In the long history of the Church, during moments of ecclesiastical crisis or in the defining instances of cultural change, we meet with those that the great theologian Hans Ur von Balthasar used to call “the great gifts of holiness that Christ grants to his Church”, the new orders and movements like the Benedictines, the Mendicants, the Jesuits. Something of this kind is shared by the phenomenon of contemporary ecclesial movements often linked with famous initiators and founders.
Together with the permanent form of Church life which is its sacramental and ministerial structure established by Christ himself, we have also a life of the Holy Spirit, which is mirrored in the Spirit’s continuous interventions throughout Church history: the charisms or gifts which give life and vitality to basic sacramental life.
Our present series “Winds of the Spirit” is meant to help us read these new realities in the Church, often accompanied by tension and suffering, as a traditional ingredient in the melting pot of the situation of the contemporary Church.
In 1987, John Paul II had already declared; “The great blossoming of these movements and the manifestations of the Church’s vitality and energy that make them so special must be considered as one of the best fruits of the large and profound spiritual renewal promoted by the last Council.”
It was the Pontifical Council for the Laity, during the immediate preparation for the 2000 great jubilee year that promoted and organized the world congress of the Church Movements which took place in Rome, immediately before Pentecost Day, 1998. The theme of the congress was: “The Church Movements: communion and mission on the threshold of the third millennium.”
This topic was the focus of the symposium which took place from May 27 to 29, preceding the huge gathering of the more than 500 thousand members of the fifty plus church movements in Saint Peter’s square, on May 30, 1998, Pentecost Day. The climax of the congress was the solemn mass, presided over by Pope John Paul II in front of the overwhelming crowd which appeared as a new Pentecost.
On that occasion the Pope spoke like this: “Suddenly, from heaven there came a noise like a gust of strong wind that filled the house in which they had gathered. There appeared like tongues of fire which parted and rested on each one of them; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts of the Apostles 2:2-3). These words of the Acts of the Apostles introduce us into the heart of the Pentecost event; they show us the disciples who, gathered together with Mary in the upper room, received the gift of the Holy Spirit.
In this way, Jesus’ promise becomes a reality and the Church’s time begins. From this moment, the wind of the Holy Spirit will take the disciples of Christ to the ends of the earth, right to martyrdom and to a fearless witness of the Gospel. What happened in Jerusalem two thousand years ago is as if it is happening again this evening in this square which is the center of the Christian world.”
Unity In Diversity
Precisely in the same place, Rome, and to the same leader, the Pope, who has the charism and the mission of unity in the Church, in centuries past, there came Saint Francis of Assisi and Philip Neri and Ignatius of Loyola, in the springtime of their lives. They were looking for guidance and support and for the papal apostolic blessing on their work with the religious and the laity of their time.
After the papal mass, in that 1998 Pentecost Day, the most prominent leaders of this season of the Spirit spoke to the Holy Father in the name of all the many movements present at that gathering. The world figures Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare, Kiko Arguello of the New Cathecumenal Way and Father Luigi Giussani of Comunione e Liberazione alternated at the microphone to express their loyalty to the leadership of the Church and their commitment to unity in diversity.
“Winds of the Spirit…” is a feature which will introduce the reader of World Mission to the most important and widespread Church Movements in our contemporary circumstances, in the course of the year 2019. It is a reality which touches millions of believers and is the expression of the never ending creativity of the people of God faced with the challenges of our contemporary society.