Tony HANNA, New Ecclesial Movements. New York: Alba House, 2006. pp. 282, $17.95 pb. ISBN 0-8189-0996-X.
Reviewed by Nivard STABILE, O.P., St. John’s University, NY 11439=

New Ecclesial Movements by Tony Hanna, a result of the author’s doctoral studies proved to be a comprehensive and informative volume. Dr. Hanna enlightens generously, not only on the topic of ‘movements’ but on significant and innovative aspects of ecclesiology.

In the Acknowledgements, the author takes Movements and proudly associates himself and his family in revealing his membership in “The Family of God.” His enthusiasm in sharing this early on in the book, reveals the strong influence that the notion of groups and belonging have on the author. He writes:

“My own community, The Family of God, has been a constant support….and my daily interaction with these brothers and sisters has shaped and molded many of my ideas now expressed in this book.” In the Foreword, Archbishop Sean Brady, the current Primate of Armagh, praises Dr. Hanna’s “scholarly, timely, and challenging introduction” to the phenomenon of “these new ecclesial movements.” Interestingly, the Archbishop notes that The Family of God movement was co-founded by Dr. Hanna in 1979 together with Cardinal Fiaich, also of Armagh, and followed with canonical approval by Cardinal Daly in 1991. In subsequent references, the reader easily concurs with the understanding that this family membership group is indeed a movement.

In developing authenticity for and appropriateness of the movement classification as such, Hanna underscores three traits consistent with the three movements, the subject of his book: they are primarily lay-driven, their work is to evangelize, and the group’s charism comes from their founder. While the focus is on three of the perhaps better-known Movements (Communion and Liberation, the Neo-Catechumenal Way, and Charismatic Renewal) lists of what might correctly be catalogued as regionally-known Movements, surface throughout the book. Included on that list are the following few: Opus Dei, L’Arche’s Regnum Christi, Focolarini Cursillo, and Marriage Encounter. Most of these are not today largely in our country as an enduring expression of American ecclesial inculturation. A search on the contents of several tomes, volumes on Christian tradition: McBrien, Richad P., Catholicism, Keen, Ralph, The Christian Tradition, and Cory, Catherine A. and Landry, David T., The Christian Theological Tradition, make no mention at all of ‘movements’ and include none of those listed above, except for Opus Dei, indexed one time.

Comprising the book’s nine chapters are two which attract special note. The chapter, “Vatican II: A Watershed” accents ‘the radically over-hauled vision of the laity’s role within the Church’! The second is the chapter, “The Marian Profile of the Church” in which Hanna reiterates that Mary not only gave birth to Christ but she continues to birth other Christ-like figures, namely, the members of Christ’s body, “the laity.”

The point here is that Dr. Hanna is consistent throughout that new ecclesial movements have emerged out of this evolution of laity in the Church. His claim is that Vatican II reversed what had been the prevailing vision of the laity’s role in the Church. Further, oddly enough he writes that one of the weaknesses of the new ecclesial movements is that they have been conceived by lay people. Continuing the author’s trail on the three Movements, conclusions have not always been encouraging. In one instance, the Neo-Catechumenal Way is described as having been a cause of serious disunity and spiritual discord among some of the faithful. In that case, in the Diocese of Clifton, the movement was discontinued by the Ordinary. Other Bishops censured groups claiming that it had become an attempt to create a church within a church. Other calamities regarding groups are also reported having charges such as “sexism in women’s gifts, charges of a lack of social concern in some charismatic communities, and elsewhere what was labeled as a danger of devotionalism.

A brief commentary at this point – taken directly from the Chapter, THREE MOVEMENTS EXAMINED: 1. Communion and Liberation – 1954 and founded by Msgr. Luigi Giussani. The aim is the education of its members in the mission of the Catholic Church in present-day society. Presently, CL is more attuned to its educational, cultural, and social base and has been concentrating on the crisis at the root of all social and political crises, namely, the crisis in education. 2. The Neo-Catechumenal Way – 1960 and founded by Kiko Arguello. The movement aims to recreate the lengthy period of teaching and training that catechumens underwent in the early church. It was not always well-received and often became a cause of serious disunity among some of the faithful. In 1996 the Ordinary of Clifton decreed, “… is to be discontinued in the Diocese.” Tensions had also grown between the hierarchy and the Movement. 3. The Charismatic Renewal – early 1967, and has no recognized founder, nor any particular spirituality. The basic work is the sanctifying and charismatic activity of the Spirit, by which he distributes a variety of gifts for the good of the community. Dr. Hanna’s conclusion here states that the Renewal as a movement is at a critical stage of its growth and evolution.

The forecast for the three Movements, in the author’s detailed research concludes “…..that they bring dynamism and excitement but they also engender suspicion, disturbance, and hostility.” To substantiate these charges, Hanna counters two specific causes. He states as weaknesses of these new ecclesial movements, first that they have been animated largely by lay people, and secondly that Vatican II created an ecclesiology which radically overhauled the prevailing vision of the laity’s role within the Church. He writes, “…..inevitably, acceptance of these new groups into the mainstream of the Church has not always been straightforward.”

Dr. Hanna clearly succeeds in examining the reality of the three movements he selected for review and analysis. At this time he notes, Communion and Liberation has approximately 100,000 members in Italy. On tracking the Neo-Catechumenate Way, more than half of that community are found in Europe. In assessing the Charismatic Renewal, detailed influences of Marian and Petrine dimensions are meticulously cited. The Renewal is identified as “having no human founder” ….. “an unexpected surprise of the Spirit at the time of the opening of Vatican II.” The Council created an ecclesiological climate that fostered the maturing of this new community. Dr. Hanna posits Charismatic Renewal “at a critical stage of its growth and evolution.”

At a General Audience in 1998, Pope John Paul II affirmed that there is no such thing “as a church according to a charismatic model and another according to an institutional model.” In that same year there was a World Congress of Ecclesial Movements. More than 50 groups were represented at a Pentecost meeting. The Pope exhorted the members to a renewal of the sacred liturgy, and the Church’s teaching about holiness through participation in the Sacraments to reach beyond the movements.

The book is indeed a total unveiling of the history, the identities, the hopes and the dangers of ecclesial movements in our Church. Hanna’s final chapter carefully outlines and summarizes his methodology. Interestingly, he calls on Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche – a currently thriving international movement, to share his overview of the development and understanding that comes with spawning a new movement. The final chapter, Hopes and Dangers, ends with a conviction commented on during the book that “the Church herself is a movement.” This climactic statement sets the stage for the next challenge that lies ahead if ecclesial movements are to further enrich the Church.

These 282 pages of New Ecclesial Movements take the reader immediately into the fray of church movements. Interesting and curious historical data tease the reader to continue the inquiry. The magnitude of minutiae was an added challenge to the reviewer. The lack of a subject index was a real handicap in collecting and tying information together for critiquing. I ally and associate my observations with Vanier, who in the concluding chapter states that “Structures put into place during founding years, may not be relevant in later years.” How much of this is commensurate with a seaming fragmented present of these Movements today?

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