PARIS – Last month Emmanuel Macron captured the attention of the world with his surprise surge in polls that led to his election as the youngest President of the French Republic. Meanwhile, another Emmanuel is also celebrating its own moment in the limelight.
That’s the Emmanuel Community, an international Catholic Community founded in France, who also enjoys a reputation for youthful energy and a quest for unity. Since its formation in the early 1970s, the Community has grown to over 11,000 members in over 60 countries.
On June 3, Pope Francis joined forces with 50,000 members of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR) to mark their 50th anniversary.
Just days before this historic event, Laurent Landete, the international moderator for the Emmanuel Community — which is a part of the CCR — was in his Paris office reflecting on the most unlikely of circumstances: A new movement that has managed to transform a Church in a nation that is infamous for being resistant to change.
Founded by Pierre Goursat and Martine Laffitte, the Emmanuel Community originated with two lay individuals who experienced an “outpouring of the Holy Spirit.” This would compel them to launch a prayer group in Paris that would quickly grow and expand into one of the most popular French Catholic movements of the last century.
According to Landete, the two realized that “a prayer group was not sufficient. A community was needed, with a focus on adoration, compassion, and evangelization—all of which were missing in the French Church at the time.
“The community was really a response to a particular situation in France,” Landete told Crux. “The Church in France was really cerebral in the years after the Second Vatican Council and was suffering politically from the situation of 1968. Prayer was not evident to the people. Evangelization was not evident and a lot of priests were leaving the Church.”
Enter Goursat and Laffitte (and the Holy Spirit, Landete might add) and a new vision for a community that was reflective of individuals in all different stages of life and brought together priests and lay people in an effort to offer a new way of living deeply in the Catholic faith.
In the early years of the founding, Goursat traveled with a small contingent to the United States to learn from the early Catholic Charismatic movements.
Upon his return to France, his idea for the Community was dismissed by Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger as “an American way of life” and not fitting for France, the eldest daughter of the Church.
Yet as Landete explained, Goursat sought to create “not a Protestant way of life but a Catholic one” and when Lustiger came to understand the vision for a Community that “served to integrate laypeople and priests, he realized it was good for the Church.”
Despite resistance from other bishops, Lustiger gave the Community his blessing — and his protection — and the Emmanuel Community has been growing and flourishing ever since.
Critical to this, said Landete, is the synergy between priests and laity.
“While Goursat was not a theologian, our success has been a confirmation of the intuition of the Second Vatican Council, particularly Lumen Gentium where the sacerdotal priesthood is meant to serve the universal priesthood.”
Unlike most other movements, the priests of the Emmanuel Community are incarnated within their particular dioceses as diocesan priests and assigned to the Community.
According to Landete, this is a strategic decision “to renew the Church from within, not outside the institution.”
With this arrangement, both priests and lay people work in tandem toward the ultimate goal of the Community: living within the world together in pursuit of lives of sanctity.
“The best attraction is when people see priests and lay people together, not as a rivalry,” observed Landete.
Today the Emmanuel Community is known throughout the world for its Schools of Mission for young people, including one that will soon open in New York City.
In addition, they run regular “sessions” (or retreats) that are hosted at various shrines throughout the world — most notably at Paray-le-Monial in France — with a particular focus on prayer and adoration.
International missions work has also been a primary activity as an outgrowth of the Community’s focus on compassion and evangelization, along with their Zacchaeus Course, which aims to infuse Catholic Social Teaching in everyday life.
Landete, who joined the Community at age twenty, has now spent almost three decades working to further this mission. At the time, he was invited by members of the Community to join their work at Lourdes.
It was there that he was “touched by the outpouring of compassion” as he worked with handicapped individuals. “Their hope gave me hope.”
From there he would eventually meet his wife, another Emmanuel Community volunteer, but he had one primary consideration before officially joining the group.
“I said to myself, I can only join if they love the Pope and Mary,” he recalled. As international head of the Community, he’s still asking that same question to his fellow members.
“I always ask the Community, who do we love? The question is not whether this pope thinks the same thing as me or if he has the same sensibilities. It’s do we love the successor of Saint Peter? To be Catholic is to be in deep communion with the head of the apostles at all times! There is no option.”
Landete acknowledges that the Francis papacy has brought about change for both the Church and the Community and there have been some tensions as a result.
“We totally loved John Paul II, who was one of the greatest popes in history,” said Landete. “Benedict XVI touched me very deeply, because he was a humble servant of the truth. And I love this Pope very much and think he’s just right for our time. And we will have to support the following popes with as much faith. Above all, I believe that the Holy Spirit leads the Church. We don’t have to be afraid.”
When asked about what how Francis has brought about specific transformation for the Community, Landete turned to their focus on compassion. “The language of the Church is often not comprehensible. But when we use the language of mercy and compassion, we are able to say to the world that the Lord is merciful and we love you, and they understand that. That is the language of this papacy and we should embrace it.”
At the recent 50th anniversary celebration for the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Francis praised the movement and its “privileged place for moving along the road towards unity.” Landete agrees that this is a particular gift and privilege—and one that he anticipated several months ago at a planning meeting for this event.
“Our question is not what is our past,” he told the group’s leaders at a closed-door session last fall. “It is what is the present and what is our future.
“I think it is to be linked to the prophetic mission of this pontificate. It is to be linked to issues of immigration, promoting family life and marriage, fighting against the terrible confusion of gender ideology, to be committed in the ecological transition, defending all lives, and magnifying the vocation of women in the Church as lay persons and not in a clerical way. If we are involved in the renewal and unity of the Church, we have to receive these questions with the Holy Spirit, and we must support the pope.”
For Landete, if such a vision is embraced it will not only yield benefits for the Church but it will also be good for France. In a post-election season that has left the country divided, he believes the Emmanuel Community has a critical role to play in helping others seek understanding.
“I think there is, in France, a movement of young people who are very Catholic and are interested in social questions and seeking dialogue with the world. Our vision for France is to integrate the social questions with spiritual ones. We cannot make the mistake of our fathers of focusing on social questions without the spiritual ones.
“That’s why this Pope is a sign for us because he is a spiritual man, reminding us to always pray,” he added. “He encourages us through prayer to open our eyes to difficult social situations. That’s why this Pope is not loved by everyone, because that can be hard and difficult. But that’s why he is right for us and our Community and for all of the Church.”
Emmanuel means “God with us,” Landete concluded. “We are about the incarnation and being in this world. We are not a monastery.”