Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley speaks during a presentation on the Neocatechumenal Way in Baltimore Nov. 14, 2022. Pilot photo CardinalSeansBlog.org
More than 60 bishops in Baltimore for the U.S. bishops' fall meeting earlier this month attended an informational presentation on the Neocatechumenal Way hosted by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, who praised the post-baptismal catechumenate as a "charism that helps people to live their baptismal grace and to respond to a personal vocation."
Rather than being an association of faithful or a "movement," Cardinal O'Malley and three other panelists explained at the Nov. 14 reception at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront that the Neocatechumenal Way offers a parish-based "itinerary of Christian Initiation at the service of the bishops" as an answer to the difficulties of an increasingly secular, post-modern society.
"Like the RCIA…(the Way) is a whole itinerary through which baptism is given," said panelist Giuseppe Gennarini, responsible for the Way in the U.S. "The crisis of the Church is that many baptized people do not live their baptism. Without baptismal grace, people cannot live neither marriage nor sacramental orders and cannot answer to the challenges of modernity."
Gennarini gave a summary of the itinerary's various stages lived out over several years and its three-legged "tripod" of Christian life based on the Word of God, the Eucharistic liturgy, and community life.
The Neocatechumenal Way began in 1964 in Madrid and is currently present in 134 countries around the world. In the United States, it is active in 317 parishes in 99 dioceses.
On Dec. 4, the Archdiocese of Madrid is set to officially open the sainthood cause of its co-initiator, Carmen Hernandez, who died in 2016.
Describing his relationship with the Way during his years as a Capuchin missionary and later as Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal O'Malley spoke of the families he's known over the years who have "discovered the beauty of their vocation and embraced an openness to life and the joy of transmitting their faith to their children" during their time in the Way.
"This is what the Church needs today," he said.
Also in attendance were several of the Way's itinerant catechists in the U.S., as well as formators from the nine Redemptoris Mater seminaries in the U.S. The seminaries, which total 120 around the world, are operated by the Way and form diocesan priests that serve in their own dioceses or, in some cases, as missionaries in other parts of the world.
One of the panelists was Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S., who recalled his various experiences with the Way dating back to his time as nuncio in Haiti and, most recently, at a 2021 vocational meeting in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
The Neocatechumenal Way is "one of the many methods of the Church" that bring Catholics to an adult faith, Archbishop Pierre said, and bishops should embrace similarly innovative ecclesial realities.
"A Church without charisms is boring," he said.
The French prelate also pointed to the support for the Way shown by the last five popes and the years-long process of close examination and official approval by the Holy See.
"We have no right to say that 'this one is not good,' especially when the Church has had a long process of discernment," said Archbishop Pierre. "So many people have entered into the mystery of God's presence in the human reality through this window. And why should I say no?"
Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta, secretary of the Vatican Dicastery on Legislative Texts, spoke to the bishops about the Way's peculiar character in Church law and its path to formal recognition by the Holy See.
Pope St. John Paul II "wanted the Way to have a formal juridical recognition in order to make it a part of the universal patrimony of the Church," recalled Bishop Arrieta.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Spanish bishop was the Vatican's point person in the drafting of the Way's statutes. He compared their approval to other "tailor-made suits" in Church law throughout history, like the papal approval of St. Ignatius' book of spiritual exercises in the 16th century and Pope Pius XI's declaration of the Society of the Propagation of the Faith as a pontifical work.
Its status under Church law means that "the Way, when it acts according to the Statutes approved by the Holy See, is acting in the name of the Church," said Bishop Arrieta. The Spanish canonist elaborated on some other aspects of the Way outlined in its statutes, including the relationship of the Redemptoris Mater seminaries with its respective ordinary bishop, formators, and the Way's leadership.
The panel heard questions from bishops on topics ranging from its approach to reaching the "faraway" from the Church to the Saturday night parish Mass celebrated by small communities.
"This experience of the liturgy and deep appreciation for the Word and the reflection of the Word is so much an important part of their ongoing formation, but that doesn't take away from the other liturgies in the parish," said Cardinal O'Malley during the session.
Responding to a question about the Way's role in parish life, the nuncio characterized the Neocatechumenal Way as "a method of evangelization" that "has to be taken seriously."
"You have to follow the method in order to go through the experience," said Archbishop Pierre. "And you cannot get the fruits if you do not go through the experience, which basically is an experience of conversion to the Lord and the encounter with the Lord."