John Paul II celebrated the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the Legionaries of Christ by receiving 20,000 priests, religious, and Regnum Christi members on January 4.
The meeting was transferred at the last minute from Paul VI Hall to St. Peter's Square because of the number of participants. The Holy Father praised Fr. Marcial Maciel, founder of this ecclesial reality, for his service to the Church, and expressed his gratitude for the affection of the Legionaries and Regnum Christi members for Peter's successor.
In the presence of pilgrims of all ages, countries, and social classes, the Holy Father recalled the date of "January 3, 1941, when this work first emerged in Mexico City."
"You have realized how this little seed, which the Divine Sower planted in several youthful hearts, is now a full-grown tree that shelters within it numerous priests, consecrated persons, and lay people whose ideal is to give their life for the spread of the Kingdom of Christ in the world."
On January 2, within the framework of the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the Legionaries of Christ, 37 deacons of this congregation were ordained by Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy. The new deacons represent a wide array of countries: 10 from Spain, 10 from the United States, 9 from Mexico, 2 from Germany, 2 from France, and one each from Brazil, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Italy.
At noon on Sunday, December 31, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican Secretary of State, blessed and inaugurated the new headquarters of the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, the Legionaries' university in Rome, which also has a campus in New York.
There are about 500 priests in this Congregation, and 2,500 seminarians, working in a total of 20 countries. All together, 40 nationalities are represented. At present, 500 students are studying philosophy and theology in Rome. The Regnum Christi lay movement has some 50,000 members worldwide.
According to the latest Spanish edition of L'Osservatore Romano, "in the climate of religious persecution that still prevailed in some Mexican states, on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the year 1936, Marcial Maciel, a 16-year old Mexican seminarian, perceived with extraordinary clarity the call of God to form a group of priests who would be dedicated with enthusiasm and generosity to spreading the Kingdom of Christ among men."
"Three attempts were necessary before the plan crystallized into reality," the article goes on. "On January 3, 1941, the first Friday of the month, young Marcial Maciel, who was then a 20-year-old seminarian of the diocese of Cuernavaca, founded the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ with 13 adolescents, in the basement of a house in Mexico City charitably loaned by a friendly family."
The Holy See approved the Legion of Christ with the Decretum laudis [Decree of Praise, the Vatican document that raises a congregation to Pontifical right] in 1965. In 1970, Pope Paul VI entrusted to the Congregation the prelature of Chetumal (present day diocese of Cancún-Chetumal), in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, which has a high percentage of inhabitants decended from the Mayans. In this territory, which is virtually the size of Switzerland, 10% of the Congregation's priests carry out their pastoral ministry, assisted by several lay members of the "Regnum Christi." Over the past 30 years, the Congregation's missionaries have constructed close to 230 churches and oratories.
At present the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi members direct 145 schools, 21 higher institutes of education, and 9 universities.
Since the early 60s, the Legionaries have fostered the apostolic participation of the laity, particularly through the Regnum Christi movement. Members of this Movement have worked to produce magazines, newspapers, radio and television programs, and to intensify the Christian presence in politics, business, and professional life. In addition, they have been involved in numerous social works, especially to help the neediest, with institutions like "Helping Hand," which founds schools for needy people.
During the audience, John Paul II described the aspects of spirituality that most characterize this religious family, which is centered on evangelical charity, love for Christ, and intense love for the Church.
The Holy Father encouraged his listeners, saying: "Continue to spread, as you have done until now, and with renewed zeal, the Magisterium and doctrine of the Church, both through the numerous initiatives that have arisen for this purpose among you over the 60 years of existence, as well as the many others that your apostolic fervor will have the boldness to inspire for the good of souls."
Finally, John Paul II reiterated the words he expressed to the more than 2 million youths who participated in the Jubilee's World Youth Day: "If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world ablaze!"