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TRENDS-ECCLESIAL Jul-16-2008 (880 words) xxxn

Focolare member sees ecclesial movements giving new life to church

By J. Michael Parker
Catholic News Service

SAN ANTONIO (CNS) -- New ecclesial movements are clear evidence that the Holy Spirit is breathing new life into the Catholic Church, according to a member of the Focolare Movement in San Antonio.

Mariam Adams, a Chicago native and a former schoolteacher who has been a member of the movement in San Antonio for 25 years, said Focolare's charism, or special gift to the church, is its spirituality of communion, or living the Gospel in mutual love and unity.

She made the comments during the Oblate School of Theology's recent annual summer institute, which had as its theme "Megatrends in Church and Society."

Focolare is one of more than 120 lay movements approved by the church. Founded in Trent, Italy, in 1943, it anticipated the Second Vatican Council's call for the Catholic laity to become actively involved in evangelization.

Adams said Focolare and all other ecclesial movements are more clearly understood in the larger context of 2,000 years of Catholic history in which God has given a multitude of charisms to the church.

"Jesus continues to live in the incarnation of many religious orders. Each of these orders carries a special gift from God to put into practice one or another of the words of Jesus to answer some spiritual or physical need for humanity," she said.

Religious life, Adams said, has always looked in loving imitation to the first Christian community in Jerusalem with its faith in Christ, attention to the Word, its spirit of prayer, breaking of the bread and its loving unity with the apostles and one another until they were "one heart and soul" manifested in a spiritual and material communion of goods.

"The rise of monastic life, blossoming around the earlier contemplative traditions, the emergence of the mendicant orders and the eventual evangelization beyond Europe all bear witness to the Holy Spirit down throughout the centuries underling one or another of Jesus' words until the church appears like a majestic Christ extending through time and space," she said. "It is Christ's way of making himself present in the world."

Adams said the names of religious congregations serving the Catholic community in San Antonio -- including the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus -- illustrate how each religious congregation reflects a particular aspect of Jesus' life.

"The Franciscans' very lifestyle proclaims, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God,'" she said. "St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, spoke of filial obedience, calling to mind Jesus' statement, 'I've come to do the will of my Father who sent me.'"

She also cited the first Carmelites, who climbed Mount Tabor to pray and adore God but were ready to descend and battle for the faith, even at the risk of their lives; and countless missionaries of many congregations who have left home and family and traveled around the world sharing the gift of faith with others.

"All these fragments have to be put together into the design of God. We can never look at them separately, because they're words within the Word," she said. "The emergence of new ecclesial movements and lay associations are a continuation of the Spirit's action."

In a keynote speech Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, the institute's president, talked about megatrends affecting today's culture, such as global awareness and the spread of technology, saying these trends will require many new relationships.

External megatrends are affecting people's inner consciousness, especially in secularized parts of the world, the priest said.

Global awareness, he said, is bringing the whole world together in unexpected ways.

"Everyone is everyone's neighbor. We know where our coffee comes from. You watch the evening news and you know what's happening around the world," he said.

When Jesus met the Samaritan woman on the border of Samaria, the priest said, the border wasn't merely a geographical fact. Jesus stood on the edge of a different ethnicity and a different religion from his own, and he was speaking to a person of a different gender.

"If Sept. 11 (the 2001 terrorist attacks) didn't wake us up to this, we'll never get it. Our most important agenda for the next 50 years is our dialogue with Islam. We face the whole issue of how different races, religions and genders interrelate," Father Rolheiser said.

Increased global awareness, he said, also brings negative reactions -- fear, insecurity and growing fundamentalism.

"This is happening all over the world and in every religion -- in Roman Catholicism, in Islam, in Buddhism and so on. People fear losing their identity, and security begins to trump wider concerns," he said.

Social justice issues have become more important in the past 50 years as conditions in different parts of the world have become more widely known, he said.

It's also a new experience to encounter a world that doesn't completely revolve around a European culture, added Father Rolheiser.

"In the whole first world, there's a massive shift of influence," he said. "One European culture has dominated the planet since Christopher Columbus, but now it's over. How readily are we going to accept that the world no longer revolves around us?"


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