Logo of the Neocatechumenal Way
|Founder||Kiko Argüello and Carmen Hernández|
The Neocatechumenal Way, also known as the Neocatechumenate, NCW, colloquially The Way, is a charism within the Catholic Church dedicated to Christian formation. It was formed in Madrid in 1964 by Kiko Argüello and Carmen Hernández.
Taking its inspiration from the catechumenate of the early Catholic Church by which converts from paganism were prepared for baptism, it provides post-baptismal formation to adults who are already members of the Church or to those far from the Church who have been attracted by the testimony of Christian life of love and unity in the communities (referencing such Bible verses as John 13:35 and 17:21), in accordance with the designs of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). Due to numerous vocations coming from the families formed in the communities, it has also helped to establish and run over 100 missionary diocesan seminaries in various locations. They are called "Redemptoris Mater" seminaries. It is responsible for communities of "families in mission", called "Missio ad gentes", living in many cities around the world. Together with a priest and his socius, and some celibate women, they make present the Church in places of little or no Catholic presence.
The Neocatechumenate, as an itinerary of Christian initiation, is implemented in small, parish-based communities of up to 50 people. In 2007 there were around 20,000 such communities throughout the World, with an estimated million Catholics following the itinerary.
In the early 1960s, Francisco "Kiko" Argüello moved to the shanty town of 'Palomeras Altas' in Vallecas, Madrid, and gathered a community of Gipsies and marginalised poor. He was soon joined by Carmen Hernández, who linked the community to the theological and liturgical zeitgeist surrounding the Second Vatican Council, and won the support of the archbishop of Madrid Casimiro Morcillo González , who had been a relator during sessions of the Council.
Gradually, the community's approach was codified in a "catechetical synthesis" referred to as the "tripod," "Word of God-Liturgy-Community", with the stated aim of seeking to lead people to fraternal communion and mature faith.
The movement spread through the Archdiocese of Madrid and to other Spanish dioceses. In 1968, it began to spread beyond Spain when Argüello and Hernández arrived in Rome and settled in the Borghetto Latino. With the permission of Angelo Dell'Acqua, Vicar-General of Rome, they began preaching in the parish of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament and the Canadian Martyrs.
The community of Neocatechumens was led by the "International Responsible Team of the Way": Argüello, Hernández, and Fr. Mario Pezzi, a priest of the Diocese of Rome, until Hernández death, in 2016. Under the terms of the 2007 statute, the three members of this leadership team will remain in place for life, after which an electoral college of senior neocatechumenal catechists will elect a new team which, with the approval of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, will have a mandate to lead the Way for a period of seven years until new elections are held. The Neocatechumenal Way announced on 13 February 2018 that María Ascensión Romero had been chosen to join the leadership team.
"They contribute by forming the first neocatechumenal communities of a parish, and are supposed to maintain regular contact with the Bishops of the diocese in which they work; the itinerant teams preserve a constant link with the responsibles of the Neocatechumenal Way, visiting periodically the communities they catechized and taking care of the development of the Neocatechumenal Way in the territory assigned to them, being fully faithful to the charism given to the initiators and obedient to the local Ordinary."
Neocatechumens in the Neocatechumenal Way are subjected to spiritual enslavement that is practiced by the Neocatechumenal Way. This spiritual enslavement is the Neocatechumenal Way Scrutiny, each stage of The Neocatechumenal Way ends with a Scrutiny, the most controversial aspect of the Neocatechumenal Way. The Scrutinies are a key part of the Neocatechumenal Way spiritual discipline, which, is a blanket practice of the psychological and spiritual manipulation practiced by the Neocatechumenal Way.
After two years in the Neocatechumenal Way, followers will be invited to attend the First Scrutiny  or first Baptismal Scrutiny, where they are told will help you break the power of the idols to which we are all in thrall, such as family, money and sex. There is a big build-up and catechists urge members to prepare well. During this Scrutiny, one by one, each person in the community is asked to "share your cross" which is to share your personal problems and struggles with everyone in the room. Everybody shares, often tearfully and complete honesty is encouraged.
The crunch comes at the Second Scrutiny, which is usually four to six years after joining. At the Second Scrutiny there are sometimes other Neocatechumenal Way members from other parishes present as part of their formation as catechists. One by one, each person in the community is invited to answer a questionnaire about their life for about an hour. Some people have a hard time with this and may even cry while some are driven to depression because of this experience. Also, some claim that everything that had happened in your life is twisted to put the blame on you to make you feel spiritually abused and ashamed, embarrassed and guilty about, which some claim is frequently used by the Neocatechumenal Way catechists to prevent people from leaving the Neocatechumenal Way. Later in the Second Scrutiny the lead catechist will invite the participants (victims) to the Rite of Renunciation of Idols, where you are told that you should sell your belongings and give them to the poor. At this rite the participants come forward, one by one, and put the “sign” that they brought into the basket or bag at the front or put it near the basket. These “signs” are substantial amounts of cash, checks, titles to automobiles, titles to property, expensive jewellery and heirlooms, etc.. Members are coerced by the catechists with words like, “Show that you are bigger than your idols!”, or “Throw it into the fire!” At all the Scrutinies, black bin-liners are passed round, and cheques written. The amount donated is announced immediately, and if it is not enough the bag goes round again. Their aim is to eventually get you to agree to tithe - to give a tenth of your income to the Neocatechumenal Way.
The Neocatechumenal Way targets people with low esteem who are depressed and emotionally mixed-up, they know that they can easily manipulate vulnerable people who have a deep and sincere desire to take their faith seriously. It is also claimed that the Neocatechumenal Scrutinies are an insidious way of manipulation of unsuspecting "victims" that are lured into the Neocatechumenal way.
The Neocatechumenal Way it has been approved by the Holy See as a "Post baptismal catechumenate at the service of the Bishops as a form of diocesan implementation of Christian initiation and of ongoing education in faith, in accordance with the indications of the Second Vatican Council and the Magisterium of the Church”. From the initial catechesis, it typically takes several years and passing through stages of faith formation in the local communities, until a member reaches the "renewal of the baptismal vows."
Responding to secularization, the Neocatechumenal Way introduced a program called "families in mission" – families serving to establish the presence of the Catholic Church in countries where there is none (this is referred to as Implantatio Ecclesiae) or to strengthen the presence of Catholic communities in particularly difficult areas.
On January 12, 2006, about 200 families met with Pope Benedict XVI, asking for a missionary mandate before beginning their mission to France, Belgium, Germany and China – bringing the number of families in mission to more than five-hundred.
In March 2008 the Way met with nine cardinals and 160 European bishops at the Domus Galilaeae International Center on the Mount of Beatitudes in Galilee. Christoph Cardinal Schönborn said that during "the last 40 years Europe has said ‘no’ to its future three times: in 1968 when it rejected 'Humanae Vitae'; then, 20 years later, with the legalization of abortion; and today with homosexual marriages." He called the Neocatechumenal Way an "answer of the Holy Spirit to this situation." A joint declaration from the bishops said, "Here we have an important proposal, the proposal of the Neocatechumenal Way, which is to renew the life of the family."
On January 10, 2009, Benedict XVI met with over 10,000 people for a celebration marking the 40th anniversary of the Neocatechumenal Way in Rome. From this celebration several whole communities were sent on mission, along with itinerant catechists, mission families, and the Missio Ad Gentes (a newer form of mission that sends three to five families to a particular area at the request of the bishop).
Approximately every three years, the World Youth Day has been organized by the Roman Catholic Church, during which the Pope summons youths from all over the world to a chosen city. The Way has been an active supporter of these, rallying its young members to attend. For instance, during World Youth Day 2008 held in Sydney, George Cardinal Pell said that of the 110,000 international visitors that attended, 40,000 were from the Neocatechumenal Way.
During the event, young members of the Neocatechumenal Way meet with Argüello for a "vocational call." In Sydney, for example, approximately 1,500 men answered the call for the priesthood and 850 young women stood up to show their willingness to enter the consecrated life, and in Bonn (2005) around 1,500 young men and another 900 young women answered the call. These young men and women begin a process of discernment in their own dioceses and communities, which may lead to priesthood (most of the priestly vocations go to a "Redemptoris Mater" seminary) or consecrated life.
During the Neocatechumenal Way vocational meeting held near the Sea of Galilee following Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the Holy Land in May 2009, Arguello described the Way's situation in the Holy Land, claiming thirty communities that follow several different Christian rites, and holding them up as an example of the ecumenical breakthrough. There are seven communities following the Latin Rite, in Jaffa, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Bethlehem and Cana. In March 2000, the Way opened its Domus Galilaeae formation center on the slopes of the Mount of Beatitudes in Israel. The facility is used for studies and retreat, Christian seminars and conventions.
In February 2007, bishops of the Holy Land addressed a letter in which they ask to the Neocatechumenal Way "to take place in the heart of the parish in which you announce the Word of God, avoiding to form a separated group", to root believers "in the parishes and in the liturgical traditions in which they have lived for generations", and that all Eucharistic celebrations would be presided by the parish priest. The document stated that Liturgy Rite has preserved the Christian faith along history of their nations and it was "like an identity card, not just a way like another to pray" in the Church.
In June 2007, Archbishop Elias Chacour proposed the establishment of a new "branch" of the Neocatechumenal Way "to work specifically in the Eastern-rite Church." Archbp. Chacour stated in his message that he has searched for "someone or some community to preach the Good News to my parishioners" as an answer to proselytism of the sects, and that the Neocatechumenal Way is an answer. A spokesman for the Way reported the letter to ZENIT, saying that "We share the sense of urgency expressed by Archbishop Chacour to evangelize 'the living stones' in the land of the Lord."
The Way also operates several seminaries dubbed Redemptoris Mater seminaries which combines the priestly formation found in a seminary with the Christian formation received in a neocatechumenal community. Potential candidates often undergo a time of "Pre-Vocational Formation" before entering the seminary, which operates somewhat in the manner of a pre-med course, designed to prepare and awaken their vocations. The intent was to establish a seminary that was both international, i.e. with vocations coming from different nations, and missionary, i.e. upon ordination, the priests are available to go wherever their ordinary sends them, In 1988, the first Redemptoris Mater Seminary was established in Rome by Ugo Cardinal Poletti.
In 1997 Pope John Paul II "encouraged [Argüello and Hernández] to examine their thirty-year experience of the Way, and to formalize it with a written statute," and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger urged the drafting of the Statutes as "a very important step that will open the way to the formal juridical recognition by the Church, and giving you a further guarantee of the authenticity of your charism"  The Statutes drafted in response were approved ad experimentum for five years in 2002, and on June 13, 2008, after review by five dicasteries and the Pontifical Council for the Laity, Stanislaw Cardinal Rylko published a decree containing the definitive approval of the statutes of the Neocatechumenal Way.
The Statutes describe the nature of the Way and regulate its charism and specific tasks within the Church. Through them the Neocatechumenal Way was endowed with "public juridical personality" status. The Way is thus closely governed by an ecclesiastical authority, performs entrusted functions "in the name of the church," and has no material goods of its own.
After thorough examination by various Vatican dicasteries, on December 26, 2010, the Pontifical Council for the Laity approved the text of the catecheses which are handed on to neo-catechumens during their itinerary. Pope Benedict XVI praised the approval: "With these ecclesiastical seals, the Lord confirms today and entrusts to you again this precious instrument that is the Way, so that you can, in filial obedience to the Holy See and to the pastors of the Church, contribute, with new impetus and ardor, to the radical and joyful rediscovery of the gift of baptism and to offer your original contribution to the cause of the New Evangelization.".
The Neocatechumenal Way regards liturgy as one of its three fundamental elements (tripod), along with the Word of God (scripture), and Christian community. The Paschal Mystery, celebrated in the Sacred Triduum, is seen as a liturgical axis and source of Christian life and a fulcrum of the Neocatechumenate which leads to "rediscovery" of Christian initiation. The Eucharist is essential to the Neocatechumenate, since this is a post-baptismal catechumenate lived in small communities. In fact, the Eucharist completes Christian initiation.
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has observed the Way's liturgical practices from the beginning. Pope John Paul II celebrated the Eucharist at the meeting with the communities in Porto San Giorgio in 1989, exactly as the communities do it, including the communion rite in a sitting position.
The Way argues that Arinze's letter has been superseded by the Final Statute of the Neocatechumenal Way insofar as it says that “the celebrations of the Eucharist of the neocatechumenal communities on Saturday evening are part of the Sunday liturgical pastoral work of the parish and are open also to other faithful.”
In an interview with the Spanish newspaper La Razón, Antonio Cardinal Cañizares, then Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, expressed his view on the Eucharistic celebration of the Neocatechumenal Way:
In April 2012, journalist Sandro Magister reported that Pope Benedict XVI asked the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to review whether Masses celebrated by the Neocatechumenate are “in keeping with the liturgical teaching and practice of the Catholic church,”.
Based on the Liturgical Movement, specially the ideas of Romano Guardini and Rudolf Schwarz that would influenced the Second Vatican Council renewal of the liturgy, the movement fosters a special care for some aesthetic questions about the celebrative spaces.
The Neocatechumenal Way has encountered resistance and criticism from both clergy and theologians. In 1995, Gordon Urquhart, known for his cooperation with a dissenting Catholics for a Free Choice Foundation, accused the Way and other lay movements, like Focolare and Communion and Liberation, of conservatism, fanaticism, sectarianism, devaluing of reason, "brainwashing", or even a "personality cult" of the founders. In his publication he wrote that after the Neocatechumenate was introduced into the parish of St Germain-des-Prés in Paris, the Archbishop of Paris, François Cardinal Marty, blocked any further expansion before his retirement in 1981, and similar controversy in 1992 prompted the Bishop of Nancy to transfer the neocatechumens to a different church. Other authors criticize a possible excess of centrality of the Way on the initiators' charism and aesthetics, although not totally rejecting the validity of the movement.
In 1985, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in the Rapporto Sulla Fede, spoke hopefully of new lay movements, including the Way. The future Pope remarked that they also entail greater or lesser dangers, but that it "happens with all living beings".
In 1995 the Italian Passionist priest and theologian Enrico Zoffoli published a critique of the Way that accused the movement of heresy, arguing that "their doctrine is seriously compromised with errors against fundamental dogmatics of the Church, the Popes and the Councils"  On March 23, 1995, Zoffoli sent a letter to the bishops of the main Italian dioceses and to the officials of the Roman Curia (including card. Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, card. Camillo Ruini, Vicar General of Rome, and abp. Ennio Antonelli, General Secretary of the Italian Episcopal Conference), attaching a copy of his book. Card. Ruini in reply invited Zoffoli "not to replace the competent bodies and not to issue, albeit with good intentions, personal and premature judgments on issues concerning the orthodoxy of ecclesial realities, or even of the Holy Father," while abp. Antonelli called him to "trust in the discerment of the pastors of the Church".
There have been allegations that the Way does have a divisive impact on parishes. In 1996, Mervyn Alexander, Bishop of Clifton, in England, established a panel of inquiry to explore claims made by parishioners in three parishes (St Nicholas of Tolentino in Bristol, St Peter in Gloucester and Sacred Heart at Chariton Kings in Cheltenham) that had been harmed and experienced ‘considerable stress’ as well as ‘spiritual, personal and mental anguish’ by activities of the Neocatechumenal Way. The report stated that "it understands, from this presentation paper and the submitted evidence, that the Neocatechumenal Way over a long time (20 years) seeks to lead people towards salvation," but it is a cause of 'considerable stress', and 'spiritual, personal and mental anguish' for some individual members. The report recognized at the same time that "there is undoubtedly a 'conversion experience,'" and that it is drawing people in different conditions towards God. 
In some places such as China and the Middle East, local Catholics have complained that missionaries of the Way have forced European songs, rituals and prayers on them, without inculturation. Archbishop Peter Takeo Okada, president of the Japanese Bishops' Conference, described the Way's presence in Japan’s small Catholic community as "a serious problem" and "divisive and confrontational". Staff and students of the Takamatsu Redemptoris Mater seminary relocated to Rome in 2009, and in 2010 the Japanese episcopal conference asked the Way to suspend its activities in Japan for five years. Local bishops suspended the Way's activities in the northern part of the Philippines in 2010, and in Nepal in 2011.
Pope Paul VI stated in 1974: "What great joy and what great hope your presence and activity give us!... Living and promoting this reawakening is what you call a form of 'follow-up to Baptism', which will renew in today's Christian communities those effects of maturity and deepening which in the early Church were achieved by the period of preparation for Baptism."
John Paul II, in 1980, regarding the nature of the Way, said that, "being a way, it is also movement". In his letter Ogni Qualvolta (1990), he "recognize[d] the Neocatechumenal Way as an effective means of Catholic formation for society and for the present time."
In February 2014, Pope Francis told the members of the Neocatechumenal Way that "[t]he Church is grateful for your generosity! I thank you for all that you do in the Church and in the world." Francis added that "[t]he freedom of the individual must not be forced, and you must respect even the eventual choice of those who should decide to look outside of the Way, for other forms of Christian life".
On March 6, 2015, Pope Francis again addressed the Neocatechumenal Way in Vatican City: "I confirm your call, I support your mission and I bless your charism. I do not do so because he [pointing at Kiko] paid me, no! I do so because I want to do it. You will go in Christ's name to the whole world to bring his Gospel: Christ precedes you, Christ accompanies you, Christ will bring to fulfilment the salvation of which you are bearers!"
Lenten meeting with the clergy of Rome: Address of his Holiness Benedict XVI
"For example, we ask ourselves whether, after five years of experience, it is possible to confirm definitively the Statutes for the Neocatechumenal Way, whether a trial period is necessary or whether, perhaps, certain elements of this structure need perfecting. In any case, I knew the Neocatechumenals from the very outset. It was a long Way, with many complications that still exist today, but we have found an ecclesial form that has already vastly improved the relationship between the Pastor and the Way. We are going ahead like this! The same can be said for other Movements."
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