The pope and the movements
On the subject of whether Francis is a liberal or a conservative, the usual take in the media is that he’s a progressive and thus lukewarm at best, openly hostile at worst, to more conservative forces in the Church.
One such force that’s often perceived as fairly conservative is what Catholics refer to as “the movements,” meaning largely lay-led groups, founded during the 20th century, that came to full flower under the papacy of John Paul II. Major players in that world include Opus Dei, the Neocatechumenate, Communion and Liberation, the Focolare, Schoenstatt, Sant’Egidio, L’Arche, and so on.
Before proceeding, two stipulations are in order.
First, technically not all of these groups are “movements.” Opus Dei, for instance, is a personal prelature under Church law, which is something akin to a non-territorial diocese led by a figure called a prelate, who has the responsibilities of a bishop. In popular parlance, however, they tend to get lumped into the same category.
Second, it’s flat-out false to say they’re all “conservative.” Some, such as Sant’Egidio, lean politically a bit more to the left. Others, such as Focolare, contain a little bit of everything. Still others, such as L’Arche, are impossible to pigeonhole in any ideological sense. Some even have a different political hue depending on what part of the world we’re talking about.
That said, these outfits are generally seen in the Catholic street as leaning collectively to the right, if for no other reason than that they generally take official Church teaching for granted rather than agitating for change.
Given that background, it’s striking that Pope Francis this week showed some love for three of the better-known movements: Focolare, the Neocatechumenate, and Communion and Liberation.
Focolare was founded during World War II by an Italian lay woman named Chiara Lubich and is committed to the ideal of “unity,” especially among Christians and the various religions. Today it’s present in 194 countries and claims more than 100,000 followers.
On Wednesday, Francis held an audience with 60 bishops from 35 countries who describe themselves as “friends” of the Focolare movement. They met in Rome on the theme of the Eucharist, and Francis reminded them that the presence of Christ in the sacrament of Communion, not their own personalities or agenda, is the heart of the matter.
“The bishop is the principle of unity in the Church, but this doesn’t happen without the Eucharist,” he said. “The bishop doesn’t gather people around his own persona, or his own ideas, but around Christ who is present in the Word and in the sacrament of his own flesh and blood.”
Francis offered a special message of solidarity for bishops who came from conflict zones in Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine.
And then, speaking to the Focolare generally, the pontiff said he wanted to “encourage you to carry forward your commitment in favor of the ecumenical path and inter-religious dialogue,” and also thanked the Focolare for “the contribution you’ve made to greater communion among the various ecclesial movements.”
On Friday, he met with members of the Neocatechumenal Way, a program of Christian formation founded in Spain in 1964 by two Catholic laity, Kiko Argüello and Carmen Hernández.
It’s known for a high-octane Latin spirituality and a deep missionary drive, and has been controversial both among some Catholic liberals for its deep papal loyalty and some conservatives for its allegedly heterodox liturgical and doctrinal traditions.
Among members, the movement is often known simply as “the Way.”
In a classic Francis touch, the pontiff urged the Neocatechumenate to reach out to the peripheries of the world.
“How much solitude, how much suffering, how much distance from God is in all the peripheries of Europe and America, and in so many cities of Asia!” he said. “How much need the human person has today, in every latitude, to hear that God loves him, and that love is possible!”
Francis then heaped praise upon the movement.
“The Neocatechumenal Way is a ‘true gift of providence to the Church of our times,’ as my predecessors affirmed,” Francis said.
“To see all this is a consolation,” he added, “because it confirms the Spirit of God is alive and working in his Church, even today, and he’s responding to the needs of the modern person.”
Finally, on Saturday Pope Francis met with more than 80,000 members of Communion and Liberation from 47 countries, gathered in Rome to mark the 10th anniversary of the death of their founder, Italian Rev. Luigi Giussani, and the 60th anniversary of the launch of the movement.
The ciellini, as members are called, draw on the works of Giussani to offer a vision of Christian education rooted in a personal and immediate encounter with Christ. Its historical base is in Milan, where it was sometimes seen as an alternative to the center-left Catholic ethos projected by Cardinals Carlo Maria Martini and Dionigi Tettamanzi.
It has a different political vibe elsewhere. In Brazil, for instance, 50,000 members of the progressive Sin Tierra (“Without Land”) movement, which advocates for landless workers, requested to be admitted in 2008.
Communion and Liberation brought friends from other faiths with them to the encounter with the pope, including the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, as well as representatives of the Orthodox and Muslim traditions.
Once again, Francis was fulsome in his praise.
Giussani’s thought, he said, is “profoundly human and reaches into the deepest yearnings of the human person,” adding that reading Giussani’s books and articles did much good “for me and for my priestly life.”
Francis joined Pope Benedict XVI in referring to Communion and Liberation as “an impulse derived from the Holy Spirit.”
The inadequacy of seeing Francis through the prism of left vs. right should already be clear, but if it weren’t, the specter of this allegedly “liberal” pope cozying up to three supposedly “conservative” movements, all in the span of a few days, ought to drive the point home.
On the other hand, if we begin by seeing Francis in the terms most natural to him, as a missionary and pastor, then his enthusiasm for outfits that encourage laity to see themselves as missionaries in their own walks of life – getting out of the sacristy and into the street, to use a classic Francis expression – makes all the sense in the world.http://www.cruxnow.com/church/2015/03/07/whats-really-miraculous-about-pope-francis/