I recently received a phone call from a close friend in Guam. I grew up there and so I was getting the usual run down on the latest news and updates from the island. Part way through the discussion , my friend started telling me about his frustration about a group in the Catholic Church that are causing issues there.
He started talking about Neo-Cats ( people who follow the Neocatechumenal Way) and their influence on the Catholic Archdiocese there. Apparently, they have garnered such an influence that they hold key positions of influence, including that of approving new priests into the parishes on Guam. According to my friend, only new priests who ascribe to the neocatechumenal way are allowed assignment to the parish.
Apparently, the Archbishop in Guam has allegedly become a Neo Cat supporter. This has made this issue even more controversial for many parishioners and priests. Appproximately 98% of Guam’s population is Roman Catholic and problems in the Church has an effect on the whole community.
My friend’s whole argument is not with the Neo Cat movment itself but with its undue influence upon the church. It has become an “either their way or no way” type of environment. Neo Cat followers have become aggressive in their approach in the archdiocese with no tolerance to other communities within the Church.
Recently during a visit from certain Vatican leaders to Guam, my friend and several parishisners from throughout the island staged a prayerful protest outside the Agana Basilica. In song and prayer ( with signs) they advocated the Universal and Apostolic Church. Some young High School student protestors were scolded by a Neo Cat follower and called “Protestants!”
After the phone call, I was amazed at what my friend had shared with me. I had no idea there was such a chasm going on within the Catholic Church. I have not attended Church or been a practicing Catholic in years. I had not heard about the Neocatechumenal movement or “Neocat.” I decided to find out more. Something was happening back at Guam that was causing some of the most religious and non-activists people I know to protest for their faith.
I found out that the Neo Cat Movement was started in 1964 by Francisco (kiko) Arguello and Carmen Hernandez in Madrid during their work with the poor and as a result of Vatican II. Post baptismal revitilization of christian life and education in the Catholic adult seemed to be the center of their work. Themed through the process is Catholic evangelization.
The first article of the Statute of the Neocatechumenal Way states:
The Neocatechumenal Way is a form of diocesan implementation of Christian initiation and of ongoing education in faith.
The Neo Cat Way is Pastor based. He leads a group of Neo Cat participants within a small community. They undergo a series of the steps that take them this process of maturing in christian understanding and dedication. They worship in these small communities.
These small communities also practice what ia known as the Tripod of Christian Life:
Weekly Celebration of the Word of God – Every neocatechumenal community has a weekly celebration of the Word of God, usually with four readings.
Sunday Eucharist – The Eucharist is essential to the Neocatechumenate since the Neocatechumenate is a post-baptismal catechumenate, lived in small communities. Indeed, the Eucharist completes Christian initiation. The neocatechumens celebrate the Eucharist in the small community in order to be gradually initiated into full, conscious and active participation in the divine mysteries, according also to the example of Christ, who, in the multiplication of loaves, made the people sit down “in groups of fifty” (Lk 9:14). This custom, consolidated in the more than thirty-year old praxis of the Way, has born rich fruit.
Life in the Community – The Neocatechumenate nurtures people in community life in a gradual and constant way by inserting them in a small community, as the body of the risen Christ, open to the life of the parish community and of the whole Church. A special moment for this education is the monthly day of convivence for every neocatechumenal community. In the convivence, after the celebration of Lauds, people share freely the experience of what God’s grace is accomplishing in their life and the difficulties which may have occurred are expressed, respecting the freedom of a person’s conscience. This fosters knowledge and reciprocal enlightenment and mutual encouragement in seeing God’s action in the history of everyone. The community helps the neocatechumens to discover their need for conversion and maturation in faith: differences, defects and weaknesses show clearly the incapacity to love the other as he is, destroy false ideals of community and provide the experience that communion (koinonia) is the work of the Holy Spirit.
On the surface, the Neocatechumenal way seems like a very disciplined religious practice and focus to regenerate one’s faith and christian living in the catholic faith. Many communities within the Catholic Church have some form of traditions and rituals that follow in the same way. The Holy See and Popes like John Paul II have inidicated their approval to the intent behind the Neo Cat Movement.
However, it is not principles of better christian living that is in debate here but it is the political control that the Neo Cat movment seems to be exerting in the Church.
“In April 2008, the Japanese Bishops’ Conference sent a delegation “to discuss with Pope Benedict XVI “the serious problem” they are having with the Neocatechumenal Way and its seminary in Takamatsu diocese”. Peter Takeo Okada, Archbishop of Tokyo, said that “in the small Catholic Church of Japan, the powerful sect-like activity of Way members is divisive and confrontational. It has caused sharp painful division and strife within the Church. We are struggling with all our strength to overcome the problem but feel that if a solution is to be found, the consideration of Your Holiness for the Church in Japan will be of the utmost importance and direly needed” (UCANews – April 29, 2008).
Also on April 2008, Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez (Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments) also criticized Neocatechumenal liturgies, reporting that they effectively disobeyed to the letter of 1 December 2005:
- “In their liturgies I found weird things and strange issues. The Holy See has asked them to correct and obey; I also ask them to do, because the liturgy is not a property of someone, and not even Kiko Argüello’s”
- “The Holy Communion, seating instead of kneeling (an absolute disrespect to Christ)”
- “Then the homilies: lay people – I repeat: lay people – do sermons that even if not called “homilies”, they indeed are. Only a priest or deacon can. These are dangerous abuses (Il Cardinale Medina Estevéz critica i Neocatecumenali: “Facciano Messe senza abusi: la liturgia non è proprietà di nessuno, tantomeno di Kiko Argüello”).
GERALD A. ARBUCKLE, SM in his article, “Is the Neo-Catechumenate Way Compatible with Religious Life? stated:
The Neo-Catechumenate may have estimable goals, but my experience, and that of many others in the field, is not so positive. First, the Way in practice commonly exemplifies many of the qualities listed above for sects. For example, it demands a total and unquestioning commitment from its members and submission to the authority of its organizers, it is elitist and frequently divisive within parishes. It demands an excessive time involvement from priests/religious and/or it commonly acts without reference to existing parish structures.
Second, in practice the Way rejects the Gospel commitment to inculturation. Inculturation is the dynamic and evaluative interchange between the Gospel and cultures, ‘an ongoing process of reciprocal and critical interaction and assimilation between them. As evangelizers we are not free to choose or reject inculturation. It is a Gospel imperative. As John Paul II says: ‘the Church’s dialogue with the cultures of our time (is) a vital area, one in which the destiny of the world…is at stake; and ‘the synthesis between culture and faith is not just a demand of culture, but also of faith.
The Roman Catholic Church went through the horrendous child abuse scandals in the last decade, it has seen its membership dwindled in many areas of the world and now it has seen the rise of a divisive religious sect within its own walls. How will it handle its Neo Cat challenge?