As the crisp St. Patrick’s Day morning gave way to afternoon, a group of about 20 eager men and women assembled March 17 at St. Stanislaus Parish Center, Lansdale, for a Lenten retreat sponsored by the Philadelphia chapter of Communion and Liberation.

The retreat, which sought to foster a better understanding of poverty and how one approaches Christ, was conducted by Father Philip Forlano.

The retreated challenged those in attendance to rethink their Lenten sacrifices not as a series of acts that justify us, but instead as prayers to Christ that ask him to transform us through his presence.

Father Forlano spoke extensively about spiritual poverty and how the longing for Christ satisfies what we long for in the rest of our lives. At the outset of the retreat, he referenced the hymn, “There is a Longing,” which invokes all the things one longs for in life and how Christ provides them if one is open to his love.

What seemed most striking to the people gathered for the retreat was the call to poverty not simply as an abandonment of possessions, but as an abandonment of our own will to the Will of Christ.

After Father Forlano spoke, the retreatants were invited to reflect on poverty in their own lives as well as times when they have felt the desire to change come upon them. That is, when had they surrendered to God’s calling?

Often in these group settings, even adults can be timid and unwilling to share their life experiences, but something about the themes discussed in this retreat encouraged an earnest openness in many who came.

Many said they were blessed to hear the experiences of the others, both when they had resisted the call to spiritual poverty and the positive outcomes they experienced when they approached Christ’s calling in earnest.

About half of the people who had come to the retreat last Saturday had some experience with Communion and Liberation in the past. And for the other half, having no experience with the Catholic movement did not appear to impact their willingness to share.

The themes of the day reached everyone in some capacity. One of the attendees, Barbara Kirby from St. Agnes Parish in West Chester, said Communion and Liberation is “an answer for a lot of the searching of youth.”

The founder of the movement, Father Luigi Guissani, would agree. He developed the basis for what would become the Communion and Liberation movement while teaching high school in Milan. The year was 1954 and Father Guissani was trying to impress upon his students the conviction that man’s true liberation lies in communion with Christ.

The priest’s mission would spread until in 1969, when Communion and Liberation became an ecclesiastical movement in earnest.

Today, Communion and Liberation is present in 90 countries around the world. There is no need to register or enroll in the movement. Those interested can find weekly meetings in a number of parishes around the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

Meetings consist of reading and personal meditation, followed by discussion with others in the group. Everyone who attends is encouraged to do so with a willingness to learn and a sincere desire to witness one’s own change in moving toward Christ.

At all the meetings, the basic thrust is to help people embrace spiritual poverty and move into a closer relationship with Christ.

Learn more about the Communion and Liberation movement, which has no connection to liberation theology, on the organization’s website.