He dwells among us: The Great Witness

We are one team in the great common witness made up of many movements that further the Church

I think people like to join groups perhaps because they want to help others and to be a part of something greater than themselves.

I remember my excitement when I first joined the Cub Scouts as a young boy and the sense of identity I felt as a member, particularly when wearing the blue uniform shirt with its distinct neckerchief and emblem. But as I got older, I felt less comfortable wearing anything with the word “Cub” on it given the historic rivalry between my beloved St. Louis Cardinals baseball team and our nemesis, the Chicago Cubs.

But one of the wonderful things I love about the Church is that though it is made up of so many different teams, they all have a shared goal—to win souls for Christ! I particularly think of the various movements active within our diocese and the world. Each represents a unique response to the Holy Spirit, providing for a critical need existing within the Church and in our communities.

These movements are not disassociated from the Church, but strive to work cooperatively with it and with our pastors so as to help bring Christ and His love and mercy to all we encounter. We are one team working together in what Blessed John Paul II calls “the great common witness,” striving together to always be the face, the hands, and the heart of Christ Jesus to others.

On March 13, 2013, the world was introduced to Pope Francis, bearing the name no other pope before him has taken—that of St. Francis of Assisi. Like this much beloved saint, Pope Francis challenges us to be missionaries of the same spirit as St. Francis and to be generous in responding to the needs of others. St. Francis didn’t wait for something to originate from within the hierarchy of the Church to meet the urgent need of his day; he simply began to share Christ’s love and mercy. But he did it with the Church, striving to always be as close to the heart of the Church as to the hearts of those in need. And in doing so, he brought the heart of the Church in closer touch with the heart of the poor and needy. This is why I rejoice at the growing presence of various movements within our own diocese.

Here I am reminded of a new movement within our diocese—the St. Luke Guild—made up of a growing number of health-care professionals and volunteers who are helping to bring the healing mission of Christ and medicine to the underserved areas of East Tennessee. I am so grateful to Sister Mariana Koonce, RSM, MD, and to those of the St. Luke Guild and St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic who are so generous with their prayers, gifts, and skills in response to this great need in East Tennessee. I pray that more people will join them in this healing mission of love and medicine.

In response to another critical need, particularly among young adults who long to ascend above a life of just “getting by” and to live it more fully, a movement has been growing throughout the world inspired by the life of an avid mountain climber from Italy, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Though he died in 1930 at the age of 24, his life is proof that holiness and fun do in fact belong together, each bringing out the better in the other. Blessed Pier Giorgio encouraged others to always look and to climb “toward the top,” verso l’alto, where Christ’s peace and purpose in life is found.

I am so excited that this worldwide movement inspired by his life has taken root in our own diocese, growing out of All Saints Church in Knoxville. Dr. Elijah Martin will be the coordinator of the Frassati Fellowship for Young Adults for the greater Knoxville area and will report directly to me as its chaplain. Thanks to Father David Carter, the Frassati Fellowship has started in Chattanooga, and I pray it will not be long before one is started in the Tri-Cities. Be looking for the link to the Frassati Fellowship website which will soon be added to our diocesan page at www.dioknox.org.

So many today feel “forsaken,” a horrible loneliness amid the despair of a situation or condition in life. A movement that was born in the midst of tragedies of World War II in Italy sought to bring comfort and unity to the forsaken huddling in the bomb shelters and ruins of war. The Focolare movement, taking its name from the warmth and unity represented by a family fireside, aims to build paths toward unity through the warmth of Christ’s love, and in particular, that of His Mother’s love. Blessed Chiara Badano, who was only 18 when she died, expressed the purpose of this movement in her life, seeing in “Jesus forsaken” the answer to the mystery of suffering and disunity in the world. How grateful I am for the growing presence of Focolare in our diocese, thanks in great part to the efforts of Father Pete Iorio, pastor of St. Mary Church in Johnson City.

Particularly strong within our Hispanic community is a movement known as the John XXIII Conversion Retreat Movement that is helping to bring families together and those back to the Church who have lost their way. On March 26, the movement celebrated the 10th anniversary of its presence in our diocese with a special Mass of thanksgiving at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Lenoir City. I am so grateful to Father Jesus Antonio Giraldo and Jorge Giraldo, the movement’s president in our diocese, for all their hard work and that of so many others.

Affirming the importance of bringing the Gospel into the world, another movement has a growing presence within our diocese—the Community of Sant’Egidio. Thanks in great part to the work of Father Michael Cummins, communities have been established at East Tennessee State University, Notre Dame High School, and the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga Catholic Student Center. Founded in Rome in 1968 and present in more than 70 countries, its work centers on prayer and Scripture study, evangelization, service to the poor, works of peace, and ecumenism.

Movements such as these are making a tangible difference within the Church. With the recent ordination and installation of my friend Bishop Peter Baldacchino as the new Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of Miami, I was reminded of his untiring work promoting The Neocatechumenal Way which is committed to the renewal of the family and the building up of a more mature faith among the faithful. As a service to the Church and its pastors, it has spread throughout the world since its founding in Madrid, Spain in 1964, with strong presences in the archdioceses of Denver, Newark and Washington and other U.S. dioceses.

I thank Our Lord for the youthful witness of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, Blessed Chiara Badano, and the many who are inspired by them in responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to the needs that exist around them. For good reason does St. Paul warn us that we mustn’t “quench the Spirit” (1Th 5:19). If movements, in the process of growing and maturing, have hits and bumps at times, Pope Francis reminds us that it is to be expected. But the important thing is that these movements never see themselves apart from the Church, but closely united to the Church that they exist for. Pope Francis, addressing a question regarding what should be the focus of movements within the Church, gave three words: Jesus, prayer, and witness.

May you always “strive toward the top” to Christ, in prayer and with a loving witness to all.