ROME, JUNE 28, 2002 (Zenit.org).- In 1964 a Madrid youth named Kiko Argüello initiated the Neocatechumenal Way in one of the poorest neighborhoods of the Spanish capital.
Now, the Way is one of the strongest charisms of the Catholic Church. Its statute was officially recognized today in a ceremony at the Pontifical Council for the Laity.
This ecclesial reality has spread to 105 nations, in 883 dioceses and 4,950 parishes.
In the 1960s, Argüello was the prototype of nonconformists. A product of a Catholic middle-class family, he studied fine arts in Madrid. He became a self-described atheist and went on to win the National Award for Painting. But his professional success didn’t bring him happiness.
“I had died interiorly and I knew that sooner or later my end would undoubtedly be suicide,” he said in a rare interview. “To live each day was a suffering. Every day the same thing: Why get up? Who am I? Why are we living? Why earn money? Why get married? Nothing had meaning for me.”
He recalled: “I would ask the people around me: ‘Excuse me, but do you know why you are living?’ They could not answer me. A great chasm opened within me. I would escape from myself. That chasm was a profound call from God, who was calling me from my deepest interior.”
One day Argüello said he went into his room and began to cry out to that God: “‘If you exist, help me. I don’t know who you are — help me!’ And at that moment God had mercy on me, because I had a profound experience of encounter with the Lord that startled me.”
“I remember that I began to cry,” he recalled. “Surprised, I asked myself, Why am I crying? I felt pardoned, as one who, in the face of death, when he is about to be shot, is told: ‘You are free, you are free at no cost.'”
“For me that meant passing from death to seeing that Christ was within me, and that someone within me was telling me that God exists, as St. Paul says: ‘The Spirit witnesses to our spirit that we are children of God,'” Argüello added.
Following in the footsteps of Father Charles de Foucauld, in 1964 Argüello left everything to live among the poor, in the shanties of Palomeras Altas, on the outskirts of Madrid. While in touch with the poor, he was involved in catechesis. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, he formed a community with the poor who live celebrating the Word of God and the Eucharist.
It was the advent of the tripod on which the Neocatechumenal Way is based: Word, liturgy and community.
With the help of co-founder Carmen Hernández and some priests, Argüello introduced the experiment in a number of parishes. And so a new Church entity came into being.
A key event was the visit of Monsignor Casimiro Morcillo, then archbishop of Madrid, to the community of Palomeras. Profoundly moved, he recognized God’s action in those poor, and blessed the fledgling Neocatechumenal Way. Since then, Argüello and Hernández have worked, always seeking communion with bishops.
The two founders were then called to preach the Gospel in several Madrid parishes. They found middle-class and educated people who, called to conversion, progressively began to see the catechumenate as a way of Christian initiation, moving by stages until it reached the baptismal font. These faithful also saw the need for a neocatechumenate, for a post-baptismal catechumenate.
What is the Neocatechumenal Way? Argüello believes that “the current process of secularization has led many people to abandon the faith and the Church. This is why it is necessary to reopen a way of Christian formation.”
“The Neocatechumenal Way does not intend to create a movement in itself, but tries to help parishes to open a way of Christian initiation [leading] to baptism, in order to discover what it means to be Christian. It is an instrument at the service of bishops, within parishes, to bring back to the faith the many people who have abandoned it,” Argüello clarified.
As the founder explained, this experience recovers the “kerygma” of the early Church, the news of salvation, which is followed by a change of life in the catechumen, and is then sealed by the liturgy.
“The renewal that has taken place in parishes thanks to the neocatechumenate has, in fact, caused an amazing missionary impulse, which has made many catechists and whole families offer themselves to be sent to those places on earth in need of evangelization,” Argüello added.
“Another important fruit in the local Church is the flowering of numerous vocations, both to the religious as well as the priestly life,” he said. “It has made possible the resurgence of 40 missionary diocesan seminaries, which can go to the assistance of so many dioceses in difficulty, at this time of lack of vocations.”