New Spiritual Communities and Movements

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An Attempt to Assign Their Proper Place

In recent years the interest in the so-called "renewal movements" or "spiritual renewals" within the Christian churches has increased visibly. The new spiritual communities and movements also receive stronger official attention, because they have multiplied in numbers and are gradually "carrying great weight" (cp. Bishop P.J.Cordes, In the Midst of Our World, Freiburg 1987, 13 ff.).On a world-wide Church level the new spiritual communities and movements have received acknowledgment and encouragement from the Bishops' Synod of 1987, which dealt with the calling and mission of the laity in the Church and in the world. The post-synod Apostolic Letter Christifideles Laici by Pope John Paul II, published December 30, 1988, is undoubtedly at present the main source of information for all questions, concerning the calling and dignity of the laity, their communities and participation in the mission of the Church (cp. Laity Today, Information Service of the Papal Council for the Laity, 18 (1996), page 2).

The new spiritual movements are groupings, in which for the most part lay persons, but also clerics and religious, strive for an intense religious life in the community and a renewal of the faith in the Church. They are mostly organized on a translocal level and have a varying regional distribution.

The term 'movements' indicates that these groups already in their structures differ considerably from the conventional forms of communities of the church. The distinction from other groups is not always easy. They differ from the classical religious orders and modern forms of religious orders, since they are not founded on so radical a life decision, which - as in religious orders - is sealed with life long vows and because hence they have less institutional and constitutional elements. They show some similarity to secular institutes, which after World War II were established officially in the Catholic Church, but they do not have any so strongly contoured form of life as these do. The term 'movements' is appropriate because it implies well the flexible form of the communities: they are more structured and more committed than groups, formed spontaneously, but not as binding as associations, unions or societies. It goes without saying, that the appearances of these movements are extremely diverse and manifold so that the common denominator with regard to their makeup is not easy to find.

Looking at the origins of the new spiritual movements makes it clear that, for the most part, these spiritual renewals originated in Europe: Communione e Liberatione 1954 in Milano; the first Cursillo took place on the island of Mallorca, Spain, in 1949; the groups for couples Equipes Notre Dame originated in Paris in 1938; the Focolari-Movement has its origin in Trient in 1943; the international movement of Christian women - Grail - originated in a lay community for women, which was founded in the Netherlands in 1921; marriage seminars of Marriage Encounter were developed in Barcelona in 1953; the Neo-Catechumenate way had its origins in Madrid in 1965; the Schönstatt-Movement started with a consecration to the Mother of God in Vallendar, Germany in 1914.

This European context also applies to the spiritual communities that are based on a spirituality of a religious order: the Franciscan Community, which feels called upon to live a life in Imitation of Christ in the spirit of Francis of Assisi; the Community of Christian Life, which wants to renew the heritage of Ignatius of Loyola of Spain; the Dominican Community, which lives in the spirit of the Spanish religious founder Dominic; and the Theresian Carmelites, who in our present times live the heritage of the Spanish founders Theresa of Avila and John of the Cross.

For the new spiritual movements in the German-speaking areas, the acceptance of spiritual impulses from other European countries has always required a great measure of sensitivity and tolerance and not only because of the language barriers. However, the numerous contacts and initiatives on international levels give Christians in Germany also the opportunity to live their faith in a more worldwide way, and thereby in a more "catholic" way.

In a Europe, which is growing together more and more, the East-European world represents a special challenge to discover and take on new ways of evangelization. For this mission, the new spiritual movements should make an important contribution.

 


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