Pope, Vatican Officials Spotlight Legionaries, Regnum Christi

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service [Vatican]
November 30, 2004

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a week of liturgies, meetings and official documents, Pope John Paul II and Vatican offices have spotlighted the growing influence of the Legionaries of Christ and the associated movement, Regnum Christi.

The events coincided with celebrations in Rome of the 60th anniversary of the priestly ordination of the Legionaries' founder and head, Mexican Father Marcial Maciel Degollado.

Among other things, the pope entrusted to the Legionaries the administration of an important church institution in the Holy Land, Jerusalem's Notre Dame Center. He also approved the statutes and charism of the Regnum Christi movement.

A top Vatican official ordained 59 Legionaries of Christ priests from 10 countries and said the new vocations underline the international nature of the religious order.

Closing the celebrations at the Vatican Nov. 30, the pope presided over an enthusiastic encounter with some 4,000 Legionaries of Christ priests and seminarians and Regnum Christi members.

After warmly greeting Father Maciel, the pope said in a speech that the priest's ministry had been "full of the gifts of the Holy Spirit."

The pope thanked the Legionaries and Regnum Christi members for the loyalty they have shown to the church and to the pontiff. Their style of apostolate, he said, rightly reflects the need to proclaim Gospel truths fearlessly, "with intellectual depth and with courage."

The pope posed for pictures, kissed babies and gave personal blessings to several hundred people during the meeting in the Vatican's audience hall.

In a letter posted on the Legionaries' Web site, the pope congratulated Father Maciel for 60 years of "intense, generous and fruitful priestly ministry." The pope said he wanted to join in the "canticle of praise and thanksgiving" for the great things the priest has accomplished and said Father Maciel has always been concerned with the "integral promotion of the person."

The pope lauded Father Maciel's missionary and spiritual efforts, in particular an international network of schools, university centers, charitable institutions and institutes that promote family and human values.

Father Maciel, 84, founded the Legionaries in 1941, and it has grown to include about 500 priests and 2,500 seminarians, who work in more than 20 countries. The Regnum Christi movement has tens of thousands of members around the world, most of them lay men and women.

Father Maciel's long ministry has not been without controversy. In 1997, he categorically denied allegations published in a U.S. newspaper that he had sexually abused several former Legionaries when they were teenage seminarians in the 1940s, '50s and '60s.

The repetition of the allegations against Father Maciel by some former members of the order has prompted the Legionaries to post a special page of rebuttal documentation on the order's Web site.

The pope's decision to entrust the Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem to the Legionaries was communicated in a document issued at the pope's own initiative and handed to Father Maciel. The move was reported by Zenit, an online Catholic news service that is close to the Legionaries and Regnum Christi.

The 100-year-old center operates as the Vatican's main pilgrimage and cultural institution in Jerusalem. It has 150 guest rooms, a church, library, Internet services and a modern conference facility, including a new John Paul II Auditorium.

The Vatican decree formally approving the statutes of Regnum Christi came at the request of Father Maciel. The decree said Regnum Christi's specific charism is the same as that of the Legionaries of Christ: to help build the "civilization of Christian justice and love" by knowing, living and preaching Christ's commandment of love.

The works carried out by the Legionaries and Regnum Christi today include schools and universities, Catholic media outlets, youth programs, missions, humanitarian aid, economic development, family and parenting programs and adult religious education.


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