day; we must not be too proud to learn from them!
Subtly different from these ecclesial movements are "encounter programmes", which also challenge Christians to live out the Gospel through an intensive faith sharing experience (often in a residential weekend) but do not offer their own follow-up programme (other than occasional reunions). Christians transformed through these programmes are likely become active in their parishes or diocesan projects.
The Cursillo Movement is a prime example of this type of programme, of the same vintage as the movements above: founded on the Spanish island of Mallorca by a group of men in the late 1940s, it spread to the USA in 1957 and entered the English-speaking church in 1961. The Cursillo model later gave birth to its own movement with a formal membership, the Miles Jesu, in 1964.
Worldwide Marriage Encounter (from which developed Engaged Encounter) originated in the 1960s, and helps couples renew their relationship through spending a facilitated weekend together; it is very much built on the Cursillo model. And there are numerous other programmes which help couples rediscover there marriage as a relationship with each other and with Jesus, including Cana Weekends, and the Teams of Our Lady. There are also residential centres, such as the Catholic Centre for Healing in Marriage in North Wales. Choice weekends similarly help young single people to discern their vocations.
Finally, among the lay movements we must note Charismatic Renewal, the rediscovery of the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit (prayer in tongues, gifts of healing and prophetic knowledge) within the Catholic Church from 1967 onwards. Unlike the organised movements, it has no one human founder, nor an single packaged programme which can be propagated through the world; but just as the kerygmatic movements challenge Christians to accept the power of the Word, so those in Charismatic Renewal are challenged to accept the gifts of the Holy Spirit, with similar life-changing effects.
New Religious Orders
Vatican II opened the doors for great change in the Church. The rise of many dynamic new forms of religious life in the 1970s and 80s may well be associated with the freedom brought by the Council - though again, this is a research project for a diligent student! Among the litany of new orders, we find all the great religious traditions represented: the monastic way, the mendicant life and the free association in apostolic work of the looser-knit institutes.
The Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa's order, pioneering before the Council) founded 1950 for women, 1960s for lay brothers, 1976 for contemplative sisters, 1980s for priests, 1986 for lay missionaries.
The Community of St John, based in France, founded from Dominican roots in the 1960s by Fr Marc-Dominique Philippe OP; its particular speciality is philosophy. A branch of contemplative sisters was founded in 1982 and, more recently, apostolic sisters too.
The Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, founded in Italy, 1970, by two Franciscans, Fr Stephano Maria Manelli and Fr. Gabriel Maria Pelletieri. They sought to bring out the Marian dimension of the Franciscan rule, with a particular calling to poverty, penance, preaching and prayer for conversion. They became an institute of diocesan right in 1990 and of pontifical right in 1998. The Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate were founded in 1993.
The Community of the Beatitudes, founded 1973 in France by Deacon Ephrem and his wife. Based on the Carmelite rule it has a contemplative core but draws heavily on Judaism, both for its liturgy and its sense of family. Members include celibates, couples and singles.
The Companions of the Cross, a society of apostolic life for priests and incorporating the spirituality of charismatic renewal into its way of life, was founded in Ottawa, Canada, 1984, by Fr Bob Bedard.
Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, New York, founded in 1987 by Fr Benedict Groeschel OFM.Cap. Two key missions: basic evangelisation, and to serve the poorest of the poor; the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal were founded in the 1990s.
These orders place great importance on Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Consecration to Our Lady and strict fidelity to the teaching of the Church; the habit is normally worn and members embrace the ideal of poverty. Lay people, both men and women, are encouraged to become involved in their work; indeed the Pope [VC 62] has highlighted the originality of the mixed membership of these communities. Eucharistic adoration and Marian devotion are a formal part of their daily timetable; indeed, most of these orders seek to live a "middle way" between the paradigms of contemplative life or apostolic work. Their commitment to the "New Evangelisation" [EN 55-56; RM 2-3 and 33-34; VS 107] is founded on their prayer life.
All of the above are orders which I have encountered through my work in Britain in Youth 2000 and Charismatic Renewal; and all have attracted young people from Britain to try their vocations. The particular attraction for young people seems to be in the radical commitment to poverty, chastity and obedience (the explicit dimension of accepting and rejoicing in the guidance of the Magisterium) and in the explicit spiritual dimension of the Eucharistic and Marian elements. No order in Britain seems to offer them this at present.
The close of the 20th Century finds citizens of the Western World unwilling or unable to make long-term commitments; the old model of the kerygmatic movements fails in a post-modern culture. The activities now taking root in the churches seem to be groups and programmes which people can pass through in a short period for their own personal benefit. But such programmes draw on the same spirituality as the new orders, or the life-changing approach to Scripture of the older Lay Movements. Two in particular have taken off in England:
Youth 2000, founded in England by Ernest Williams in 1990, runs weekend retreats with the Blessed Sacrament exposed throughout. The retreatants are taught about the Real Presence, and are also encouraged to pray to Our Lady. Young people on the retreat team witness about their own faith, the value of confession, and the importance of faithfulness to the teachings of the Church. The initiative has now spread into many other countries, and has produced many vocations in a short time. Indeed, at the New Year 2000/2001 festival I served midnight Mass alongside men from Ushaw, Oscott, Allen Hall and Valladolid (and we also have at least one past retreatant at the Venerable English College!)
The Alpha Course, developed in the late 1980s by a London Anglican Church, Holy Trinity Brompton (Revv Sandy Millar & Nicky Gumbel) has become a powerful evangelical tool for many Christian communities, and was deliberately designed to have a content acceptable to all major Christian denominations. While Catholic sceptics point out its deficiencies in presenting the full Christian message, many other Catholic parishes have used it successfully as a basic introduction to faith in Jesus Christ from which many parishioners go on to RCIA or other to Catholic programmes.
Lessons for our Mission
How can the Church reach out to today's culture? The successful projects listed above do not provide all the answers, but they do indicate elements which have proved to be productive. Any successful approach needs the right content in the right packaging, with the right support.
The right content - as modern culture gives way to post-modernism, especially among young people, there is a new openness to spirituality and a search for moral guidance. Christian projects must be wary of presenting themselves as an alternative social work agency. Catholic evangelists should not be shy of offering the Church's faith in the Eucharist, its traditional devotions, and its corpus of moral teaching to hungry souls. Not every potential convert will accept this; but it was like that in the beginning, too!
The right packaging - the post-war approach through ecclesial movements no longer sits easily in a culture wary of making commitments. Youth 2000 and the various Cursillo-type projects still make good use of the "weekend encounter" format, though heavily reliant on personal recommendations to attract new people to the events in the first place. The Alpha Course format of a small group sharing a meal, a talk and a discussion time has the potential to be used for other faith-sharing activities.
The right support - namely, prayer. Many new orders and communities see their prayer life as an integral part of their mission. Not only do their public outreach events invite people to join them in prayer, but they are also supported by "intercessors" praying at or around the same time. Often engaging the support of contemplative communities or housebound supporters, often praying before the Blessed Sacrament exposed, successful movements are kept afloat by a hidden tide of prayer.
It is very easy to dismiss many of the Holy Spirit's gifts to the Church because they are unfamiliar, or have gained a negative reputation. But it is in such movements that we might find inspiration for the "New Evangelisation" or re-evangelisation of the post-Christian societies of the developed world: we must "test everything, and hold on to that which is good". When I look at the many activities taking place world-wide, and peer through the "bad news", I see many signs of hope - activities which are succeeding in spreading the Good News and changing the lives of the People of God.
Our 21st century parishes need to learn from those initiatives which have begun to take root in the 1990s. Today's culture is open to the "faith, food and friendship" format of the Alpha Course and the explicit spirituality presented by Youth 2000's weekend encounters. We must not be afraid to experiment with these and similar tools in our quest to reach out to the people of our post-modern world.
ALEXANDER, Bishop Mervyn: statement of 29/1/1997.
BORAN, George C.S.Sp., The Pastoral Challenges of a New Age. Dublin: Veritas, 1999.
DEMBOWSKI, Bishop Bronislaw. ICCRS Newsletter, Vatican City, May/June 2000, 1-4.
GOODNEWS - Magazine of the National Service Committee for Charismatic Renewal in England; produced and distributed at Allen Hall seminary. Features on particular movements:
July 1997 p.10 Alpha Course
January 1998 p.12 Beatitudes
January 1997 p. 10 Catholic Centre for Healing in Marriage
May 1999 p. 12 Communion & Liberation
March 1999 p. 7 Couples for Christ - Birmingham
July 1998 p. 12 Couples for Christ - Phillipines
September 1998 p. 12 Focolare
January 1999 p. 12 Neo-Catechumenal Way
JOHN PAUL II, Pope. Christifidelis Laici - Apostolic Exhortation: On the Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World, December 30, 1988.
JOHN PAUL II, Pope. Redemptoris Missio - Encyclical Letter: On the Permanent Validity of the Church's Missionary Mandate, December 7, 1990.
JOHN PAUL II, Pope. Tertio Millennio Adveniente - Apostolic Letter: As the Third Millennium Draws Near, November 14, 1994.
JOHN PAUL II, Pope. Veritatis Splendor - Encyclical Letter: The Splendour of the Truth, August 6, 1993.
JOHN PAUL II, Pope. Vita Consecrata - Apostolic Exhortation: On the Consecrated Life, March 25, 1996.
PAUL VI, Pope. Evangelii Nuntiandi - Apostolic Exhortation: On Evangelization in the Modern World, December 8, 1975.Papal documents are linked to directly in the text above; you will need to scroll manually to the paragraph required.
Gareth Leyshon was a regional leader of Youth 2000 and Archdiocesan Secretary for Charismatic Renewal in Cardiff for more than three years, before entering Wonersh in 1999. In his spare time (i.e. 9-5, Mon-Fri) he completed a PhD in astrophysics and is allegedly a world expert on dust in distant galaxies at the other end of the universe!
The following links will take you to the website of many of the new religious orders and movements, including some not otherwise mentioned in my article: