ROCCA DI PAPA, Italy – Whether they meet for prayer daily or monthly and whether they live together or spread out around a city, members of Catholic lay movements and communities are discovering what they have in common.
LEADERS OF LAY MOVEMENTS MEET – Leaders of Catholic lay movements meet with bishops in Rome June 1. The congress, sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Laity, was attended by some 300 people representing more than 100 movements and communities from all over the world. From right are: Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko, president of the laity council; Andrea Riccardi of the Sant'Egidio Community; and Archbishop Fouad Twal, coadjutor of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. (CNS/Catholic Press Photo)
"We all want to grow. We want to make a difference. We want to witness," said Lorna Mueni Kilonzo, the international Marianist Lay Community's representative in Africa.
Kilonzo, who lives in Nairobi, Kenya, was one of about 300 participants representing some 100 lay movements and communities at a May 31-June 2 congress sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Laity.
Participants at the congress in Rocca di Papa, south of Rome, heard from founders and early members of the Focolare movement, the Sant'Egidio Community, Communion and Liberation, the Neocatechumenal Way, L'Arche and the Catholic charismatic renewal.
A high percentage of the participating communities are, like the Marianist Lay Community, groups affiliated with Catholic religious orders or, like Trinidad's Living Water Community, small groups that trace their roots to the Catholic charismatic renewal.
The theme of the congress was "The Beauty of Being a Christian and the Joy of Communicating This."
Outside the formal presentations, which focused on beauty as the expression of God's love and the experience of knowing Christ, congress members discussed their groups' process of maturity and learned about each other and ways they could cooperate to spread the Gospel.
Kilonzo said: "I am learning about how the gifts of the spirit are present in the movements. We all have different gifts, which we are using for the same goal.
"We are different, but one community is not better than another just because it is bigger," she said.
Patti Mansfield, who recently moved back to New Orleans – although in a different home because hers was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina – told the congress about the 1967 retreat she attended as a student at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Some two dozen students experienced a vivid outpouring of the Holy Spirit during the retreat, which is seen as the birth of the Catholic charismatic renewal movement.
Mansfield said 119 million Catholics around the world have had some experience of the charismatic renewal movement, but very few live in charismatic communities.
The Duquesne students are not founders of a movement like some of the other speakers at the congress are, she said, adding, "We are simply witnesses to what God has done."
Mansfield said that despite her enthusiasm learning how to be an effective witness took time.
"The answer is humility; it is the foundation of all spirituality and maturity," she said. "I think of my early days of witnessing and it is no wonder people were turned off."
As for competition among the movements, Mansfield said there is a growing appreciation of the fact that "we each have to be good stewards of the vineyard given to us."
The variety of movements and communities, she said, is a concrete expression of the diversity of spiritual gifts poured out on the universal church.
Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko, president of the council for the laity, told the congress that as the movements mature bishops and parish priests are recognizing their value and counting on them more and more for assistance.
Church leaders, he said, now "are seeing them as a gift of the spirit and not as an annoying intrusion as sometimes happened."
The beauty of a life lived for Christ and for others, he said, is a powerful tool for evangelization.
"The world that surrounds us is a world dominated by a cult of the ugly, subjugated by the aggressive strength of false beauty which fools many, making them slaves and prisoners of lies," he said.
The beauty of a committed Christian life, the archbishop said, challenges "the indifference, grayness and mediocrity of many people's existence, sparking in them a desire for something different, something more beautiful and true."
Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops