The Lord has called us to live a way of conversion, through which we are coming to discover the immense riches of our faith in a post-baptismal catechumenate. During this catechumenate, gradually, stage by stage, step by step, we are descending to the waters of eternal regeneration, so that the baptism the Church has conferred on us in the past, may by our adherence to it, become a sacrament of salvation, good news for all men. Through the Neocatechumenate, a way of Christian initiation that develops a pastoral work of evangelization for adults is opened up at the center of the parish, This evangelization is bringing to a living faith many of our brothers and sisters who today live a Christianity of habit, and is giving to many people submerged in a secularized world the possibility of meeting Our Lord Jesus Christ through Christian communities which live their faith at an adult level: of love in the dimension of the cross and perfect unity.
How the Neocatechumenal Communities came into being
To our astonishment, we witnessed a word which, taking flesh among these poor people who welcomed it with joy, brought to birth a community in prayer and a surprising liturgy as the response of all these brothers, laden with sins, who blessed the Lord for having remembered them. So, in the space of three years, we saw appearing before our eyes a tripod on which would be based the Way that the Lord was creating: the embryo of a Catechumenate, in a Church where fraternal communion was coming into being, in which love took on a dimension which surprised everyone: the dimension of the cross where one dies for the enemy.
How they spread
This love, made visible in a small community, was the sign which called to faith many people whose lives were far from the Church. The result was that the parish priests of St. Frontis in Zamora and of Christ the King in Madrid invited us to bring to their parishes the experience of the catechesis they had observed. To our surprise, even in these parishes where the social environment was quite different from that of the shanty town, we saw how communities on a way towards conversion were born after the announcement of the kerygma and two months of catechesis.
When the Archbishop of Madrid at that time, the Most Rev. Mgr. Casimiro Morcillo, came into contact with this reality, he supported it enthusiastically, and he himself sent us to the parishes who wished to begin the experience, while urging us to act in union with the parish priest. This experience spread rapidly in Madrid and other Spanish dioceses.
In 1968, we were invited to come to Rome, bearing a letter from the Archbishop of Madrid for Cardinal Dell'Acqua, then Vicar or Rome, and we began the same catechesis in the parish of Canadian Martyrs. It then spread throughout the diocese, through the preaching of catechists elected by the first communities, and in many other countries, in all the continents, including the missionary countries.
Very soon requests from parish priests in other dioceses gave rise to the charisma of itinerant catechists. They leave their own communities for a certain time, and make themselves available to take the Neocatechumenate to the dioceses who ask for it. Many teams of itinerant catechists, after an experience of evangelization in their own country, have been called by the Lord to open the way in other nations, from whom numerous requests have come - from bishops and parish priests - particularly since 1972 onward.
One of the greatest experiences we have today, and one for which we bless the Lord, is to see how God allows us to announce the Gospel in so many parts of the world. And not only do we proclaim the kerygma, but a community-based way for the gestation of faith appears, through which, with time, the parish can pass from pastoral work concentrated on the sacraments to one of evangelization.
A concrete way of Evangelizing those who are far away
The Neocatechumenal Way is lived out within the existing structure of the parish, and in communion with the bishop, in small communities each composed of people who are different in age, social status, outlook and culture. It is not a group formed spontaneously, neither is it an association, nor a spiritual movement, nor an elite within the parish. Rather, it is a group of people who wish to rediscover and to live Christian life to the full; to live the essential consequences of their Baptism, by means of a Neocatechumenate divided into different stages, like that of the early Church, but adapted to their condition as baptized persons. As a consequence, these communities have the mission of being, at the center of the parish, the sign and sacrament of the missionary Church (Synod of Bishops); of opening a concrete way of evangelizing the `far- away', by giving - in the measure to which faith has been developed - the signs that call pagans to conversions; that is love in the dimension of the cross, and unity. `Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples.' (John 12, 34-35). `May they all be one. Father, may they all be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me.' (John 17, 21).
Bringing the Council to the parishes
In the light of the 2nd Vatican Ecumenical Council, the Neocatechumenal Communities seemed to us a concrete way of rebuilding the Church in the form of small communities which are the visible body of the risen Christ in the world. They do not impose themselves; they consider it a duty not to destroy anything, but to respect everything. They present themselves as the fruit of a Church in renewal, one which tells its Fathers that they have been fruitful, for the communities have been born of them.
Charismas and ministries
Where the experience develops, one catches a glimpse of a new structure for the local Church, formed of small Christian communities like an organic body which, in the measure in which faith blossoms within her, brings charismas to maturity and requires ministries to help, to serve and to make such a renewal possible, since they are the means willed by God to make his Church grow constantly (Eph 4:11; I Cor 12). So we are seeing the charismas which make the complete Christ present; Christ the Apostle, the Prophet, the Deacon, the Pastor, the Teacher, faithful to the Father, united with his Church, compassionate towards all who suffer, etc. And these charismas appear in every community: in the presbyter, in the responsibles (for whom we have requested the diaconate), in the itinerant and local catechists, in the virgins, widows, married couples, etc).
The Spirit of the Way
The primary objective aimed at in this Neocatechumenate or initiation to the faith is the formation of the community. The latter, at first, is very imperfect, for it is always conditioned by the adherence of the individual to the Word. Then, little by little, our own defects come to our aid, obliging us to constantly rethink our faith. Our inability to love others, that is, to accept what destroys us in them, namely their faults, raises a great question mark for us. To love begins to appear like the destruction of our self, that is, of what is our security. To love means to die, and our tragedy is that we do not want to die. To love the other when he is different from me will always mean a leap in the dark, it will mean to have overcome death.
The second chapter of the letter to the Hebrews (Heb 2, 14f), says that all his life man is enslaved to evil and the devil because of his fear of death: for this reason Jesus Christ has come `to destroy through death the lord of death, the devil, and to set free all those who had been held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death.' (Hebrews 2, 14f)
If to love means really to transcend ourselves totally in the other, that is, to die to our self (and all of us are subjected to the devil during our lives because we are afraid of death), it is clear that if death has not been overcome in us by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we cannot love. What then will the sign be that we have risen with Christ? A love over and above death, love in the dimension of the cross, love for the enemy, `as I have loved you.' (Jn 13:34-35) `By this love everyone will know that you are my disciples.' This is why it is necessary to be born from God, to receive through the Holy spirit the new life of Christ risen from the dead. `We know that we have passed out of death into life, and of this we can be sure because we love the brothers.' (1 John 3,14).
Where are these communities born?
Where are they born, these communities which make the Risen Christ present by radiating the love they have gratuitously received? The answer is: in the parish, which seems the most suitable place for the local Church to appear as the `sacrament of salvation', without creating a parallel Church, without destroying anything, gradually taking on the reality of the Church of today and the period of transition through which she is going.
The mission of the parish
Today, most traditional Christians live their faith at a childish level as is clearly shown by the divorce between religion and life in them. Hence the absolute necessity for a serious process of conversion which takes place in our everyday experience. It is a time, guided by the Word of God and by celebrations of Penance and the Eucharist, and lived within the concrete framework of a community, to experience Christ the Saviour, to experience the Kingdom of God which is reaching out to us, and to experience the joy of peace.
To arrive at this, it is necessary to give signs of faith in the surrounding situation, signs which make Christ present and credible, and signs which clearly show the man in the street that Christ loves him to the point of being ready to free him from his alienation, from his suffering, from death.
`Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples.' ` Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world (the man in the street) may believe it was you who sent me.'
The signs of faith call the parish to conversion. Through the love and unity of these communities the whole parish is called to conversion so that it can be seen that where these communities have been formed, the parish has been revolutionised in a positive way. The signs they create around them be sure because we love the brothers.' (1 John 3,14).
First stage: the Kerigma
The first stage is the kerygma, the proclamation of salvation, which is developed by means of a direct and existential dialogue, which looks at the impact of Christianity on the lives of the people. The catecheses are based on a tripod upon which the whole catechumenate will be based: Word-Liturgy-Community.
Once the community has been formed, the second stage is started; the precatechumenate. This is a period of kenosis in which each of the brothers tests his faith by walking together with the others, also imperfect and sinners, in the newness of a concrete community which acts as a mirror, to show each one clearly his own reality, thus calling them to conversion.
In this labour, the community needs a word to enlighten it about its reality and to help it. Thus it celebrates the Word of God once a week, on appropriate themes - water, lamb, bride etc.- as an initiation into the language of the bible. The Sunday Eucharist is celebrated on Saturday evenings.2 Once a month the sacrament of Penance is celebrated. On one Sunday every month there is a retreat to give everyone the opportunity to freely talk about their own experience of the Word, to say how much it has influenced their lives: at work, in the family, in sexual matters, in social relationships, in connection with money, etc.
After about two years, the catechists who watched over the beginning of the community return, and in a three day retreat, prepare it for the first scrutiny for the passage to the catechumenate. In this scrutiny, in the presence of the bishop, the first part of their Baptism is put before the people, so that they can say `Amen' and so that the grace that this sacrament conferred on them may grow and work. Thus the door of the catechumenate is opened to them.
Second stage: the post-baptismal catechumenate
The catechumenate consists of two periods. During the first one, the community perseveres with the Word, the Eucharist, and brotherly communion, experiencing the power of Christ, who leads the Neocf the baptismal promises. So they have passed through the three fundamental stages of Christian life: humility (precatechumenate), simplicity (post-baptismal catechumenate) and praise (election and the renewal of baptismal promises).
At this stage of the Way, the members of the community become responsible for transmitting their faith to their children. So three kinds of meetings take place: one in the family with the participation of the children, another meeting is in the communally be formed until the day of his birth in Bethlehem. Annunciation, gestation, birth and hidden life in the little community of Nazareth where the child will grow until he reaches the age to undertake the mission that his Father has entrusted to him: these are the stages through which we ourselves wish to pass, convinced that, through them, the Church can be renewed, in order to give an answer to the new times and serve the modern world.
Christ, who has been constituted by God life-giving spirit, the first-born of a new creation, makes his work of salvation accessible to the world in the Koinonia, in the Agape of a people resurrected by him in a Church, a community of men who love one another, because of the Spirit shed over them, that is, the Holy Spirit.
The Neocatechumenate presents itself as a period of gestation, in the womb of the Church. In these people who, like Mary, say their `Amen' to the annunciation of the Saviour, the Word begins to generate a new creation, the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Church is presented as a Mother who begets, gives birth, and brings up her children until they reach the stature of the new man of whom St Paul says, `It is no longer I who live, it is Christ who lives in me.' (Gal 2:20)
And this community, in which Christ makes himself visible, lives in humility, simplicity and praise, like the Holy Family of Nazareth, aware that it has a task to carry out: to give Christ time to grow in it in order to carry out the mission entrusted to him by God, the mission of the Servant of Yahweh.