Communion and Liberation

Communion and Liberation

Communion and Liberation, or CL, is a lay ecclesial movement within the Catholic Church.



CL grew out of the educational and catechetical methods of Msgr. Luigi Giussani, who founded the movement. Giussani developed these methods through his work within the Catholic youth association Gioventù Studentesca (GS, literally "Student Youth") born in 1954 at Berchet High School in Milan, where Giussani was a teacher. In its official literature CL emphasizes its continuity with Gioventú Studentesca, to the extent that CL traces its founding to 1954 and celebrated 2004 as its fiftieth anniversary. However, the name "Communion and Liberation" was first used in 1969 among a group who were a minority of the former "giessini", or GS members. Although it remains primarily an Italian phenomenon, CL established an international presence during the pontificate of John Paul II and is present today in approximately eighty countries around the world, including the United States, with a particularly strong presence in Spain and Brazil. The current leader of CL is the Spanish priest Julián Carrón (successor to Giussani, who guided the movement until his death in 2005). Communion and Liberation is occasionally confused with the similarly titled, but unrelated liberation theology.

Regarded by many Italians during its early history to be a Catholic integralist and anti-Marxist political organization, today CL has an international presence beyond Italy and has shifted its energy away from partisan politics and towards cultural, charitable and educational works.

Membership and Structure

CL's adherents are predominantly lay Catholics. However, there are also priests and religious who belong to the movement, as well as consecrated lay men and women who are committed to lifelong celibacy, known as the Memores Domini. Several bishops (Luigi Negri, prelate of San Marino-Montefeltro, Gianni Danzi, prelate of Loreto, Giancarlo Vecèrrica, prelate of Fabriano-Matelica, in Italy; Filippo Santoro, prelate of Petrópolis, Giuliano Frigeni, prelate of Parintins, Giancarlo Petrini, auxiliary prelate of Salvador de Bahia, and Guido Zendron, prelate of Paulo Afonso, in Brazil; Javier Martinez, archbishop of Granada, Spain; Paolo Pezzi, archbishop-designate of the Diocese of the Mother of God, Moscow, Russia) and one cardinal, (Angelo Scola, Patriarch of Venice) are former members; all of them have officially withdrawn from activity in CL immediately upon elevation to the episcopacy. The leaders of the movement include both lay persons (including non-celibate laity) and priests.

While it has a hierarchical organizational structure, CL does not issue membership cards or keep an official register of adherents, opting instead for a free and flexible form of membership. Participation in the CL movement can involve a relatively low degree of commitment, such as attending a weekly catechesis known as a "School of Community", or a high degree of commitment such as enrollment in the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation. It is difficult to estimate the number of adherents; in Italy, over 100,000 persons participate in the weekly School of Community. Since 1982 CL's official canonical recognition within the Catholic Church is through a structure called the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, an association of pontifical right composed of the more committed members.

Papal Support

According to Giussani, Pope Paul VI strongly encouraged Giussani's work at a 1975 Palm Sunday youth rally at which 17,000 CL members were present.

Pope John Paul II was openly supportive of CL. In 1984 he encouraged the movement to develop a worldwide presence, and in a letter to Giussani of February 22, 2004 wrote that CL "has chosen and chooses to indicate not a road, but the road . . . The road, as you have affirmed so many times, is Christ."[1]

Pope Benedict XVI is said to view CL favorably. A longtime friend of Msgr. Giussani, then-Cardinal Ratzinger personally celebrated the funeral Mass of Msgr. Giussani, who died on the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter and whose funeral was the same day that Pope John Paul II was checked into the hospital before his subsequent death. According to Vatican reporter John Allen, during this time Ratzinger told a priest of CL that Giussani "changed my life"; Allen also reports that the papal household is now run by consecrated members of CL (Memores Domini) and that Pope Benedict joins them weekly for their School of Community.[2] Upon the death of Manuela Camagni, a Memor Domini who served in this capacity, in November 2011, she was referred to as a member of the papal family and the pope said Mass for her and sent condolences to the CL movement. [3]

Charism, Methods, and Spirituality

CL describes its purpose as "the education to Christian maturity of its adherents and collaboration in the mission of the Church in all the spheres of contemporary life." It aims to communicate the awareness that Christ is the one true response to the deepest needs of people in every moment of history. CL says that it requires only that Christ be recognized as immediately present. The person who encounters and welcomes the presence of Christ undergoes a conversion that affects not only the individual but also the surrounding environment.

CL describes its charism by focusing on three dimensions:

  1. the wonder of the Incarnation, an enthusiasm for it and a recognition of its reasonableness
  2. the affirmation that Jesus of Nazareth is a present event in a sign of communion
  3. only in his presence can man be truer and mankind be truly more human.

The main method by which members of CL are formed in the faith is a weekly catechesis meeting, known as a "School of Community". Each School of Community is a group typically of several up to 10 people. In cities with a larger CL presence there may be multiple Schools of Community. The Schools of Community usually open up with prayer, often in the form of the Angelus. This is usually followed by the singing of songs. Next, the School of Community will read and discuss together some text, focusing both on what it says and comparing it to one's own lived experience. Often, the text comes from a portion of Monsignor Luigi Giussani's trilogy of works (known as the Per Corso Trilogy): The Religious Sense, At The Origin Of The Christian Claim, Why The Church?, and currently Giussani's posthumous work "Is It Possible To Live This Way? An Unusual Approach to Christian Existence Vol. 2 Hope". Finally, the School of Community will close with prayer, usually the Memorare.

A distinctive element of CL spirituality is the prayer, "Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni Per Mariam", or "Come Holy Spirit, Come Through Mary". Msgr. Giussani described it as a synthesis of the Catholic faith, given how the prayer links the Holy Spirit, the Creator of all through time and the One who works through the Church, with Mary's "yes" that allowed the Incarnation to proceed.


CL emerged out of Gioventù Studentesca during the late 1960s, a period of rapid change in Italian society and within the Catholic Church. Following Giussani's appointment to a chair in the theology department at Milan's Catholic University in 1965, GS had begun to drift away from Giussani's methods and was adopting social and political ideals popular among student movements in Italy at the time. By 1968, a significant number of GS members had left to join the secular revolutionary student movement, and many had become active Marxists. The group that became CL openly opposed these new revolutionary movements in the universities, in contrast to the increasing trend within the official Catholic youth and lay organizations to abandon their traditional antagonism toward secularism and Marxism. The contrast had become a deep division by the time of Azione Cattolica's revision of its official statutes in 1969 and its adoption of a new policy of "religious choice" (a withdrawal from the sphere of partisan politics and a shift in focus towards spirituality and social justice, ostensibly in response to the Second Vatican Council). The faction of former GS members who rejected both the leftist student movement and the new direction of the official Catholic organizations took the name Comunione e Liberazione (originally the title of a manifesto they had authored and distributed).

During the 1970s, Giussani took an increasing interest in CL, which had resumed many of the distinctive practices and methods of GS and was operating as an unofficial Catholic organization in Italy outside the traditional lay Catholic structures, tending to be viewed with suspicion by the church hierarchy. Nevertheless, during the 1974 Italian referendum on divorce it was CL rather than the official Catholic organizations that undertook the task of defending the Catholic Church's position to Italian society. Through its role in the referendum CL gained the sympathy and trust of many Italian bishops and of Pope Paul VI, who voiced his support of Giussani and CL at a Palm Sunday youth event in 1975. During this time CL acquired a reputation as an integralist organization and was the target of violence, culminating in 120 attacks on persons and CL offices in 1977, during leftist students riots[citation needed].

CL in Italian society

The public and political profile of Communion and Liberation increased markedly in Italy following a referendum in 1974 legalising divorce and another bitter referendum in 1981 legalising abortion. In 1975 a political wing was created for CL within Italy's Christian Democratic Party, called Il Movimento Popolare, in order to support political candidates favorable to CL's social views - which were succinctly summarised in the formula Più società, meno Stato ("More society, less state"). The Movimento Popolare exerted considerable influence on the Italian political scene during the 1980s and 1990s and successfully engineered the election of many of its representatives. The weekly newspaper "Il Sabato" was launched in 1978 to give expression to CL's vigorous opposition to communism and support for an increased role for the Catholic Church in Italian society. The paper's circulation rose to 300,000[citation needed]. A related organization, Compagnia delle Opere, was established in 1986 as a non-profit umbrella group promoting cooperation between businesses, assisting struggling enterprises and helping the unemployed to find work. An annual week-long cultural festival known as the "Meeting for friendship among peoples", held in Rimini, Italy in August, organized by CL beginning in 1980 has grown to be a major Italian cultural event, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors.

Controversy and Politics

Meanwhile inside the Italian Church, the protracted feud between Communion and Liberation and Italy's more moderate and irenic lay movement Catholic Action continued throughout the 1980s. A majority of the Italian bishops, including the Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, supported Catholic Action and sought to restrain CL's aggressively combative approach. But Pope John Paul II and his Vicar for Rome, Cardinal Ugo Poletti, actively supported CL's movement into Italian politics.[4] During a private audience, Pope John Paul is reported to have reproved the president of the Italian Bishops' Conference, Cardinal Ballestrero of Turin, for his lack of enthusiasm for CL: "When you come to know them better", the cardinal replied, "you won't like them that much either."[5]

Tensions between CL and the Italian episcopate peaked when "Il Sabato" questioned the scientific methodology used by Bible experts in analysing the Dead Sea Scrolls (Martini is a renowned Biblical scholar). Many Italian bishops publicly voiced their displeasure with "Il Sabato", which had begun openly to question the orthodoxy of certain groups and individuals within the Italian church. In a gesture of deference to the church hierarchy Giussani declared in 1989 that Il Sabato was no longer an official organ of CL. The paper continued to publish without Giussani's official endorsement for a few more years, but folded in 1993.

By the mid 1990s CL's influence in Italian politics did not wane. The movement's activities underwent a change of direction in the wake of the Tangentopoli corruption scandals, in which some CL adherents were allegedly implicated but subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing. The Movimento Popolare ceased all its operations in 1993.

Since then, the movement has been highly supportive of Silvio Berlusconi, first under the umbrella of a small party called The United Christian Democrats, then (after 1998) directly within Forza Italia, later revamped into the People of Freedom. Roberto Formigoni, one of the group's most influential members, was elected Regional President of Lombardy in 1995 as the candidate of a right-wing coalition. He has been reelected three other times since then. In the 2010 Lombard regional election Formigoni was reelected for the fourth consecutive term.

The movement endorses as a fiscally conservative and a socially conservative agenda on issues such as on stem cell research, end of life issues, same-sex unions.

Groups that have grown out of the CL experience

  • The Fraternity of CL
  • Memores Domini
  • The Priestly Fraternity of the Missionaries of St.Charles Borromeo
  • The priestly Fraternity of Studium Christi
  • Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Assumption
  • The Fraternity of St Joseph
  • CLU, the college chapter of CL
  • GS, the high school chapter of CL
    • Today, GS is the name of the High School chapter of CL. There are several active communities in the US, including ones in Brooklyn, Staten Island, White Plains, Washington DC, Sacramento, Miami (FL), Boston, Chicago, St. Paul, Crosby, St. Cloud, Rochester (MN), Milwaukee, Steubenville, Evansville, Dayton, Greenville (SC), and Miami. GS is also active in Canada with communities established in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, and Vancouver. GS functions much like CL, holding weekly schools of community and twice-yearly regional vacations.
  • Ecclesial Carmelite Movement (Movimento Ecclesiale Carmelitano)


  1. ^ 20 anniversario fraternità
  2. ^ Opus Dei down to one top Vatican official; Benedict's ties to Communion and Liberation deepen | National Catholic Reporter Conversation Cafe
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Gordon Urquhart, The Pope's Armada: Unlocking the Secrets of Mysterious and Powerful New Sects in the Church, Bantam Press, 1995, pp.66, 129,173-7
  5. ^ [2] Antonio Gaspari, "Communion and Liberation: Crusaders for Catholic Integrity", Inside the Vatican, February 1996

Erlandson, Greg (1984-10-17). "Europe: Italian Group Challenges the Marxist Gospel". Wall Street Journal. p. 1. 

Harris, Michael P. (1986-09-08). "The Pope's Youthful "New Jesuits"". Time. pp. 70–71. 

Zadra, Dario (1994), "Comunione e Liberazione: A Fundamentalist Idea of Power", in M. Marty & R. Appelby, Accounting for Fundamentalisms: The Dynamic Character of Movements, Chicago: Chicago University Press, pp. 124–148 

External links

Works about CL by its founder

  • Luigi Giussani: The Religious Sense, McGill-Queen's University Press (October 1, 1997). ISBN 0-7735-1626-3.
  • Luigi Giussani: At The Origin of the Christian Claim, McGill-Queen's University Press (January 1, 1998). ISBN 0-7735-1627-1.
  • Luigi Giussani: Why the Church?, McGill-Queen's University Press (October, 2000). ISBN 0-7735-1707-3.
  • Luigi Giussani: Communion and Liberation: a Movement in the Church, McGill-Queen's University Press (April 1, 2000). ISBN 0-7735-2031-7.

Critical literature

  • Gordon Urquhart: The Pope's Armada: Unlocking the Secrets of Mysterious and Powerful New Sects in the Church, Bantam Press (June 1, 1995), ISBN 0-593-03388-4
  • Comunione e Liberazione: A Fundamentalist Idea Of Power di Dario Zadra in Accounting for Fundamentalisms: The Dynamic Character of Movements (vol. 4 of series) Part I: Accounting for Christian Fundamentalisms (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1994 - Fundamentalism Project)
  • Martin E Marty, R Scott Appleby, Fundamentalisms Observed (University of Chicago Press, 1 lug 1994), ISBN 0-226-50878-1
  • Frederic Spotts, Theodor Wieser, Italy: A Difficult Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 30 apr 1986), ISBN 0-521-31511-5
  • Gabriel Abraham Almond, R Scott Appleby, Emmanuel Sivan, Strong Religion (University of Chicago Press, 15 gen 2003), ISBN 0-226-01498-3

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