A joyful atmosphere is the best way one can describe Pope Francis’ meeting on Saturday with members of the Neocatechumenal Way. An estimated 10,000 people were present, though one gendarme observed that the number was much greater due more than 1,000 people who were unable to enter due to space limitations. Beyond the numbers, what struck most was the composition of the assembly.
Gathered in the Paul VI Audience Hall were young people, priests, seminarians, itinerant catechists and families. Also present were 50 Bishops and 11 Cardinals, among them Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the Cardinal Vicar of Rome, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, Archbishop of Krakow.
The real protagonists of the meeting, however, were the children. So many as to also move the Holy Father, who, no sooner he entered — late and almost by surprise, received with the notes of a hymn to Mary – gave them a “greeting full of affection” and asked: “Can we see them?” At that moment, the mothers and fathers lifted their little ones (some only a few months old) to have the Pontiff’s blessing reach their small heads.
Then a special blessing was also received by their parents, directly from the hands of the Pope who, at the end of the meeting, sent 414 families on mission “to proclaim and witness the Gospel” in every part of the world, as his predecessors John Paul II and Benedict XVI had done.
Of these families, 174 will be part of the 40 new “missio ad Gentes” that will be added to the 52 existing ones. China, India, Vietnam and Mongolia are the main destinations, but also Europe and the United States, lands that have in common almost a total de-Christianization, for which it is “a miracle” that a way is open for the Gospel of Christ, as initiator Kiko Arguello stressed. The probability that they will find new difficulties, starting with learning a new and “difficult” language that – the former painter said – is nevertheless a way to “evangelize not as conquerors, but humbly as poor among the poor.” Arguello drew this model from the teachings of French mystic Charles de Foucauld, a source of inspiration of Arguello’s first evangelization in the shanty-towns of Madrid.
“The Lord Always Preceeds Us”
The Holy Father began his address by expressing his gratitude to the members of the Neocatechumenal Way for “the joy of your faith and for the ardor of your Christian witness.”
“The Church is grateful for your generosity! I thank you for all that you do in the Church and in the world.”
The Holy Father imparted words of advice and encouragement to the members of the itinerary of Christian formation, reminding them that God always goes forth ahead of them. “Wherever you may go, it would do you well to think that the Spirit of God always gets there ahead of us. The Lord always precedes us!” he exclaimed.
Among the “simple recommendations” the Pope told those present is to preserve the communion of the Church wherever they go.
“The Way has its own charism and dynamic, a gift, which like all of the gifts of the Spirit, has a profound ecclesial dimension; this means paying attention to the life of the Churches to which your leaders send you, to enhance the riches, to suffer for the weaknesses if necessary, and to walk together, like one flock, under the guidance of the pastors of the local Churches,” he said.
The 77 year old Pontiff also gave words of encouragement to the members of the itinerary of Christian formation, reminding them that God always goes forth ahead of them. “Wherever you may go, it would do you well to think that the Spirit of God always gets there ahead of us. The Lord always precedes us!” he exclaimed.
The Neocatechumenal Way, which was described by Blessed John Paul II as an “itinerary of Christian formation, valid for our society and for our times”, is lived in various stages that lead to the rediscovery of one’s Baptism. For some, the Pope said, it “is a demanding road, along which a brother or a sister can come upon unforeseen difficulties.”
“In these cases, the exercise of patience and of mercy on the part of the community is a sign of maturity in the faith.” The Holy Father affirmed that in such cases, the freedom of those who choose to seek other forms of Christian life, “must be respected.”
Concluding his address, Pope Francis encouraged the families who will be embarking in their respective missions to evangelize that God loves man as he is “even with his limits, with his mistakes, with his sins.”
“Be messengers and witnesses of the infinite goodness and the inexhaustible mercy of the Father. I entrust you to the Virgin Mary, that she may inspire and always sustain your apostolate. In the school of this tender Mother, be zealous and joyful missionaries,” he said.