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On the 8th of May 1974 Pope Paolo VI pronounced to 500 parish priests and responsible laymen from neo-catechumenal communities these words:
"...another group, another group! It's this, the group of priests and laymen who represent the movement, a movement - here are the post-council things! - of the neo-catechumenal communities.
How much joy and hope you give us with your presence and activity!
Your proposal, while for you it's an aware, authentic way of living Christian vocation, is an effective witness for other people - do apostolate only because you are those you are! - with a stimulus toward discovering again and salvaging of true, authentic real Christian values who otherwise could remain almost hidden and soothed and nearly diluted in ordinary life. No! You light them, you put them in emergency, and you give them a really exemplary moral splendour, because in this way, with this Christian spirit you live this your neo-catechumenal community. Living and promoting this waking up is what you call a form of "after Baptism" that will can renew, in today's Christian Communities, those maturity and study-in-depth effects that in primitive Church were realised during preparation period before Baptism. You bring it after: before or after are secondary. The matter is that you aim at authenticity, fullness, coherence, sincerity of Christian life.
And this is a very great merit, I repeat, that immensely comforts us, that suggests and inspires us with wishes, vows and more plentiful blessings for you, for those help you and for those you can say hallo to for us with your message".
Lord called us for living a conversion walk, through which we can discover again our faith immense wealth in a post-baptism catechumenate, in which, little by little, step by step, stair by stair we can go down to eternal regeneration waters, so that Baptism whom Church gave us some time ago, can arrive at being, through our adhesion, salvation sacrament, nice news for men. With Neo-catechumenate, at Parish pastoral core, a Christian initiation walk opens, and develops an evangelization pastoral for adults, generating toward faith many our brothers who today live an habit Christianity and giving possibility to many men, who live into a secularised world, to meet with Our Lord Jesus through Christian Community who live their faith with adult height of love in Cross and perfect unity dimension.
This walk began in 1964 in Madrid among shanty-dwellers of "Palomeras altas". There Kiko Argüello and some brothers called by Lord to living their Christianity among the poor, existentially taking part in life of those people who in their poverty bear our society sin - because required by people themselves with which they lived, they had to announce the Nice News of Our Saviour Jesus Christ. This word that was born weak and stammering because of difficulty that it implies proclaiming Gospel to those without learning and education people, began to be realised into a catechetic synthesis: a powerful kerygma that, as it go down on the poor, as it implies birth of a new reality: the koinonia.
Wonderfully we were a witness to a Word that, making itself flesh among people so poor that they welcome it joyously, was responsible of a in prayer Community birth, of a surprising liturgy as it was the answer of many brothers who, full of sins, blessed Lord Who remembered them; so during three years we saw a true walk of gestation toward faith appearing, a sort of catechumenate, that was going to create little by little a Church, gave rise to love in an all surprising dimension, that was that about enemy death, the Cross dimension.
This love, done visible in a small community, was the signal that called to faith many people far from Church. Thus S. Frontis in Zamora and Cristo Re in Madrid parish priests invited us to bring in their parish the catechesis experiences that we had seen: our surprise was seeing how in that parishes, whose sociological environment was different in comparison with the cabins one, however Communities in conversion walk was born, after the Kerygma announcement through two months catechesis.
The Madrid Archbishop, Mons. Casimiro Marcillo, after knowing this reality, supported her enthusiastically and he personally sent us in those parishes who asked to begin this experience, urging us to do it with parish priest. Rapidly the experience spread in Madrid and in other dioceses in Spain.
In 1968, we were invited to go to Roma and, with a Madrid Archbishop letter addressed to Cardinal Vicario Dell'Acqua, we began this walk in Martiri Canadesi parish. It spread then into the whole diocese through preaching of some catechists elected by first Community, and into many other country, into all the continents, in which there are mission country.
But early the requests of other diocese parish priest let itinerant catechists charisma show itself, so that, starting from their own community, they make themselves available to bring neo-catechumenate into those dioceses who require it.
Many itinerant catechists pools - after evangelization experience in their own nation - were called by Lord at opening walk in other nations, from which a lot of Bishops and parish priests requests were arrived, mainly after 1972.
For us, today, one of the most great experiences, who urge us to bless Lord, is seeing how God let us announce Gospel all around the world; and not only that we proclaim Kerygma, but that a communion walk of gestation to faith rises, through which parish can pass, after a little time, from a sacramental pastoral to an evangelization one.
Neo-catechumenal walk is lived inside present parish structure and in communion with Bishop, by small communities of people with different age, social condition, mentality and learning. It is neither a spontaneous group, nor a catholic association, nor a spirituality movement, nor an elite group inside parish. It is a group of persons who want to discover again and to live Fully Christian life and essential consequences of their Baptism Through a neo-catechumenate, divided into different steps, similar to the primitive Church one, suited for their condition of baptised people. Therefore these communities have mission of being, at parish core, missionary Church signal and sacrament; opening a concrete way for far people evangelization giving - insofar as faith develop - signals that call pagans to conversion: LOVE in Cross dimension and UNITY. "love one another as I loved You, and in this love all people know that you are my disciples" (Gv. 13,34-35). "Father, living I in them and You in me, so that we are perfectly one and so world believes that You have sent me" (Gv. 17,21).
On light of Ecumenical Vatican II Council, neo-catechumenal walk appeared to us as concrete way for building Church in small communities who are in world visible risen again Christ body. They do not impose themselves, they feel bound to destroy nothing, to respect all, presenting themselves as fruit of a Church who renews herself and who says to her Fathers that she has been prolific because she has been born from Them.
Whereas this reality develops, we can see a new local Church structure made by small Christian communities, as an homogeneous body that, insofar as faith is unfurling herself, generates charisma and require ministries who help, serve and make possible such renewal since they are means wanted by God to develop His Church constantly (Ef. 4,11; I Cor. 13). Thus we are seeing how charisma who make present total Christ - Christ Apostle, Prophet, Deacon, Pastor, faithful to Father, joint to His Church, compassionate toward sufferings, etc. - appear in every community in presbyter, in responsible (for whom we asked deaconate), in itinerant and local catechists, in virgins, in widows, in married couple, etc.
First purpose of this catechumenate or faith initiation is community formation. This, at first, is born very imperfectly since is always conditioned by everybody adhesion to Word. After, little by little, our defects help us urging to a constant change of mind about our faith. Impotence toward loving, i.e. assuming that other people aspects that destroy us - their defects - imposes itself on us as very strong question. Loving starts to appear as destruction of our ego, that is our safe, loving in brief will be dying and our tragedy is that we do not want to die; living that is not ego will be always a leap into empty space.
In II chapter of Jews letter it is written that man is subjected to evil and devil during the whole his life because of his death fear; so Jesus Christ has come "to destroy death lord, i.e. devil, through death and to free those people who were subjected in slavery, during life, because of death fear" (Eb. 2,14).
If really loving is totally transcending ourselves in the other, i.e. dying to that we are, and all of us are subjected to evil during life because we fear death, it's clear that we can not love, if in us death has not been beaten by Jesus Christ resurrection. Then what shall it be signal that death has no more power on us? What shall it be signal that we have risen again with Chirst? The until death love, the love in Cross dimension, the love toward enemy "as I loved you". "In this love all people shall recognised that you are my disciples". And for this it's necessary to be born again from God, to receive new life of Christ risen again from death through Holy Spirit." We know that we passed from death to life because We love our brothers".
Where are these communities born, who present risen again Christ in the free received love? In parish: she appears us as ideal place for making local Church "salvation sacrament", without creating a parallel Church, without destroying nothing, assuming little by little the today's Church reality and the living transition time.
Today many our traditional Christians live their faith in a infantile dimension, as evident divorce between religion and life shows. For this it's absolutely necessary a serious process of conversion that we can realise in our own daily experience. A time in which, led by God Word and Eucharist, lived in concrete dimension of a community, they can experiment Saviour Christ, they can experiment God Kingdom that reaches them, they can experiment peace joy.
To do this it will be necessary giving faith signals in their environment, signals who present and make credible Christ; clear signals for any street man that Christ loves him until freeing him of his alienation, suffering, death.
"Love each other as I loved you, in this love they will know (that street man) that you are my disciples". "We are perfectly one as You and me are one so that world believes".
Faith signals call parish to conversion. Through love and these faith communities unity, the whole parish is called to conversion, ascertaining that, where these communities were born, parish has been revolutionised positively, given interrogative signals created all around herself and consequently calling a lot of distant from Church people who join other communities in the same parish. In this way a new parish structure has appeared, who without destroying the existent one is making all the brothers conscious of absolute necessity, today, of a faith study in depth.
It's the return of community, God's people, of primitive Church in which, through signals of in Cross dimension love and perfect unity, we put yeast and salt in the environment in which she is. Again shout "Look at how they love each other!" rises into Men calling them to conversion.
When a parish priest want to begin this walk, he keeps in contact with parishes in which neo-catechumenal communities exist. After accounting what walk is and accepting to be in its core, he asks that catechists are sent to him, who commit themselves to beginning to guide catechumenate, in communion with parish priest. Catechists speak with the whole presbytery too, presenting necessity of opening a pastoral of evangelization through a post-baptismal catechumenate; then they meet parish mevements and, finally, they invite all the believers during Sunday's Masses. Catechists pool is composed of a priest, guarantee of announcement orthodoxy and clericalism, and of a couple and a young man, establishing a small evangelization community.
First step is the Kerygma's one, salvation announcement that develops through a direct and existential dialogue on the Christianity incidence in people life. The catecheses are based on tripod
WORD - LITURGY - COMMUNITY
on which the whole neo-catechumenal route will be based.
After creating Community the second stage starts: the pre-catechumenate. This is a "kenosis" period, in which people check their faith walking together with other imperfect and sinning persons, about novelty of a concrete community who makes herself as a mirror and who calls everybody to conversion by seeing clearly his own reality.
In this labour, community needs a word that lights her reality and helps her: she celebrates God Word once a week, with appropriate issues - as water, lamb, bride, etc. - for an initiation to biblical language, and Sunday's Eucharist on Saturday evening. Once a month she spends Sunday in retreat so that everybody speaks freely about his Word experience and about the way in which this engraves on his own work reality, family, sex, society, wealth, etc.
After about two years, catechists, who watched over community, return and prepare her, in a three days retreat, at first voting of passage to catechumenate. In this voting, with the Bishop presence, the first part of their Baptism is placed in front of people so that they say "Amen" and from it conferred grace can grow and work, opening door to catechumenate.
Catechumenate develops into two period. During the first Community, by persevering in Word, in Eucharist and in fraternal Communion, experiments Christ power who urges neo-catechumens to put God at their own life centre, stripping themselves little by little, without effort, of idols (money, career, affectivity) and watching over as virgins waiting for husband. After about one year catechists return preparing voting of definitive passage to catechumenate, so that first voting is a door who opens and, in second one, she is closed. Now catechumens are initiated from catechists to a individual ad daily prayer with Psalms delivery. After, through Traditio and Redditio Symboli, they discover how Baptism, who once gave them Church, makes them correspondents, by bearing witness for their faith into their work environment, into their family and mainly by working in parish with an explicit apostolate as the Gospel announcement, two by two, in their neighbourhood homes, as parish catechesis, etc.
At this walk point, people are made responsible to transfer faith to their sons and therefore there are three types of meeting: one in family with sons participation, another one with community on the occasion of great feast as Easter Vigil.
We discovered the most deep joy and the core of our life in celebrating of Easter, in a Vigil who lasts till the rise of morning star.
Afterward we discover how Baptism makes us God sons through discovering again and study of Our Father in a deep and wonderful prayer contest and where we learn to cry "Abbà Father".
The catechumenate post-baptismal time tends to lead neo-catechumens to simplicity, to make themselves small, to to let themselves go to Father will. This will let us - always guided by catechists in communion with parish priest - pass, through that abandon, to a praise and thanks spirituality, so that they are prepared for coming into the last walk stage: baptismal promises election and renewal. Now they have covered the three fundamental steps of Christian life: humility (pre-catechumenate), simplicity (post-baptismal catechumenate) and praise (baptismal promises election, renewal).
Nicodemo asks Jesus: "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he perhaps return again in his mother breast?" (Gv. 3,4)
This sentence shows neo-catechumenal communities spirit: returning in the bosom of the Church, returning to our Mother, Virgin, so that She generates and grows in us the Baptismal seed whom we bring inside. We call this gestation ad growth time neo- catechumenate. Maria, Church and every Christian image, receives a joy announcement, a good piece of news: the Messiah will be born in you. After His acceptation of this word, the Holy Spirit will cover her with His shade and It will begin the new creature gestation: Jesus Christ will be going to form little by little until birth in Betlemme. Announcement, gestation, birth and hidden life, in the small Nazareth Community, where He will grow till reaching necessary age for realising mission entrusted to Him by Father; these are the stages that we want to cover, convinced that through them Church can renew herself for answering new times and serving today's world.
Christ, made by God Spirit Who gives life, firstborn of a new creation, makes accessible to the world His salvation work in the Koinonia, in the Agape of people risen again by Him in a Church, in a community of men who love each other for the new Spirit spread on them: the Holy Spirit.
The neo-catechumenate presents itself as a gestation period, in the bosom of the Church. In those men who, as Maria, say their own "Amen" to the announcement of Saviour, Word begins to generate a new creation, Holy Spirit work.
Church presents herself as a Mother who generates, feeds, gives to light, raises, till the new man height, whom San Paolo speaks about "I am not living, bit Christ lives in me".
And Community, in which Christ makes Himself visible, lives in humility, simplicity and praise, as the Holy Nazareth Family, aware having a purpose: giving time that Christ grows in her so as to perform mission entrusted by God: the Jahwè servant one.
(Kiko Argüello speech at plenary assembly
of Holy Congregation for People Evangelization
Roma, 19-22 April 1983)
fr. Paolo Benvenuto <email@example.com >
Via Salgari 4/4 - 16156 GENOVA PEGLI
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