Now ‘emeritus’, I was the diocesan Bishop of Umuarama, in the state of Paraná in the south of Brazil, for 29 years. I have been requested to write this article and to suggest how we can refresh the charism of St Vincent Pallotti in today´s world for the service of the church. My preference is to present my learnings based on the episcopal ministry that I have exercised for so many years.
We know that the foundation of St Vincent Pallotti, initiated with the conviction of a saint, insisted that all those baptized should become apostles. He called all of the lay faithful to participate in the pastoral activities of the church. This had been a very visible reality in the nascent church, which became lost over time and only flourished and bore fruit again after Vat II.
As a seminarian and young priest I was unable to properly understand and work in the spirit of Pallotti’s charism because the UAC had been asleep! When my formation was over I wanted to deepen my studies on apostolate and pastoral ministry, but it was not possible.
When I became a bishop, in 1973, I encountered parishes in the diocese guided by Pallottine priests who, at that time, were already working according to the spirit of the UAC. But unfortunately many let themselves be caught up in the spirituality of Neocatechumenal Communities and forgot about about Pallottine spirituality.
Therefore, I need to share about my experience, speaking in a general way, concerning all spiritualities and charisms.
I was the first bishop of a new diocese, whose oldest parish had existed for only fifteen years. All of the clergy consisted of members of Institutes, Congregations or Religious Orders. There was not even a single diocesan seminarian!
In the spirit of Vat II and various post-conciliar documents, especially the statements of CELAM (Latin American Bishops´ Conference), we organized a conjoint pastoral ministry that led us to become a church of lively and active communities.
It was a very beautiful journey. Many people said we were about thirty years ahead of the other dioceses – just as St Vincent Pallotti was ahead in his time
However within this reality I met with a problem that caused great difficulties. Recent Popes have spoken repeatedly about new movements in the church, new associations and new communities which are evidence of the breath of the Holy Spirit in the church of our time. I really believe that this is true. And I agree that an enormous richness of charisms and spiritualities arose to enrich the church.
Logically then it follows that, to be faithful to their own charisms, these new movements have to imitate the orientation of their founders or actual leaders. However, they also need to remember the teaching of the church, which indicates that nothing can be done without the bishop – and much less against the bishop.
The strongest movements and communities, with a national or universal organization, seem to me to be the worst offenders in this area. They blindly follow their founders, or those substituting for them in leadership,
remaining deaf to the words of the bishop or of the Pope. When it comes to a difference of opinion/interpretation more than once I have been told: “between an order of the Pope or of the Founder we follow what the latter tells us”.
And this results then in the formation of small independent ‘local’ churches within an otherwise well- structured diocese.
Several times I have wanted to correct things that were wrong or inappropriate and was ignored. But, when later a catechist or guru says the same thing, it is accepted peacefully and the correction made. I acknowledge that it is true that some bishops are often not open for dialogue and don’t try to come to know the divergent strains of opinion in “their” diocese, but this can´t be generalized.
It may be that someone reading this article attentively might think that I missed the proposed subject and that I am digressing.
No! What I am trying to do is to create an awareness of the concrete reality within which I had to live for so many years. So now I can give my opinion on the presence and activity of the members of the UAC within a diocese.
First of all let us remind ourselves of the love, interaction and obedience that Vincent Pallotti maintained with the authorities of the church of his time. In his reality there was a relationship with the higher authorities of the church, as he carried out his whole apostolate and priesthood in Rome and its surroundings.
So likewise all the members of the Union of the Catholic Apostolate – just as those of other associations, movements and communities – need to maintain a very strong union with the bishop of their Diocese.
While conserving the Pallottine charism and spirituality, they place themselves at his disposal to inspire the whole parish or diocese towards growth in faith and charity, helping them to transmit these virtues to those who are still far from Christ and his church.
This distinctively Pallottine apostolate should be a characteristic within any and every church in which they exist, however much they themselves may be organized.
The activities which St Vincent and his first collaborators conjointly organised with the laity were extremely diverse. So, imitating them and remaining in the charism and spirituality of our Founder, we will be able to serve and will be welcomed in any local Church.
In a time such as ours, when ecumenism is much spoken of, it does not make sense to create divisions through a fanatical way of living our charism, as if it were the only way that will save the church.
+José Maria Maimone sac – Umuarama – BRAZIL