The Catholic University of America (CUA), the sole Pontifical University in the United States, conferred doctorates in Theology honors causa upon the initiators of the Neocatechumenal Way, Kiko Argüello and Carmen Hernandez on Saturday, May 16th.
During the ceremony held in Washington, D.C., University president John H. Garvey highlighted in his address how Kiko and Carmen formed small Christian communities in parishes where people were “drawn to convert by the discovery that Christ loved them despite their sins: Through contact with other parishes embracing people in challenging circumstances, little by little a way of Christian initiation was begun for adults who were rediscovering the richness of their baptism. Thus was born the Neocatechumenal Way, known simply as ‘the Way’”.
President Garvey quoted the words Pope Francis addressed recently to Kiko and Carmen, saying: “ I thank you for the immense good you are doing for the whole Church”, and concluded that Argüello and Hernandez were given the doctorate in Theology honoris causa “for their devotion to the poor, which has brought so many into communion with Christ and the Catholic faith.”
The itinerary of Christian formation was first introduced in the United States by the initiators in 1974, following an invitation by the then-Director of the Liturgy Office, Msgr. James Donegan. He was then welcomed to visit the parishes in New York by the late Cardinal Terrence Cooke. Currently, the Way is present throughout the United States in 82 dioceses and in 350 parishes with about 1000 communities. Worldwide, there are more than 30,000 communities in 125 countries with almost two million participants.
Following the ceremony, Argüello spoke with ZENIT on the significance of receiving an honorary doctorate as well as the role the Neocatechumenal Way plays in the Catholic Church through families, which he noted, is severely under attack in today’s secular world.
He also spoke on the first International Meeting of Rabbis, Cardinals and Bishops in Israel that was organized by the Neocatechumenal Way. The historic event took place on the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council document, Nostra Aetate and brought together several Jewish denominations, including Orthodox, Reform and Conservative leaders. During the meeting, the Rabbis recognized the dramatic change in Judeo-Christians relations that the Catholic Church began with Nostra Aetate, which defined anti-Semitism as a sin against God and proclaimed, as St. Paul did, that the covenant of God with Israel has never been revoked [cf. Nostra Aetate, 4].
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ZENIT: What meaning for you does this recognition from the Catholic University of America have with this conferral of the doctorate in Theology honoris causa upon you and Carmen Hernández?
Argüello: Well, after many sufferings – we have always been persecuted because it is difficult to accept a charism from lay people – it is consolation that the Lord has given us.
This doctorate has come as if the Lord was telling us: ‘Courage, I am with you.’ And it is also very important because it was the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that approved the conferral of the doctorates in Theology to me and Carmen.
ZENIT: What help can the Neocatechumenal Way offer to the Church in the United States?
Arguello: The most important battle in today’s world is the family! The Way helps to rebuild families, families that are open to live, numerous families with many children.
Yesterday, I had a meeting with 10,000 brothers and sisters and almost 200 families offered themselves to go to Asia, to China; to go to all parts of the world with 8,9, 10 children. An itinerary of adult Christian formation needs to be opened in the parishes. We received from the Virgin [the call] to “make Christian communities like the Holy Family of Nazareth’. What does this mean? That the Baptism we have received does not make a little child! As Jesus Christ needed 30 years to become an adult, we too need an itinerary of 30 years so that Christ grows within us and becomes adult. And once adult, we can evangelize the world because God gives us zeal to evangelize the world. This is urgent in the Church! It is very important! This is the charism that God has given us and that we have received.
ZENIT: Several weeks ago, you had a meeting with rabbis, bishops and cardinals in Israel, 50 years after the Conciliar document Nostra Aetate. What was your impression of this historical meeting between the Catholic Church and Jewish people?
Argüello: 120 very important rabbis from all the various Hebrew confessions, we can say, Orthodox, Reform, etc. And the number ‘120’ was for us a prophecy that it would be a ‘Pentecost’ because God sent us His Spirit and we were all happy. They said it was the first time in the history of Judaism that all the confessions met together in communion and with Catholics! God made Himself present in our midst: the love that could be seen among us. And they realized that we have a joint mission for the redemption of the world. This is what they wrote.
ZENIT: Will you be visiting any other parts of the world, such as Africa?
Argüello: We will see. The next meeting that we will have here in the United States is in Philadelphia with many brothers. I have meetings next Sunday in Brescia [Italy] with 27,000 brothers and the following Sunday I will be going to Sicily, in the football stadium of Catania with 30,000 brothers and sisters. In these meetings, I ask for vocations and young men, women, and families offer themselves; an army of evangelizers. The world must be evangelized! This is what the Lord wanted, even though I am tired, it doesn’t matter! ‘I will gladly spend and be spent’ – St. Paul says – and I will try to do the same.