Communion and Liberation Movement: Culture, charity and mission

This article is presented as part of an occasional series exploring some the new movements and ecclesial communities that have arisen in the Church.

By Meghan Dorney

During the 1950s, with the rise of Marxism and communism, Monsignor Luigi Giussani began to witness an erosion of faith in Italy. He particularly noted a disconnect between the faith and how young people lived.

He was troubled by the youths’ detachment from Catholic teaching and the fact that religion did not influence their daily lives. What they heard at the Sunday Mass stayed inside the church building and was not applied to their experiences at home, at school, at work and with their friends.

Msgr. Giussani felt called to leave his career as a professional theologian in order to teach young people to more fully experience God’s presence and to judge the world, not at face value, but from the point of view of the Catholic faith.

In 1954 he began teaching religion at the C. Berchet classical high school in Milan. He wanted to transmit to the students what was communicated to him by his parents and seminary professors — that faith is reasonable, essential to life and the key to happiness.

A few students were struck by Msgr. Giussani’s proposal and discussion of faith. In a country that was becoming increasingly secularized, they had never experienced education through faith. A friendship between Msgr. Giussani and the students developed as more young people were touched by his perspective.

To express their growing awareness, the students joined a group called “Giovent˘ Studentesca,” “Student Youth” in Italian, one of the youth groups of Catholic Action. In the late 1960s, they split from Catholic Action, the official organization of the lay apostolate, and became the Communion and Liberation Movement (CL).

According to Andre Derrien, responsible for the CL movement in the archdiocese, the name Communion and Liberation actually came about by accident. In the 1960s, many in Italy were talking about freedom and overthrowing oppressive governments. The students wanted to produce a flier entitled “Communion is Liberation,” but when the flier was printed it read “Communion and Liberation.”

"The name sort of stuck," said Derrien. "It was because [communion and liberation] is part of the heart of the charism, that in communion with Christ through the communion of the Church, one discovers that they are free -- free from whatever can enslave them."

As the students moved on to universities and careers, they maintained contact with Msgr. Giussani, “asking him about everything,” said Derrien. They continued to incorporate the faith into their lives and to look to God for happiness and, in doing so, influenced others.

"They went on to work ... some went on to religious life and they would meet people and those people would become friends with them and the charism was beginning to be transmitted," explained Derrien. "Because the movement is a friendship in Christ. It is through a friendship, a companionship of a people that one discovers Christ present in the world, Christ present in his or her life and discovers that Christ is a companion for life. Through the charism of CL, one can live completely and live fully what the Church claims to be: the place where one meets Christ."

The charism of CL rests on three pillars: culture, charity and mission. Culture, in that the world should be judged from the point of view of faith; charity, in that time should be given to the service of others “to begin to learn how Christ lived”; and mission, in telling others what you have experienced through the movement.

In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the movement in 1984, Pope John Paul II received approximately 10,000 CL followers in a private audience. He gave them this mandate: “Go into all the world to bring the truth, beauty and peace that are encountered in Christ the Redeemer. This is the task that I leave with you today.”

With that, the movement grew and can now be found in 73 countries around the world. The movement came to the United States primarily through graduate and postgraduate students who came here to study.

Enzo Piccini, a close friend of Msgr. Guissani, brought the CL movement to Boston when he came to work as a doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital almost 20 years ago. He has since passed away, leaving a relatively small but active group of CL adherents in the archdiocese.

CL communities also exist in three cities in the Fall River diocese: Fall River, Attleborough and New Bedford. Priests belonging to the priestly Fraternity of the Missionaries of St. Charles Borromeo are also present in the Fall River Diocese. The priests of the fraternity are missionary priests attached to the CL movement.

"It's a small reality," but one with great potential and opportunity for growth, said Derrien. Four priests in the Archdiocese of Boston have recently begun following the movement, which Derrien described as "one of the most beautiful things that's happening" with CL in the archdiocese.

One of the priests, Father David Barnes, parochial vicar of St. Mary Star of the Sea in Beverly, met the movement through a friend a year and a half ago. He was attracted to CL because he said the movement “helps people live out their vocation in life, their state in life whether they be married or religious.”

"It helps me to recognize my need for Christ and to recognize the presence of Christ," said Father Barnes. "The movement helps me in living out my vocation as an archdiocesan priest. It helps me to contemplate the face of Christ and to deepen my communion with the Blessed Trinity and the Church and enables me to lead others to do the same."

At least 10 members of CL meet once a week at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the “school of community,” a time of discussion and catechesis during which one of Msgr. Guissani’s writings is usually examined. The New Catholic Encyclopedia describes these weekly meetings as “the culminating point of communion and personal commitment” that unites the members together in prayer.

"In the end, if the movement grows in Boston it will not be because of me or anyone else in a sense," stated Derrien. "It will be because God wants it to grow in Boston, and I hope I'm making myself as available ... for that."