First the pope, and then the bishops of the Holy Land level two stern warnings at the Neocatechumenal Way.
Here’s how, and why.
ROMA, March 5, 2007 – In the span of three days, the Neocatechumenal Way has received two weighty admonitions: the first from the pope, and the second from the bishops of the Holy Land.
The Neocatechumenal Way, founded in Spain in the 1960’s and directed by the laypersons Kiko Argüello (in the photo) and Carmen Hernández, and by Fr. Mario Pezzi, is one of the most flourishing Catholic movements. It counts 20,000 communities in 6,000 parishes, in 900 dioceses on all the inhabited continents, with 3,000 priests and 5,000 religious sisters. It has an international network of 63 “Redemptoris Mater” seminaries. Its expansion is fostered by many families that go on mission in faraway countries.
With results like these, it is natural that the Way would receive the support of many bishops and cardinals. But it has also received, and continues to receive, many criticisms that are just as authoritative, which have been detailed in previous articles from www.chiesa.
In December of 2005, the congregation for divine worship and the discipline of the sacraments ordered the Neocatechumenal Way to correct the ways in which its communities celebrate the Mass. And the following January 12, 2006, Benedict XVI urged the Way to “observe attentively” the prescribed norms. Obedience to both of these admonitions has been far from complete, both at the time and afterward.
Another controversial point concerns the catecheses that the Way preaches in its communities. The texts for these are still largely secret, and some of them have raised objections from various Vatican congregations, including the congregation for the doctrine of the faith.
Finally, there are doubts surrounding the reconfirmation of the statutes of the Way, which the Holy See approved “ad experimentum” on June 29, 2002, for a five-year period that will expire in a few months.
Benedict XVI has stated in person that the definitive approval of their statutes is in question:
It was February 22, the first Thursday of Lent, and the pope was speaking to the clergy of Rome. His remarks were prompted by a priest belonging to the Schönstatt community, Gerardo Raul Carcar, who asked the pope about the relationship between the Church and the movements.
And on the following February 25, the first Sunday of Lent, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, and the other Catholic bishops of the Holy Land weighed in on this same topic of the turbulent relationship between the Neocatechumenal communities and the parishes and dioceses in which they operate.
Their comments came in a joint letter addressed to the members of the Way, a letter courteous in form but stern in content.
The bishops have formed these criticisms through their direct experience. The Neocatechumenals have an extensive presence in the Holy Land. Their citadel is a sprawling complex on the slopes of the Mount of the Beatitudes, west of Lake Tiberias, called “Domus Galilaeae” and inaugurated on March 24, 2000 by John Paul II in person, in the presence of 50,000 Neocatechumenals who had gathered there from over the world.
The architecture and decoration of the “Domus,” with its bizarre hodgepodge of Christian and Jewish allegories, is the work of the founder of the Way, Kiko Argüello.
To the numerous communities they have established in the Holy Land is added a ceaseless flow of Neocatechumenal pilgrims, who are carefully separated from the other visitors. Even the Masses are celebrated separately. And the procedures for their rituals are identical to those in any other part of the world, including the songs composed by their founder and supreme leader, Kiko.
Moreover, in the realm of politics the Neocatechumenal communities do not conceal a markedly pro-Israeli outlook, contrary to the Christians living there, almost all of whom are Arab and pro-Palestinian.
Here, then, are the pope’s words concerning the Neocatechumenals and the letter sent to them from the bishops of the Holy Land, the former on February 22 and the latter on the 25th.
1. The words of Benedict XVI
From a conversation with the clergy of Rome on February 22, 2007
[…] In these months, I am receiving the Italian bishops on their “ad limina” visits. […] Some of them are critical, and say that the movements are not assimilating. […] It seems to me that we have two fundamental rules. The first rule was given to us by Saint Paul in the first letter to the Thessalonians: do not quench the Spirit. If the Lord gives us new gifts, we must be grateful, even if they are sometimes inconvenient. And it is wonderful that new forms of life should be born within the Church, as they have in all ages.
All of them were disconcerting at first: even Saint Francis was very troubling, and it was very difficult for the pope to give a canonical form to a reality that was much broader than the juridical regulations. For Saint Francis, it was a tremendous sacrifice to let himself be boxed up within this juridical framework, but in the end a reality was born that is still alive today, and that will continue to live in the future: this brings strength and new elements to the Church’s life.
Movements have been born in every century. […] They are not incorporated into the Church’s life without suffering and difficulty. Saint Benedict himself had to correct the initial direction of monasticism. And thus also in our age the Lord, the Holy Spirit, has given us new initiatives with new aspects of Christian life. As they are lived out by human persons with their limitations, they also create difficulties.
So the first rule is not to extinguish the charisms, to be grateful even if they are disconcerting. The second rule is this: the Church is one; if the movements are really gifts of the Holy Spirit, they are incorporated and serve the Church, and in the patient dialogue between pastors and movements there is born a form […] that is constructive for the Church of today and tomorrow.
This dialogue takes place on all levels. The priest, the bishop, and the successor of Peter all participate in the search for the suitable structures. In many cases, this search has already borne fruit. Other cases are still under consideration: for example, it is being considered whether, after five years of experimentation, the statutes for the Neocatechumenal Way should be confirmed in a definitive manner, or if more time for experimentation is needed, or if perhaps some elements of this structure should be modified.
In any case, I have known the Neocatechumenals since the beginning. It has been a long journey, with many complications that still exist today, but we have found an ecclesial form that has already greatly improved the relationship between pastors and the Way. And so we continue forward! The same holds true for the other movements.
I would sum up the two fundamental rules this way: gratitude, patience, and acceptance of the inevitable sufferings. In marriage, too, there are always suffering and tension. And nonetheless [the spouses] move forward, and so it is that true love ripens. The same thing happens in the communities of the Church: let’s have patience with each other! The various levels of the hierarchy – from the pastor to the bishop to the supreme pontiff – must also hold a constant exchange of ideas, they must promote dialogue in order to find, together, the best path. The experiences of pastors are fundamental, but the experiences of the bishop and the universal perspective of the pope also have their own theological and pastoral place in the Church. […]
2. The letter from the bishops of the Holy Land
Brothers and Sisters of the Neocatechumenal Way:
1. May the peace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always. We, ordinary Catholics of the Holy Land, address this letter to you at the beginning of Lent, in the context of the common pastoral plan for this year, the theme of which is catechesis and religious education in the parish.
Brothers and sisters of the Way, you are welcome in our dioceses. We thank God for the grace that the Lord has given you and for the charism that the Holy Spirit has poured out in the Church through your ministry in post-baptismal formation. We are grateful for your presence in some of our parishes, for your preaching of the Word of God, for the help you offer our faithful in understanding their faith more deeply and rooting themselves in their local churches, in “a synthesis of kerygmatic preaching, lifestyle changes, and liturgy” (Statutes, art. 9).
Pursuant to the letter that Pope Benedict XVI addressed to you on January 12, 2006, and the one from the congregation for divine worship on December 1, 2005, was ask you to take your place in the heart of the parish in which you proclaim the Word of God, avoiding making yourselves a group apart. We would like you to be able to say with Saint Paul: “ I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible” (1 Corinthians 9:19).
The principle to which we must all remain faithful, and which must guide our pastoral action, should be “one parish and one Eucharist.” So your first duty, if you want to help the faithful grow in faith, is that of rooting them in the parishes and in their own liturgical traditions in which they have grown up for generations.
In the East, we care a great deal about our liturgy and our traditions. It is the liturgy that has contributed greatly to preserving the Christian faith in our countries throughout history. The rite is like an identification card, and not only one way of praying among others. We implore you to have the charity to understand and respect the attachment of our faithful to their own liturgies.
2. The Eucharist is the sacrament of unity in the parish, and not of fragmentation. And so we ask that the Eucharistic celebrations, in all the Eastern rites as well as in the Latin rite, be presided over always by the pastor, or in the case of the Latin rite, in full agreement with him. “Where the bishop is, there is the Church,” wrote Saint Ignatius of Antioch. Teach the faithful to love their liturgical traditions, and put your charism at the service of unity.
3. We also ask you to undertake a serious study of the language and culture of the people, as a sign of respect for them and as a means of understanding their soul and their history, in the context of the Holy Land: religious, cultural, and national pluralism. Moreover, in our countries – Palestine, Israel, Jordan – everyone is searching for peace and justice, a search that is an integral part of our Christian life. All preaching should guide our faithful in taking concrete stances in the various contexts of life and in the continuing conflict in Palestine: an attitude of forgiveness and of love for one’s enemy and, on the other hand, demand for one’s rights, especially dignity, freedom, and justice.
We ask you to preach a Gospel incarnated in life, a Gospel that illuminates all aspects of life and roots the faithful in Jesus Christ Risen and in their entire human, cultural, and ecclesial environment.
We ask God to fill your hearts with his power and love, and to grant you grace that you may fill the hearts of the faithful with his love and power.
+ Michel Sabbah, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem;
+ Elias Chacour, Melkite Greek-Catholic archbishop of Acri, Haifa, Nazareth, and all Galilee;
+ Georges El-Murr, Melkite Greek-Catholic archbishop of Philadelphia, Petra, and Jordan;
+ Paul Sayah, Maronite archbishop of Haifa and of the Holy Land, and Maronite patriarchal exarch of Jerusalem, the Palestinian Territories, and Jordan;
+ Fouad Twal, Latin coadjutor bishop, Jerusalem;
+ Kamal Bathish, Latin auxiliary bishop, Jerusalem;
+ Salim Sayegh, Latin patriarchal vicar for Jordan;
+ Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, Latin patriarchal vicar for Israel;
+ Pierre Melki, Syrian-Catholic patriarchal exarch of Jerusalem, the Holy Land, and Jordan;
+ Georges Bakar, Melkite Greek-Catholic patriarchal exarch of Jerusalem;
+ Raphael Minassian, Armenian Catholic patriarchal exarch of Jerusalem, the Holy Land, and Jordan.
The address Benedict XVI gave on January 12, 2006, to the communities of the Neocatechumenal Way, with a summons to the observance of the liturgical norms (the address incorrectly cited as a “letter” in the text of the bishops of the Holy Land): "I warmly thank you for your visit . . ."
And its citadel in the Holy Land: Domus Galilaeae
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Written by Sandro Magister – e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org