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How Ecclesial Movements Fit In With Parishes

Interview With Professor Arturo Cattaneo

ROME, JAN. 10, 2005 (Zenit) - At its plenary assembly in November, the Pontifical Council for the Laity reflected on the need "to rediscover the true face of the parish."

The topic of the relationship between the parish and ecclesial movements was presented by Father Arturo Cattaneo, professor of canon law in Venice, and of ecclesiology in Rome and Lugano.

In this conversation with us, Father Cattaneo explains the conclusions of his address.

Q: Ecclesial movements continue to grow. Will they eventually replace parishes?

Father Cattaneo: No, because the parish will always play a fundamental and irreplaceable role.

It is, as John Paul II has said, the ultimate presence of the Church in a territory and, in a certain sense, the Church itself, close to the homes of its sons and daughters. Because of this, one must think of the parish as the "common home of the faithful," the "first place of the incarnation of the Gospels"; it cannot be replaced with movements.

Q: Why, then, does the Holy Father consider the development of the movements so positive and promising?

Father Cattaneo: It is obvious that the parish is not the only way in which the Church responds to the exigencies of evangelization.

The parish cannot contain every possible form of Christian life, whether individual or group, as if it were a diocese in miniature.

Q: What contributions do movements make to parishes?

Father Cattaneo: John Paul II has often manifested his confidence in the capacity of movements to renew the Church's apostolic action, and, especially, that of parishes. At times, we see parishes that are languishing, turned into mere "providers of pastoral services."

In this case, the role of movements is especially important and providential, given the challenge of de-Christianization, and the response to the demands of religiosity, increasingly urgent in the West.

Q: Can you clarify this idea a bit more?

Father Cattaneo: Each movement has its own charism, and those who participate are called and helped to live it in family, social, professional, political, cultural, sports, etc., life. Precisely this one-to-one presence of Christian life is the main contribution of movements to the parish.

As professor Giorgio Feliciani observed recently: "The first and most important contribution that movements can make to a parish community is their presence in the territorial realm of those that John Paul II has described as 'mature Christian personalities, conscious of their own baptismal identity, their own vocation and mission in the Church and in the world.' And, therefore, capable of offering all those they meet a significant testimony of Christian life."

Q: Sometimes there is talk of the danger that movements might constitute a parallel Church. What do you think?

Father Cattaneo: Above all I would say that this slogan might be an unjust simplification, which tends to give a negative image of movements, and does not help in their contributing to the revitalization of parish life.

The ecclesiastical authority, which approves the statutes, and watches over the activity of these movements, is the competent entity to avoid their becoming a parallel Church.

In the measure that parishes accept and promote the "school of communion," requested by the Pope in the apostolic letter "Novo Millennio Ineunte," which will avoid the "parochial mentality."

Q: What, specifically, does "school of communion" mean?

Father Cattaneo: The Pope has suggested the challenge of having the "look of the heart on the mystery of the Trinity that dwells in us." From this deep spiritual reality, measures and postures will arise that favor the development of ecclesial communion.

In a society like ours, so permeated by individualism, in which many suffer from loneliness, all this seems to me to be very timely and important.

Q: What can the parish priest do to promote this communion?

Father Cattaneo: The instruction of the Congregation for Clergy, on "The Priest, Pastor and Leader of the Parish Community," states that above all "the parish priest is called to be a patient builder of communion between his own parish and the local Church, and the universal Church."

He should also be a "a model of adherence to the perennial magisterium of the Church and to its discipline" [No. 16]. The movements are often exhorted to respect and promote the unity of the Church. But it must not be forgotten that this is also true for parishes and that, at times, these also have defects in regard to a unity of this nature.

Q: And if a parish priest belongs to a movement?

Father Cattaneo: This will surely ...

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