From skepticism to gratitude: My experience of The Way

On Sunday, Oct. 14, I had the privilege of celebrating the Eucharist in Greeley with over 500 catechists from the Neocatechumenal Way. As The Way celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year, my heart was again filled with gratitude to the Father for the gift that this Itinerary of Christian Initiation has been for the local Church in Colorado and in the Universal Church.

Since its founding in Spain under the pontificate of St. Paul VI in the 1960s, every Pope has encouraged The Way, seeing the great fruit that it bears. Pope Francis, on their 50th Anniversary, stated, “Your charism is a great gift of God for the Church of our time. Let us thank the Lord for these 50 years.”

I was first introduced to The Way in Lent of 1988 by a priest friend when I was doing graduate studies in Rome. Although I hadn’t heard about them, I was curious, as my friend had spoken highly of them and shared stories of conversions that he had witnessed through The Way.

I decided that I wanted to know more about The Way, so we went to a Lenten service. During the service, many young people got up and gave testimonies of how The Way had led them to encounter Jesus Christ, which radically changed their lives. Some were former drug addicts, others lived promiscuous lives with both men and women, others were involved in violence and still others were in abusive situations. Their encounter with Jesus Christ through The Way led them away from hopelessness and the patterns of sin they had entered and into an encounter with the mercy and truth of Jesus Christ. They firmly believed in the healing power and authority of Jesus Christ and that with God all things are possible (Mt 19:26).

I remember being filled with awe and some disbelief at their testimony. Speaking with my friend on the way home, I asked if I heard everything correctly. He assured me that I had. I had to confront my own skepticism and lack of faith in Jesus Christ, and it gave me much to meditate on. I asked myself the question, “Who do I believe, the world or Jesus Christ?” The young people there had a fire and zeal in them that only the Holy Spirit could bring about.

Through the efforts of then-Archbishop Stafford, he invited The Way to Denver, and then after World Youth Day 1993 requested a Redemptoris Mater Seminary be established in Denver. The Way responded and a seminary was established in 1996, later receiving permanent approval from Archbishop Chaput. We have been blessed with 28 priests from The Way who help staff our parishes, work in the seminary and promote the formation of The Way in our parishes.

The Way has also borne missionary fruit. We have two priests from our archdiocese who serve as missionaries in other countries, and 16 young men from the archdiocese who have participated in The Way as teenagers are discerning a calling to the priesthood at other Redemptoris Mater seminaries around the world.

During the Mass on Oct. 14, I again listened to the testimonies given by the catechists, some who have walked in The Way in our parishes over 20 years. There was no skepticism in my heart, but only gratitude for the fruit that The Way has borne in the archdiocese. The words of Jesus came to my heart, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). As Pope Francis taught in his encyclical The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Guadium), precisely through inviting people to encounter Jesus and by accompanying them in the communities and steps of The Way, an abundant harvest is found in our parishes. People come to know the vine, Jesus Christ, abide in him by putting their faith in him as he transforms their lives, and then they bear much fruit as they go out to invite others to come to know Jesus.

My prayer is for The Way to continue to grow in our archdiocese and in all our parishes as a part of the new evangelization. The Way has demonstrated by its fruit that it is of the Holy Spirit and the Church has confirmed its charism. In the times in which we live, The Way is one of the signs of hope in our archdiocese. It joins other fruitful movements of the Holy Spirit, such as our archdiocesan initiative More Than You Realize, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), Christ in the City, Amazing Parish, Families of Character, ENDOW, the Augustine Institute, ChristLife and so many others. In the universal call to holiness, and most especially in the times we are living through as a Church, we must always “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2).

COMING UP: Pope to Neocatechumenal Way pilgrims at jubilee: ‘Go!’

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Pope to Neocatechumenal Way pilgrims at jubilee: ‘Go!’

At 50-year celebration, Pope Francis urges Neocatechumenal Way to continue evangelizing

On May 5, at the grounds of Tor Vergata University, Pope Francis met with 150,000 members of the Neocatechumenal Way from across the globe to mark the 50th anniversary of the charism in Rome. Among the 7,700 American pilgrims were nearly 300 Way members from the Archdiocese of Denver.

“The occasion is to give thanks to the Lord for helping us to rediscover our baptism through this Christian initiation,” Father Giuseppe Fedele, responsible for the Way in Colorado, told the Denver Catholic as the group waited for the Holy Father’s arrival. “It’s an opportunity for us to sing the Te Deum [hymn of praise to God] for this anniversary. The Lord is helping us to rediscover the beauty of living our faith in the context of community.”

The Way is a parish-based faith formation process centered on Scripture, Eucharist and community. The catechumenate strives to bring Catholics to mature Christian faith. It was founded in 1964 in Madrid by Spanish artist Kiko Arguello, a layman, and arrived to Rome in 1968.

Missionary in spirit and found on every continent, the Way has 1 million members and has helped to open some 125 seminaries, all called Redemptoris Mater, including one in Denver.

At the meeting, Arguello, 79, led songs and drew applause and flag-waving from the multitude as he introduced the faithful from 135 nations, and the cardinals and bishops seated on the stage who accompanied them, to the pontiff.

In addition to addressing the crowd, Pope Francis sent out 34 new missio ad gentes groups (mission to the nations), comprised of a priest and up to five families, to different parts of the world to evangelize as an “itinerant Church.” He also sent 25 veteran communities of Rome on mission to parishes in the outskirts of the city.

“Go. The mission demands that we leave,” Pope Francis exhorted. “[Jesus] says to his disciples, to all his disciples one word only: Go! Go: a powerful call that resonates in every corner of Christian life; a clear invitation always to be outbound, pilgrims in the world in search for the brother who still does not know the joy of God’s love.”

On the day of the pope’s meeting, on Twitter, Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila affirmed the Holy Father’s words and expressed his own gratitude.

“Pope Francis gives thanks for the 50 years of the Neocatechumenal Way and calls them to evangelize — to go out into all the world!” he tweeted. “Blessings on the Way and all of their missionary activity! They are a blessing for ArchDen!”

The Colorado contingent of pilgrims included some 20 Way members from Pueblo, Wyoming and Utah. The pilgrimage included sites in Madrid and Rome important to the history of the Way and of the Church, including the family home of Arguello; the tomb of Way co-founder Carmen Hernandez, a Spanish lay catechist who died in 2016; the first Redemptoris Mater Seminary; the Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary in Pompeii, patroness of the Way; the Colosseum and Circus Maximus where early Christians were martyred; St. Paul Outside the Walls Basilica, and St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

The pilgrims went singing through the streets of the cities they visited spreading Christian joy, and gave missions in prominent squares that included sharing testimonies of sin and brokenness and finding new life in Christ.

Grecia Sanchez, 28, of a Way community at Queen of Peace Church in Aurora, Colo., was among those who shared her testimony.

“Sharing my experience was meant to help youths see that God can do anything. He took me out of the way I was living and the suffering I experienced — and it is possible for God to do that for them. I wanted them to know that anything is possible for God.”

Way members of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Arvada, Colo., Eric Hilz, 47, and his wife Christy, 43, took their four children, ranging in age from 3 years to 7 years, on the pilgrimage.

“Because of the Way, I’ve been blessed with a community, catechists and priests that have been instrumental in supporting me as a husband and father,” Eric Hilz said. “With all this, I needed to celebrate this 50th anniversary celebration of this charism that has been so instrumental in my life.”

Christy Hilz said she, too, went to give thanks and to receive the graces of catechesis she knew would be forthcoming to deepen her relationship with Christ.

“The pilgrimage confirmed for me that God knows me deeply and that he hears me,” she said. “Each day, God blessed me with something special that showed me he was present.

“This pilgrimage brought to light the gift of the family and of the youth and how they are both essential to the evangelization of the world.”

In his closing remarks, Pope Francis urged the Way to continue its mission of formation and evangelization.

“Your charism is a great gift from God for the Church of our time,” he said. “I accompany you and encourage you: go ahead!”