VATICAN CITY, APR. 23, 2001 ( The Church´s official and juridical recognition of the Neocatechumenal Way will depend on the approval of the statutes of the spiritual renewal movement, according to John Paul II.

The approval is up to the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the Pope added.

The Holy Father sent a letter dated April 5 to Cardinal James Francis Stafford, president of the said pontifical council, in which he highlights the "precious" results reached by the Neocatechumenal Way in its more than 30 years of existence. He also stresses the importance of complying with "some essential requisites, on which the very existence of the Way depends."

In particular, the Holy Father points out the need to "write a precise statutory normative to obtain formal juridical recognition."

The founders of the Way began writing the statutes in 1997. Founder Kiko Arguello has wished to avoid the written word and juridical formulas, fearing that they would stifle the freshness of spirit that inspired the birth and development of the Way.

Arguello, a Spaniard, founded the Way after being an atheist and suffering an existential crisis. He changed his life and embraced Christianity with great intensity. In 1964 he went to live with the poor in shantytowns on the outskirts of Madrid.

While associating with the poor, Arguello discovered a catechetical theological synthesis, which enabled him to form a community that lives celebrating the Word of God and the Eucharist. The stress is on the Word, the liturgy and the community. The charism now has about 1 million followers worldwide.

In his letter, John Paul II explains: "the apostolic exhortation ´Christifidelis Laici,´ emphasizes that ´no charism dispenses a person from reference and submission to the Pastors of the Church.´ The Pope quoted what was written in this connection in the dogmatic constitution "Lumen Gentium": "Those who have charge over the Church should judge the genuineness and proper use of these gifts, through their office not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to what is good" (No. 12).

John Paul II stressed that the recognition and acceptance of charisms "is not an easy process." It requires "profound discernment of the will of God, and must constantly be accompanied by prayer." The culmination of the process is "the official act of recognition and approval of the statutes, as a clear and safe rule of life."

The letter responds implicitly to bishops, who have questioned the Vatican about the juridical position of the Neocatechumenate, as it is also known. The Holy Father indicates that the Pontifical Council for the Laity is responsible for the ecclesial approval of the Way and its following in the future.

This decision was taken not only "because of the authority that belongs" to the Council for the Laity, but also "because of the singular experience it has in this matter."

"On this is based the hope for a happy outcome of the procedure that is already entering its final phase," the Pope wrote.