One of the key phrases I keep hearing and reading about at the moment is ‘new movements in the Church’. Indeed, over the past two days, a conference on precisely these new movements has been taking place in Glasgow, Scotland. And to that conference, Archbishop Tartaglia sent the following message –

“I am delighted to welcome to the Archdiocese of Glasgow all those participating in this Conference of New Movements. Pope Francis described the new movements as “a source of enrichment for the Church, raised up by the Spirit …which bring a new evangelizing fervour and a new capacity for dialogue with the world whereby the Church is renewed” (Evangelii Gaudium 29). I pray that this time spent together will bring you insights and encouragement that will indeed be enriching for the Church in Scotland and will further enable you to engage in that dialogue by which the people of our time come to appreciate the joy of friendship with Jesus Christ.

+ Philip Tartaglia, Archbishop of Glasgow”

Other local Bishops were also intending to be present, including Bishop Toal of Motherwell, and Bishop Keenan of Paisley, who sent a video message. The banner of the conference proclaims that the conference is designed to ‘promote the mission of evangelisation in the Church’.

Reading a little on this subject over the last few days, I see that the recent Popes – St John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis – have commented favourably on these new movements. In ‘Ecclesia In America’ (1999), St John Paul II tells us –

“Yet ‘the lay faithful too, precisely as members of the Church, have the vocation and mission of proclaiming the Gospel: they are prepared for this work by the sacraments of Christian initiation and by the gifts of the Holy Spirit’. They.. ‘are fully part of this work of the Church’ and so should feel called and encouraged to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom. Jesus’ words: ‘You too, go into the vineyard’ (Mt 20:4), must be seen as addressed not only to the Apostles but to all who desire to be authentic disciples of the Lord.”

So there is no doubt that the lay faithful are called in some way to proclaim the good news of the Gospel – the Holy Father noted that encountering Christ is a transforming experience, so long as we are not closed to His work within us. He also reminded us that the sacramental life of the Church is our mainstay, our strength. He then tells us one way of efficaciously achieving this aim of new evangelisation –

“For the new evangelization to be effective, it is essential to have a deep understanding of the culture of our time in which the social communications media are most influential. Therefore, knowledge and use of the media, whether the more traditional forms or those which technology has produced in recent times, is indispensable.”

St John Paul II echoes much of the thinking of Pope Paul VI in his Apostolic Exhortation, ‘Evangelii Nuntiandi’ (1975). More recently, Pope Benedict exhorted young people to heed the call to proclaim the Gospel and to find new ways of doing so; at World Youth Day at Cologne in August 2005, he said –

“Form communities based on faith! In recent decades, movements and communities have come to birth in which the power of the Gospel is keenly felt.”

In an interesting article on ‘Ecclesial Movements As Agents Of A New Evangelisation’ (2012), author H Richard McCord describes what an ecclesial movement looks like, before later examining potential good and bad points about them –

“These diverse groups have certain common characteristics that could constitute a summary description of an ecclesial movement. With some exceptions, all movements have – a founder whose particular charism gave birth to the movement’; predominantly, but not exclusively, lay membership; some ecclesial structure and communal expression; a set of teachings and methods that flesh out the movement’s charism; an explicit commitment to an evangelizing mission; a relationship with ecclesiastical authorities. Ecclesial movements are examples of the necessarily diverse forms of participation in the life of the Church— something that the Second Vatican Council commended as the group form of the apostolate (Paul VI, On the Apostolate of Lay People [Apostolicam Actuositatem]”

Writing in the Catholic Herald just last year, Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith noted that “flourishing religious movements are the best hope for the future of the Church”.  Quite a statement to make.

In an address last summer, our present Holy Father, Pope Francis, described one new movement as “a current of grace for the Church”. And last November, speaking about mission and conversion, Pope Francis addressed the 3rd World Congress of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities and said –

“If we are not open to mission, conversion is not possible and faith becomes sterile.  The Movements and New Communities that you represent are moving towards a deeper sense of belonging to the Church.. The newness of your experiences does not consist in methods or forms, which are important, but rather in your willingness to respond with renewed enthusiasm to the Lord’s call.  Such evangelical courage has allowed for the growth of your Movements and New Communities”.

He went on to give this word of advice –

“In order to attain ecclesial maturity, therefore, maintain the freshness of your charism, respect the freedom of each person, and always strive for communion.”

And he gave this encouragement for what had been achieved already –

“You have already borne much fruit for the Church and the world.  You will bear even greater fruit with the help of the Holy Spirit, who raises up and renews his gifts and charisms, and through the intercession of Mary, who never ceases to assist and accompany Her children.”

Trusting in the experience and discernment of these four Popes, as well as the words of current Bishops and Archbishops, it seems evident that the Holy Spirit is most assuredly working in the Church in a very particular way at the moment.

Despite all the travails of the Church in the modern world, perhaps we need to heed the words with which St John Paul II began his remarkable Paapcy – ‘Be not afraid’.

Let us trust in the Most Merciful Jesus to guard and to guide His Church, led by the inspirations of the Holy Spirit, and look forward with hope and with joy and with complete trust in Him.