Pope Francis on Saturday urged members of an international Catholic movement to nurture unity and love for the Church, especially during times of crisis.

“Always love the Church. Love and preserve the unity of your ‘fellowship.’ Do not let your fraternity be wounded by divisions and oppositions, which play into the hands of the evil one,” the pope said in a meeting with Communion and Liberation at the Vatican on Saturday.

“Even difficult times can be times of grace, and rebirth,” he underlined in his speech to more than 50,000 members of the ecclesial movement.

Followers of Communion and Liberation traveled from over 60 countries for the encounter with Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square Oct. 15.

The event marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Father Luigi Giussani, a theologian and public intellectual who founded Communion and Liberation. Giussani died in 2005 and his cause for beatification was opened in 2012.

Saturday’s meeting opened with a greeting from Communion and Liberation President Davide Prosperi and two member testimonies.

Prosperi succeeded Father Julián Carrón, who resigned as Communion and Liberation president in November 2021, following changes from the Vatican which set limits on the terms of leaders of international associations of the faithful.

The 72-year-old priest had served as president of the international fraternity since 2005, the year of its founder’s death.

Pope Francis, in his speech, acknowledged that the movement has been in a period of transition, “not at all easy,” following the death of the founder Father Giussani.

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He also commented on a “time of crisis” in the movement. “We have to thank Father Julian Carrón for his service in leading the movement during this period and for keeping the rudder of communion steady with the pontificate,” Francis said.

“However,” he continued, “there has been no shortage of serious problems, divisions, and certainly even an impoverishment in the presence of such an important ecclesial movement as Communion and Liberation, from which the Church, and myself, hopes for more, much more.”

The Holy See, in September 2021, appointed a special delegate to oversee Memores Domini, the lay consecrated branch of Communion and Liberation, in the wake of concerns about governance.

“Times of crisis are times of recapitulation of your extraordinary history of charity, culture and mission; they are times of critical discernment of what has limited the fruitful potential of Father Giussani’s charism,” the pope said. “They are times of renewal and missionary relaunch in light of the current ecclesial moment, as well as the needs, sufferings and hopes of contemporary humanity.”

“Crisis,” he underlined, “makes for growth. It should not be reduced to conflict, which undoes.”

He encouraged the movement to foster unity amid diversity, and to not waste any time with “gossip, mistrust, and opposition.” He added: “Please, do not waste time.”

The pope also reflected on three aspects of the movement’s founder: his charism, his vocation as an educator, and his love for the Church.

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He recalled the words of Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Ratzinger, at Father Giussani’s funeral, that he “always kept the gaze of his life and heart fixed on Christ. He understood in this way that Christianity is not an intellectual system, a package of dogmas, a moralism, but that Christianity is an encounter; a love story; it is an event.”

“You know well,” Francis said, “that the discovery of a charism always comes through an encounter with concrete people. These people are witnesses who enable us to approach a greater reality, which is the Christian community, the Church.”

“It is in the Church that the encounter with Christ remains alive. It is the Church the place where all charisms are kept, nurtured and deepened,” he said. “We are all called to this: to be mediators for others of the encounter with Christ, and then to let them go their own way, without binding them to us.”