Movement encourages Catholics to experience faith

For Catholics looking to grow in their faith but also engage the larger world, Communion and Liberation (CL), a Catholic renewal movement, has an invitation. 

Though CL has a much briefer history in the United States than in Europe, its leaders are hoping to draw thousands to its New York Encounter, a cultural festival in New York City from Jan. 18 to Jan. 20 focusing on experiencing freedom. 

“The invitation is the same that Jesus gave in the Gospels: ‘Come and see,’” said Maurizio Maniscalco, a leader in the New York group of CL and a member of its national council. 

“It is not about preaching, though we will have Mass,” Maniscalco said. Rather, “we offer what we have received,” a richer experience of faith, an experience of community and a deeper engagement in life. 

“We want to present the Catholic faith as fascinating, effective and relevant to people who live it,” said Olivetta Danese, coordinator for the New York Encounter. “There is nothing in life that is not touched by our faith.” 

“It’s a great event,” said Tim Herrmann, a seminarian who was first drawn to CL while a college student at Berkeley, Calif. “The Church is providing a witness to what it means to be human.” 

“Faith has to be connected with your experiences,” said Tom Tobin, a teacher and longtime leader of CL in the Washington, D.C., area. “Msgr. Luigi Giussani, founder of CL, warned against ‘faith that is divorced from life.’”

Movement’s roots, growth

Msgr. Giussani, an educator, author and thinker, founded CL in Italy in 1954 to engage youth and young adults. The movement has attracted young people who have gone on to leadership roles in the Church and society throughout Europe, Maniscalco said. Their annual gathering in Rimini, Italy, each summer draws a million or more people. 

CL is relatively new to the United States, Maniscalco said, but has grown. For example, in 1996 CL in New York sponsored a “Way of the Cross,” a Good Friday walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan. 

“There were 25 of us,” Maniscalco said, but the annual event has grown to 4,000 people. 

CL has communities in more than 30 U.S. states, including in New York, Washington, D.C. and its suburbs, Indiana, California, Oklahoma and Minnesota.

Encountering faith

Maniscalco noted that while growing up in Italy, he, like many of his peers, “had no interest whatsoever in the Church,” and considered himself an opponent of CL. Yet he found himself drawn in. “It happened through human encounter. You see something good and want to see more.” 

Herrmann said that while growing up in California he felt connected to the Church but found that many of the people he knew did not, and were often hostile. He feared that Catholics faced the dilemma of being silent in public or retreating into “a Catholic ghetto” where they could live out their faith apart from the larger world. 

After the shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007, Herrmann said, he was struck by an article in a CL publication that looked at the world and attempted to understand the tragedy in the light of faith. 

“What we need is an education about who we are as human beings,” Herrmann said, which he has found through his involvement with CL. 

The movement has groups for high school students as well as adults who meet weekly in local communities for “School of Community.” In these gatherings, which can occur at people’s homes or at a parish, members engage in spiritual reading and then discuss the readings. 

Their discussion focuses not only on the content of the reading but also in how the reading relates to the members’ daily experiences. 

“You are always discovering because Christ is never finished with you,” Herrmann said. 

“Faith has to be connected with experience,” Tobin said. In these weekly gatherings, a member can hear from others about how that faith is lived out. This helps provide that connection. There are also monthly gatherings of local communities of a metropolitan area. 

“Reflecting on your experiences over time really strengthens your faith,” Tobin said, “because you are aware that God is working in your life. Your faith becomes more than a position, an opinion or an idea.” 

The community of CL also enhances the sacramental life, Tobin said. “Mass is always beneficial, but there is a danger of falling into the pattern of just showing up for Mass and leaving. If you are involved in the community, your faith is shared and strengthened.” 

Pete Sheehan writes from New York. For more information, visit www.newyorkencounter.org.