Movements and Parishes Can Work Together

Interview with Legionary Father Miguel Segura

How is, or should be, the relationship between new ecclesial movements and communities and parishes?

In this interview with ZENIT (, Father Miguel Segura, rector of the Center of Higher Studies of the Legion of Christ in Rome, comments on how the two can work together.

Q: Many of your seminarians collaborate in parishes of Rome and other dioceses. What contribution to the binomial “parish-movements” can we expect from the Pentecost meeting promoted by Pope Benedict XVI?

Father Segura: The whole Church has already been reflecting on this question for several years. We have several addresses of Pope John Paul II on the relationship between the movements and parishes.

Benedict XVI had also offered many reflections on this point before his election to the pontificate. More recently, the Pontifical Council for the Laity has continued to reflect further on this topic. Answers are being given both in the theological-canonical realms as well as in daily life.

I believe that the contribution we can now expect is growth in mutual understanding and acceptance, in continuing to learn how we build the Church all together. It is a reality lived in the first person by many parish priests and Christians belonging to different movements.

This collaboration is growing and multiplying, offering us, on one hand, a very wide range of positive experiences and, on the other, a series of normal difficulties for the whole reality in growth. At times the difficulties, fears and risks, become the only point of view from which the relationship is addressed between parishes and movements, clouding the evidence of all the positive things that so many parish priests and bishops are experiencing.

As I say, I think that one of the fundamental contributions of the movements’ meeting with the Holy Father and the 2nd World Congress of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities, will be to give us the correct perspective to address the relationship between these two realities.

Q: Have you found parish priests who are interested in joining a movement?

Father Segura: Of course. As commented in meetings of the Association of Rectors of Roman Ecclesiastical Colleges, a high percentage of diocesan vocations currently present in Roman colleges come from new movements. Given this fact, many parish priests are inviting the movements to participate from within, in parish life.

On the other hand, I personally know many diocesan priests, among them parish priests, who adhere to the spirituality of some movement to strengthen their personal friendship with Jesus Christ and to develop their apostolic action with the wide range of initiatives that the movements contribute in carrying out the pastoral plans of every diocese.

Q: But on adhering to a particular movement, is there not a risk that a person might “takes sides”?

Father Segura: There could be in some parish priests some partisanship, but I think we must not generalize. So many cases demonstrate the opposite.

We all form only one body in Christ, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Parish priests seek the most appropriate means for their own spiritual life and to carry out their ministry. And, if they feel called by God to live their own vocation and mission according to a charism approved by the Church, it can only be for the priest’s personal good and for that of the faithful that God has entrusted to him.

The movements are not and must not be closed groups or parallel churches; they are no more than ways or vehicles to bring people to Christ and the parish is the bridge.

It is true that on this bridge there can be traffic problems and a possible solution would be to ban circulation, but another solution would be to enlarge the bridge and organize the traffic. That is why there is often talk of the parish as the “community of communities.”

If the goal of the parish is to bring all men to Christ and make them sharers in his friendship, the solution seems evident. On the other hand, the luminous testimony of so many parish priests teaches us that they are not mere administrators or guardians of that bridge, but pastors who infuse in parish life a constructive climate of charity and ecclesial communion.

And all the faithful, whether or not they belong to movements or lay associations, must collaborate with their parish priest with a genuine attitude of service, fostering unity in carrying out the common mission of going throughout the world to preach the Gospel.

Q: What positive fruits do you see in the collaboration between movements and parishes?

Father Segura: Let’s return to experience. In fact, parishes are very numerous that welcome the new movements in their interior and it has been my lot personally to witness the positive fruits they produce: a more conscious living of one’s baptism, missionary impulse, increase of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life.

Members of movements are no more than baptized Christians who wish to share their experience of faith in Christ. Depending on their spirituality, they emphasize one or another aspect, all of them important.

Some foment deepening of the faith, others the living of their faith through charity, others their announcement by proclamation of the word or by example.

Many parish priests have been able to take advantage of this torrent of “lived faith” to revitalize their parishes and to multiply their own efforts of evangelization.

Every movement is a great source of resources for the parish, primarily when speaking of volunteers, catechists, parish leaders, formative resources and apostolate programs.

Q: What fears and risks are you referring to when you speak of difficulties between movements and parishes?

Father Segura: At times one perceives in some parish priests mistrust and reticence toward new movements, but I must acknowledge that at present that phenomenon is diminishing. In a mistaken way, they have seen movements as alternatives to the parish, almost as if the parish was destined to be replaced by them.

It is also true that on other occasions some members of movements have lacked greater humility and willingness to be integrated in the parish organization.

But I am convinced that possible conflicts must be resolved with humility, in dependence on the ordinary of the place, and in the light of the evangelical charity and the command of Christ who sends us out to evangelize.

As the Holy Father has just said in his message to the participants in the world congress of ecclesial movements gathered in Rocca di Papa: “The movements must address all problems with sentiments of profound communion, in a spirit of adherence to the legitimate pastors.”

The needs of society and of the Church being so many and so urgent, nothing should weigh more in the scale of the common mission that God has entrusted to us. Very illuminating in this connection are the words of the conference “The Ecclesial Movements and Their Theological Place,” given by the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, which to my mind has already given much fruit, though we must continue to meditate and apply it.

Q: Is there not a danger of separation within the parish? Some move according to a charism, others according to another. Would it not lead to fragmentation?

Father Segura: I think the charisms in themselves are not sources of disintegration. All of them come from the Holy Spirit himself who guides the Church.

He has willed to arouse within the Church, and according to the needs of each period, orders, congregations, secular institutes and lay movements, making of them branches and flowers of the one and only tree that is the Church.

I don’t think we must worry about each flower having a different color, if all of them, with a sincere spirit of communion, contribute to the beauty of the tree. Thus every movement contributes with its part to the great whole of the parish work.

Q: Will the meeting with Benedict XVI this Saturday foster collaboration between movements and the parish?

Father Segura: I am sure it will. Movements are not a problem, but a gift for parishes and for the whole Church. This event will be for movements a great occasion to meet with the Pope, and to manifest their adherence to him and to the other bishops.

It will make more evident that the Church of Christ is a communion, in which the diversity of gifts enriches the unity of life and of mission.

It will also be of benefit to parishes, as the Holy Father’s message, without a doubt, will stimulate movements and new ecclesial realities to intensify Christian life and evangelizing zeal in the parishes where they are present.

Jesus Christ compared the Kingdom of God to different realities in growth: leaven, a seed, a grain of mustard that becomes a bush and luxuriant tree. At times the seed or embryo does not reveal with clarity all that it will be when it reaches maturity and this can cause an understandable unrest; but in the case of the movements approved by the Church we have the guarantee that we know the sower.

The reality that the Holy Spirit sows at present in the Church and in parishes cannot be harmful if it bears his signature.

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