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

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

Roxanne King

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!”

COMING UP: Nothing about us without us

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The slogan “Nothing about us without us” was used by Solidarity in the 1980s in Poland, borrowing a royal motto from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the mid-second millennium. Then, it was expressed in Latin: Nihil de nobis sine nobis. Later, it appeared in Polish on the banners of 19th-century Poles fighting their country’s partition by Russia, Prussia, and Austria: Nic o Nas bez Nas. Today, it’s often used by disability activists asserting their claim to be fully participant in society.

“Nothing about us without us” also applies to the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, which will meet in Rome in October.

That Synod will involve seven bishops’ conferences from nine Latin American countries who will consider their pastoral situation under the theme, “Amazonia: new paths for the Church and for an integral ecology.” As is usually the case in these meetings, the bishops at the Synod will work with materials drafted in Rome. Early indicators from the Synod’s preparatory document suggest that the Amazonian Synod will be longer on environmentalism than on theology. International media attention will doubtless focus on the Synod’s discussion of climate change and its relationship to Amazonian deforestation.

Recent synodal history suggests, however, that more will be afoot at the Amazonian Synod than what its announced theme suggests.

The 2014 and 2015 Synods were called to consider the crisis of marriage and the family throughout the world. Yet they became the occasion for powerful churchmen to try to deconstruct Catholic moral theology and sacramental discipline, according to the tried-and-failed theologies and pastoral practices of the 1970s. The 2018 Synod, summoned to discuss youth ministry and vocational discernment, began with an effort by the Synod general secretariat to enshrine the world’s language of sexual plasticity (and the lame understandings of happiness that underwrite that language) into an official Church document. When that failed, Synod-2018 became the occasion for the Synod general secretariat to promote an ill-defined notion of “synodality” that struck more than a few bishops present as a prescription for local-option, choose-your-own-doctrine Catholicism on the model of the (imploding) Anglican Communion.

This pattern seems likely to continue at the Amazonian Synod. There, the deeper agenda will be the ordination of mature married men — viri probati — to the priesthood. Proponents will argue that this dramatic change in the Church’s longstanding tradition of a celibate priesthood (which, contrary to much misinformation, antedates the early Middle Ages by hundreds of years) is necessary because Amazonia is a Catholic area deprived of the Eucharist by a lack of priests. One hopes that the counterclaims — that Amazonia is mission territory requiring wholesale evangelization, and that Amazonia’s lack of priests reflects racial and class divisions in Latin American Catholicism that discourage priests of European pedigree from working with indigenous peoples — get a serious hearing.

Proponents of ordaining viri probati in Amazonia, including retired Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, OFM, have insisted that any such concession there would have no implications for the universal Church. That cannot be, however. Should the Amazonian Synod request the Pope to grant a dispensation from the discipline of celibacy for that region, and should he grant it, it will be just a matter of time before bishops conferences elsewhere — Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Austria come immediately to mind — make similar requests, citing pressing pastoral needs. On what ground would those requests be denied?

In a year-end interview with Vatican News, the Synod’s general secretary, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, insisted that the Amazonian Synod would not discuss environmental issues only, but would also confront “ecclesial themes” — and would do so in a way that Amazonia could be “a model for the whole world.”

We can be grateful to the cardinal for his candor in, however unintentionally, letting the celibacy cat out of the synodal bag. Any decision to ordain viri probati in Amazonia would inevitably have major consequences for the entire Church. A decision of this magnitude cannot be taken by an unrepresentative segment of the Church and then turned into a “model” for everyone else.

That is why the principle of “Nothing about us without us” must apply here. Whatever else “synodality” may mean, it surely must mean that decisions bearing on everyone should involve as broad a consultation and as global a reflection as possible. Bishops who agree should make their concerns known now, not after the Amazonian synod meets.

Featured image by Vatican Media | CNA