Carmen Hernandez, co-initiator together with Kilo Arguello of the Neo-Catechumenal Way, was a free spirit, with a freedom that only those individuals enjoy who have encountered Jesus Christ in their life and have understood that all the rest takes second place.
She died Tuesday at 4:45 pm at the age of 85, in her paternal home in Madrid, after a long illness that constrained her to rest for a year and a half. She, who had never stood still in her life, who together with Kiko Arguello went around the world to proclaim the kerygma, the Good News, beginning with those shantytowns on the outskirts of Madrid, where she went at the end of the 60s to take the word of God in the midst of gypsies, to outcasts and criminals.
It was a path that God chose for her, as she liked to repeat, given that her plans and those of her wealthy family were very different. She began her scientific studies with her father’s backing, who spurred her to an entrepreneurial future, but in the course of her studies Carmen had only one goal: a licentiate in chemistry.
Then she decided to back the sacred missionary fire that burned in her heart from her childhood and, at Tudela, on the bank of the Ebro <River> she saw Jesuit, Dominican and Salesian missionaries pass by from every corner of the globe. At 15 she expressed the desire to go to India, creating not a few upsets in her family. Her determination was concretized a few years later when she was older, and decided to become a Catholic missionary, and withdrew to the Institute of Missionaries of Christ Jesus in Barcelona.
It was the 60s, and while young people of her age were dreaming of revolution, she longed to form a missionary team in Bolivia. One of these <women> succeeded and left to work among the Indians. Meanwhile, she continued to be in Spain, looking for young people to espouse the project. At that time she was studying Theology and intensified her religious commitment, but decided to remain in the lay state. She worked in a factory or as a cleaning lady to support herself.
It was in these same years, during which the breath of the Spirit of Vatican Council II was blowing that, through her sister Pilar, at the time a volunteer in an Association for the rehabilitation of prostitutes, she came to know Kiko Arguello, a young painter who was also of a good family, who had given up a promising career to go with a Bible, a guitar and the Little Flowers of Saint Francis among the poor of Palomeras Altas.
A folly that to Carmen, however, seemed very concrete as service to the Church of her many projects. So she decided to follow this strange man with a beard and she went to live in a slum half a kilometer from him thinking, deep down, of having found a valid element for her mission in Bolivia. However, when Carmen got to know the community of Palomeras – she herself recounted – she had a great surprise, namely, she discovered that the Church was not made up of chosen people but of the poor and sinners, because it was there that Jesus Christ was present.
The rest is well-known: the first Communities made up of gypsies, her transfer to Rome in the Latin Borghetto, evangelization in the parishes of the whole world, the elaboration of these initial catecheses, to which she made the greatest contribution thanks to her theological studies and that, also because of her tenacity, were approved after a long time by the Holy See with the name of “Catechetical Directory of the Neo-Catechumenal Way.” They were catecheses that over the years brought millions of people to the Church through what she did not want to have described as a “Movement,” and even less so an Association or Congregation, but an ecclesial reality, fruit of the renewal of the Council.
The Way, it is known, has great numbers today, between some 30,000 Communities in 125 countries, thousands of vocations and some 100 seminaries, but Carmen did not like to hear that said. She was always detached from triumphalism and vainglory or public recognitions, such as the Doctorate Honoris Causa in Theology, bestowed on her and Kiko by Washington’s Catholic University of America on May 16, 2015.
Carmen sought the good of people, and this also implied a straightforward way of saying the truth as it was, naked and raw, beginning with Kiko. Not forgotten in fact are her rebukes that became an unmissable scene of the vocational meetings, when after Arguello’s passionate catecheses before oceanic crowds, she stood up and with an unmistakable Madrid accent said: “I always say to Kiko that hell is full of preachers like him!” Or when at the celebrations in 2009 in Saint Peter’s Basilica, of the 40th anniversary of the Neo-Catechumenal Way, during an endless address, she shouted in Spanish to Kiko, who tried to make her abbreviate her speech: “Be quiet, I’m talking to the Pope!” – wringing a smile also from Benedict XVI.
How can one forget her encouragements to women’s vocations or her words on the importance of a woman’s role, “factory of life” for the Church, for the family and for society. “Because of this – she constantly repeated – from the first page of Genesis to the last of Revelation the devil has always persecuted woman.”
Kiko expressed a moving memory of her: “Carmen, what an enormous help to the Way! She never adulated me; she always thought of the good of the Church. What a strong woman!” he wrote in a letter. “I hope to die soon and to be reunited with her. Carmen was a marvellous event for me” with “her great character, her charism, her love for the Pope and above all, her love of the Church.” “It was moving – continued Kiko – that she waited for me to arrive; I kissed her and said to her Animo! Courage! And after giving her a little kiss she died.”
Her funeral was held on Thursday in Madrid’ Cathedral of Almudena, presided over by Archbishop Carlos Osoro Sierra, in the presence of numerous Bishops and Cardinals close to the Neo-Catechumenal Way and to the itinerants of the whole of Europe. Meanwhile, the Communities around the world gathered in prayer in sign of recognition of this woman who, with her passion and dedicated life, transmitted to them love for Christ and for the Church.