Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Pope's Saturday "School"

Veteran readers are well aware of Benedict XVI's longtime affinity for the Communion and Liberation movement.

Cardinal Ratzinger once said that the project of the late Msgr Luigi Giussani "changed [his] life." As the former's gem of a homily before tens of thousands at Don Gius' 2005 funeral in Milan propelled the then-Grand Inquisitor into a new light, kicking off a cascade of events which led to his election as Pope two months later -- not to mention the gentle hand of the founder's writings and approaches in the formulation of this pontificate's playbook -- Giussani was named these pages' 2005 International Churchman of the Year.

While B16 is said to have praised the CL for being the only one of the "new movements" to remain faithful to the ideals of building up the wider ecclesial community as opposed to becoming an entity unto itself (an element of great importance to Giussani), he's not the type who would seek to promote or elevate it to a wider context by force of personality or the prerogatives of office.

At the same time, however, to properly understand Ratzinger, his spirituality and concept of the church, Don Gius' exposition of Christianity as "event," the centrality of the "living encounter with Christ" and its resulting engagement with the culture is central. If there's one thread running through every text, action and utterance of this Pope, both before and since his election, that's it.

Since his ascent to Peter's chair, the honorary cieline has expressed his affection for the movement in his typically quiet, but still palpable, style. Benedict wrote an affectionate (and rare) personal message to its adherents on the first anniversary of Giussani's death and another heartfelt note to the cielini's annual August mega-conference at Rimini (which John Allen's called Italy's largest annual gathering); the current CL president Fr Julian Carron has been received in audience more often than most major superiors; and Carron was given a coveted keynote slot before the papal presence at last year's Pentecost Vigil for the New Movements, where the Pope's extensive address drew more noticeably from the Comunione playbook than anything else.

The cielini influence on Benedict is further underlined by reports, which have spread within the movement for the better part of a year, that the pontiff has made it his practice of holding the weekly "School of Community" -- one of CL's hallmarks -- in his apartment at the Apostolic Palace.

As Giussani himself envisioned it, the SOC is a place where "reality, in so far as you face up to it, becomes an epiphany, a revelation of your awareness of belonging."

"[W]e must talk about life, but in the light of the new experience that we have encountered [with Jesus]," he once said of the sessions. The exercises "must be a development of the encounter" with Christ and that the "sign" that the school "is [successfully] led is that you come away from it changed."

The weekly sessions involve prayer, reflection and exchange on a set program of scriptural texts arranged by the movement. The founder envisioned the SOC as a place where "the affective impulse to communicate" with culture is strengthened in the light of faith, serving to engender an enhanced "attention to people’s needs, [a] charity that expresses itself in an organic consistency of works."

The Pope's School of Community is believed to take place on Saturday afternoon in the papal apartments. Given Benedict's liturgical leanings, it would make sense that he would schedule the immersion experience in the run-up to the celebration of Sunday, and as a recharge at week's end. As with everything Papa Ratzi does, he's said to take his SOC with no small amount of diligence; such is his workload that he's confessed to not spending enough time as he'd wish with the weekly readings in advance of the sessions.

As the pontiff is, himself, not a formal adherent of the CL, word is he's entrusted the encounter's leadership to the pros; the Pope's school is led by one of the laywomen of the Memores Domini who serve in Benedict's household, as they did prior to his election. The MD is the branch of CL's lay affiliates who, practicing celibate chastity, "follow a vocation of total dedication to God while living in the world" and residing in common.

community houses have been gradually popping up across the US in recent years. And, speaking of the Comunione's rising profile in America, later this month one of its leading Italian exponents will be paying a visit.

The patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Angelo Scola, will be at the UN in New York for the US presentation of Oasis, the journal he oversees focusing on Christian-Muslim relations, particularly on Christian communities in majority-Muslim nations. An all-star lineup, featuring Jewish and Muslim leaders and Carl Anderson, supremo of the Knights of Columbus, is planned for the 17 January event.

Touted as papabile in advance of the 2005 conclave, Scola is believed to be a member of Benedict's "kitchen cabinet" alongside two other CL-friendly cardinals: Christoph Schönborn of Vienna and the Sulpician Marc Ouellet of Quebec, the primate of Canada.