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A constant feature of the life of the Church

The burgeoning of associations of the laity, which are such a typical feature of the contemporary Church, is by no means unprecedented in the Church’s history. As John Paul II has said, across the centuries "we have constantly seen the phenomenon of groups of varying sizes being spontaneously urged on to join together, driven by a mysterious prompting of the Holy Spirit, to pursue specific charitable or spiritual purposes to meet particular needs of the Church in their time and also to cooperate in her essential and permanent mission".(1) Even a cursory glance at the history of the Church reveals the magnitude of the work performed by these associations at crucial moments in its existence, and the wealth of charisms generated in all ages by lay movements created for the renewal of the Christian life. The development of monasticism in the first millennium, and the emergence of the mendicant Orders in the 13th century stand as evidence of the work of the laity. In the 16th century, before and after the Council of Trent, in the wake of Church reform, a vast network of lay associations was created, in which a leading part was played by the Confraternities, Oratories and the Marian Congregations.

The latter half of the 19th century saw the founding of the Vincentian Conferences by Blessed Frédéric Ozanam, the Union of Catholic Apostolate by St Vincent Pallotti, educational initiatives by St John Bosco, and social work by Blessed Adolph Kolping, to mention but a few of the many society-oriented associations that were established in that period, and which were to flow into the Catholic movement of social and welfare organisations which Leo XIII did so much to encourage.

It was also in that period that Catholic Action was founded. It went on to flourish, particularly during the Pontificate of Pius XI, and from it specialised associations of Catholics emerged to address specific age groups and environments. In the first few decades of the 20th century numerous Catholic international organisations gradually spread throughout the world, covering vast areas of action — the family, the professions, education, culture, politics, the media, charitable work and human development.

More recently, giving renewed vigour to the Church’s acknowledgement of the dignity and responsibility of all Christians by virtue of their baptism, Vatican II not only gave a powerful impetus to the whole universe of lay associations, but also to the emergence of new charisms and new forms of associations going by the name of ’ecclesial movements’ and ’new communities’.(2) In Christifideles Laici, written 20 years after the Council, it is precisely this to which John Paul II was referring when he wrote that, "the phenomenon of lay people associating among themselves has taken on a character of particular variety and vitality [heralding in] a new era of group endeavours [in which] alongside the traditional forming of associations, and at times coming from their very roots, movements and new sodalities have sprouted, with a specific feature and purpose [...] so great is the capacity of initiative and the generosity of our lay people".(3) The Pope sees these movements as one of the most significant fruits of the new springtime of the Church that burgeoned with the Second Vatican Council, and as "a motive of hope for the Church and for humanity" today,(4) a work of the Spirit that makes the Church a stream of new life flowing through the history of mankind. In our increasingly secularised world, in which the faith of many is sorely tested, and is frequently stifled and dies, the movements and the new ecclesial communities, which are bearers of unexpected and powerful newness, are "the response, given by the Holy Spirit, to this critical challenge at the end of the millennium, [a] providential response".(5) As John Paul II sees it, the lay associations in the Church are opening up a phase that is rich in expectations and hopes.

The importance of lay associations in the mission of the Church

In the light of the Church’s renewed self-awareness as the mystery of missionary communion, Vatican II - after urging the lay faithful to remember that the individual apostolate is unique and "admits of no substitute" as the "origin and condition of the whole lay apostolate",(6) - went on to emphasise the importance of organised forms of lay apostolate(7) which are not only consistent with the social nature of the human person, but "at the same time signify the communion and unity of the Church in Christ".(8) Pointing out that "the associations established for carrying on the apostolate in common sustain their members, form them for the apostolate, and... much better results can be expected than if each member were to act on his own," the Council went on to say that, "in view of the progress of social institutions and the fast-moving pace of modern society, the global nature of the Church’s mission requires that apostolic enterprises of Catholics should more and more develop organised forms in the international sphere".(9) These have to be strengthened not only because they "can contribute in many ways to the building up of a peaceful and fraternal community of nations", but also because they help to "form an awareness of genuine universal solidarity and responsibility".(10)

In the section of the Code of Canon Law dealing with associations of the faithful, a distinction is made between public associations and private associations, and conditions are laid down for their recognition or erection;(11) it confirms that "Christ’s faithful may freely establish and direct associations which serve charitable or pious purposes or which foster the Christian vocation in the world".(12) Here, the Code is reiterating the teaching of Vatican II, which explicitly states that, "Maintaining the proper relationship to Church authorities, the laity have the right to found and control such associations and to join those already existing."(13) This right and the resultant freedom to form and join associations do not depend on the benevolence of the Pastors, but are rooted in the nature of the human person and stem from the ontological reality of the sacrament of baptism which creates a fundamental equality between all the members of the people of God as "new creatures" (cf 2 Cor 5:17), grafted onto Christ and animated by the Holy Spirit. It is precisely by virtue of their right as baptised Christians, that this freedom is exercised in harmony with the ecclesiology of communion referred to in Christifideles Laici, which presents the Church as an organic communion of vocations, ministries, services, charisms and responsibilities in all their diversity and complementarity.(14) And this freedom must be exercised under the paternal oversight of the Pastors, who have the responsibility of discerning charisms and recognising or erecting the associations of the faithful.

On many occasions, John Paul II made it clear that "there is no conflict or opposition in the Church between the institutional dimension and the charismatic dimension, of which the movements are a significant expression. Both are co-essential to the divine constitution of the Church founded by Jesus, because they both help to make the mystery of Christ and his saving grace present in the world."(15)

Charisms are gifts of the Holy Spirit to the Church to make it ever more able to perform its mission in the world, and should therefore be welcomed with gratitude, and accompanied and helped to develop.(16) The canonical recognition that they officially receive from the Church authorities confirms the validity of what they offer the faithful as a genuine means of moving forward towards the holiness of personal and community life. It is for this reason that discernment and recognition must take place in the light of the clear "criteria of ecclesiality" which are listed in Christifideles Laici. It might be useful to recall briefly at this point: "the primacy given to the call of every Christian to holiness, the responsibility of professing the Catholic faith, the witness to a strong and authentic communion with the Successor of St Peter and the local Bishop, and a commitment to a presence in human society".(17) These criteria - which "find their verification in the actual fruits that various group forms show in their organisational life and the works they perform",(18) - are essential guidelines for the work of discernment performed by the Pastors, and are valuable signposts to be followed by associations and movements, which are significantly urged by the Pope to set out along the path of "ecclesial maturity".(19)

The nature and purpose of this Directory

The Directory is a response to the invitation extended by John Paul II to the Pontifical Council for the Laity in Christifideles Laici to draw up a list of associations which have received the "official recognition and explicit approval" of the Holy See.(20) Considering the wealth of charisms and different forms that associations of the laity have in today’s Church, in its response to the Holy Father’s request, the Pontifical Council for the Laity worked on the idea of publishing a Directory of the international associations of the faithful, to present a general picture as comprehensively as possible, and based on the latest data at its disposal, of the phenomenon of associations throughout the vast and varied world of the Catholic laity.

It was in April 2000 that the Pontifical Council began by sending a form to all the international associations of the faithful in contact with it, to be used as the blueprint for submitting information on what they are and what they do. All the forms that were submitted, in different ways and at different times, by the associations who responded to this request were carefully examined and the information was painstakingly extracted to ensure uniformity in the way the data would be set out, but also in many cases it was necessary to ask for clarifications, explanations and missing data. Particular care has been taken to spell out the charisms at the origin of the associations listed in the Directory, always seeking to safeguard the concepts and keywords that characterise their particular experiences.

This Directory, which contains 122 associations of the faithful, is the first publication by the Pontifical Council for the Laity in which such a full and systematic treatment has been given to the associations in the contemporary lay Catholic world.(21) In view of the great variety of different types of associations, and their differing legal status and statutes, it must be borne in mind that this Directory lists associations - distinct from Institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life - that have an international spread and in which "the Christian faithful, whether clerics, lay persons, or clerics and lay persons together, strive in a common endeavour to foster a more perfect life, to promote public worship or Christian doctrine, or to exercise other works of the apostolate such as initiatives of evangelization, works of piety or charity, and those which animate the temporal order with a Christian spirit".(22) It also lists international associations with a particular ecumenical and/or interfaith vocation in which the Catholic component prevails. But it does not list any of the associations which, while in contact with the Pontifical Council for the Laity, are juridically dependent on other Departments of the Roman Curia (such as the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the Congregation for the Clergy, the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples), and those which work exclusively in the diocesan or national environment.

Each of the associations listed in this volume has a section to itself, giving its official name, any commonly used name and acronym (and whenever necessary, the name in the original language on which the acronym is based), the year of  foundation, a short historical background, their identity, organisation, dissemination, works, publications, web sites and the addresses of their head offices, and their logos. Where no data has been submitted, the relevant items have been omitted. The addresses of the head offices given here are those of the members of the teams of officials who are periodically renewed; when the Directory is eventually published, some may therefore no longer be valid. In these cases, the web sites of the associations may be useful. The associations are listed in alphabetical order of their official names in English except in rare cases where translation would not be appropriate. Considering the pace at which the associations are changing and developing, this Directory will have to be periodically updated.

This Directory of the associations of the faithful is designed to be a resource on which the pastors of the Church can draw to find useful information when first coming into contact with any particular lay association, and as a practical tool to assist them in the performance of their ministry; it is also designed for the associations of the faithful themselves, as a stimulus to become better acquainted with one another in a spirit of ecclesial communion; and lastly it is for all those who wish to find out more about the world of Catholic lay associations, to study it more closely.

Reiterating the urgent need for a new evangelisation, John Paul II constantly referred to the role of "forms of association, whether of the more traditional kind or the newer ecclesial movements, which continue to give the Church a vitality that is God’s gift".(23) The Pontifical Council for the Laity is confident that the Directory will help to bear testimony to this.

Stanislaw Rylko
Titular Archbishop of Novica
President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity



1 JOHN PAUL II, speaking to the Ecclesial Movements attending the II International Colloquium, original version in "Insegnamenti", X, 1 (1987), 477.

2 Cf. H. JEDIN (a cura di) Storia della Chiesa, Jaca Book, Milano 1992-1995; A. FLICHE-V. MARTIN, (a cura di), Storia della Chiesa, Edizione Paoline, Torino 1957-1991; F. GONZÁLEZ-FERNÁNDEZ, I movimenti. Dalla Chiesa degli apostoli a oggi, BUR, Milano 2000; J. RATZINGER, The Ecclesial Movements: A Theological Reflection on Their Place in the Church, in Movements in the Church, Pontificium Consilium pro Laicis, Città del Vaticano 1999, 23-51.

3 JOHN PAUL II, Postsynodal Apostolic Exhortation, Christifideles Laici, no. 29.

4 JOHN PAUL II, Homily on the Vigil of Pentecost, original version in "Insegnamenti", XIX, 1 (1996), 1373.

5 JOHN PAUL II, Address on the Occasion of the Meeting with Ecclesial Movements and New Communities at the Vigil of Pentecost, in Movements in the Church, op. cit., 223.

6 SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Decree on The Apostolate of the Laity Apostolicamb Actuositatem, no. 16.

7 Cf. Ibid., nos. 18-21.

8 Ibid., no. 18.

9 Ibid., no. 19.

10 Cf. SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, no. 90.

11 Cf. Code of Canon Law, cann. 298-329.

12 Ibid., can. 215; cfr. Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches, can. 18.

13 SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity Apostolicam Actuositatem, no. 19.

14 JOHN PAUL II, Postsynodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici, no. 20.

15 JOHN PAUL II, Message to Participants in the World Congress of the Ecclesial Movements, in Movements in the Church, op. cit., 18-19.

16 Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio, no. 72.

17 JOHN PAUL II, Postsynodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici, no. 30.

18 Ibid.

19 JOHN PAUL II, Address on the Occasion of the Meeting with Ecclesial Movements and New Communities at the Vigil of Pentecost, in Movements in the Church, op. cit., 222.

20 Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Postsynodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici, no 31.

21 In 1973 the Consilium de Laicis published "The Catholic International Organisations (CIO)" in its Bulletin, "The Laity Today" no. 13-14, and in 1983 the booklet entitled "Associations of the Laity. Summary data" which not only provided information on the CIOs, but also on a number of lay movements and associations in contact with the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

22 Code of Canon Law, can. 298 (1).

23 JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, no. 46.




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