As he watched more than 200 people stream into a lecture hall at Fordham University in the Bronx on a sunny Saturday, Father Brian E. McWeeney said, “It’s a positive thing to see the laity taking up the challenge of their baptismal call and bringing others to a closer relationship with Christ.”
Father McWeeney is archdiocesan director of Ecclesial Ministries, Movements and Organizations. The men and women were participants in the annual Day of Reflection of the Lay Ecclesial Movements and New Communities April 13. Many wore colorful T-shirts with their group affiliation.
Father McWeeney said there are more than 30 active lay movements in the archdiocese, including the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Cursillo, Focolare, Bonds of Marian Love and Communion and Liberation.
Father McWeeney traced the resurgence of lay ministries to the Second Vatican Council’s call for lay people to bring the message of faith to the world in which they live. “Before then, some ecclesial ministries existed and were serving God’s people, such as Knights of Columbus and Legion of Mary. Vatican II gave greater encouragement and people felt God was calling them to serve in a spiritual way,” Father McWeeney said.
“People recognized that priests cannot and should not do all of the evangelizing,” he said.
In 1998, St. John Paul underscored the importance of lay evangelization by convening the First World Congress of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities at the Vatican. At that time, the late pope said the presence of lay ecclesial movements in the Church reveals “the freshness of the Christian experience based on personal encounter with Christ.”
In New York, the Archdiocesan Council of Lay Ecclesial Movements and New Communities was established in 2000. It supports efforts of local groups to advance the evangelical mission of the Church.
More recently, Pope Francis invited lay people to explore their practical role in living the Gospel in an apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate (“On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World”).
Kevin Ahern, one of two keynote speakers at the Fordham gathering, said Gaudete et Exsultate addresses a broken world that cries out for holiness. “One of our roles as ecclesial movements is to respond to the ‘globalization of indifference’ and ‘structures of sin’” described by Pope Francis and St. John Paul, he said.
“We reflect on structures of grace,” he said. “Grace compels us to be missionary disciples.”
Ahern is assistant professor of religious studies at Manhattan College and president of Pax Romana, an international movement of Catholic professionals and intellectuals.
“Ecclesial movements are active forces working to transform the social and structural dimensions of sin,” Ahern said. They are also structures of charity and embodiments of their specific charism, he said.
Wanda and Efrain Ortiz said their participation in the Schoenstatt Apostolic Movement had a profound effect on their marriage and family. The Staten Island couple described personal transformation, conversion and healing.
“For us, the covenant of love in the Schoenstatt movement and our consecration to Mary is the center of spirituality,” Efrain said.
“The inner strength that comes from the grace of God enables us to give witness and deal with betrayals, disappointments and infidelities we encounter,” said Wanda, who added that they hope to radiate joyful hope and demonstrate how God turns “a mess into a message.”
Participant Aurora Salazar is active in the Word of God movement at St. Anthony’s parish in Yonkers. She shares the experience of God in her life with her neighbors, one-on-one. “I start by asking people ‘How are you?’ They see that I am happy. They discover they are alone and need help and they ask me for information on God.”
Fellow Word of God member Lisette Paez said she and her husband share testimonials of their faith with others. “People see the difference in our lives and they come to us and want help to start praying.”
Nitza Martinez from St. Brendan and St. Ann parish in the Bronx said the day of reflection was an important reminder that lay groups within a parish need to know one another. She is a member of the Legion of Mary in a parish that also has active Holy Name, Divine Mercy and Cursillo movements. —CNS