Carrying Forward the New Evangelization (Part 2)

Interview With Neocatechumenate Initiator

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By Inmaculada Álvarez



PORTO SAN GIORGIO, Italy, JULY 3, 2008 (Zenit.org).- What may seem novel in the charisms of the new ecclesial movements is oftentimes actually a return to the ancient, says the founder of the Neocatechumenal Way.

Kiko Argüello affirmed this when he spoke with ZENIT on the occasion of the June 13 final approval of the group's statutes. The Way, as Argüello explains, is a parish-based spiritual renewal movement that is helping to bring the Second Vatican Council to the lives of ordinary Catholics.

Q: The liturgical celebrations of the Neocatechumenal Way introduce a series of novelties that, in some cases, have caused friction, such as the change in the moment of the exchange of peace, the way of offering Communion, nocturnal celebrations, and especially the Easter Vigil, in which the celebration lasts until dawn. Could you explain the reason for these changes?

Argüello: These changes aren't novelties, but imply a return to ancient traditions. In the whole of the Eastern Church, the rite of peace takes place after the Prayer of the Faithful, recalling the Gospel phrase that says: "Before presenting your offering at the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother."

Since we are following an ecumenical itinerary open to those who have fallen away from the Church [and] living in a Christian community in which our most profound problems and defects are manifested, the rite of peace, in the presence of the Body of Christ, became conflictive -- people moved around a lot to show forgiveness of each other and to be reconciled with a brother. So we asked if it were possible to move the rite to the present place, as we knew the Ambrosian rite has it, so as not to break the solemnity of the moment of Communion, and this was perfectly understood.

In regard to the Easter Vigil, the Council itself has contributed to its recovery. Many theologians and liturgists have emphasized the importance of this night in which one doesn't sleep, the Easter night of our salvation. The celebration of this night has helped many brothers in Madrid, for example, who would go on vacation after Good Friday -- in Spain those days are holidays -- to live Holy Week in a new way.

In this, as in many other things, we have always acted with good intentions, seeking to help the man of today to rediscover his faith and to live the Gospel.

Q: One of the accusations leveled against the Way is that the communities "live" outside the parish.

Argüello: On the contrary! The Way is born in the parish, lives in it and is at its service. The definitive statutes even indicate that the Masses celebrated by the Neocatechumenal communities are part of the parish's pastoral liturgy and are open to anyone who wishes to participate in them.

Now then, it is very important to live the faith in a small community, where brothers know one another, help each other even financially, and pray together. One of the greatest problems of modern man, which is on the rise, is loneliness. There are many people living alone in cities. As in the early times of Christianity, the witness of Christians through mutual love is necessary; it is what amazed the pagans, who said: "Look how they love one another." As St. Paul says, the Christian is called to love the other, but especially a brother in the faith.

One must also keep in mind that many people who enter the Way have fallen away from the faith; they are "prodigal children" returning to the house of the Father, and one must be very merciful with them until their faith matures and they can be fully integrated in the parish. Of great importance, in this connection, is the work of parish priests, who must explain this so that suspicions don't arise.

Q: The religious images used in the Way is another element that attracts attention, more so since you are the painter. They are, in fact, icons of Eastern Christian origin, which you have reproduced and contributed to popularize. Why use this type of art and not another?

Argüello: Because a synthesis is necessary, an inculturation of the faith, an aesthetics that is lacking in the West today. It is very important that the Church reflect on the kind of aesthetics it hopes to use to evangelize the world. In the past, the Church had its aesthetics, in Byzantine, Baroque, Romanesque and Gothic art. Today this doesn't exist. Parishes are built that, aesthetically, have no meaning. The Church is participating in the same cultural disconcert that dominates Western art.

We have understood that it is very important to recover tradition. Until the advent of the Renaissance, the aesthetics of East and West was common, up to Cimabue. A separation begins with Giotto, which has lasted down to our days, and the fundamental reason is that Western art has lost the canon. Before, an author could not paint sacred art as he wished, because it did not have a merely aesthetic purpose but also that of evangelizing. So it had to adjust to a canon, and this has been kept in the East.

Hence, the recovery of this type of art in the Way responds to two issues: The first, to recover the canon, and the second, to build bridges with the Eastern Church. That is why it is very important for us to know how churches are built, with a defined aesthetics that refers to Eastern art, in which paintings form part of a "mystery crown" that reflects the most important moments of the life of Christ, in which the Eucharist makes heaven present on earth. Little by little, with many difficulties, we have been recovering this.

Q: Does this closeness to the Eastern Church have an ecumenical significance that was not present at the beginning of the Way?

Argüello: Indeed, we are surprised by the miracles we are witnessing. We would never have [thought about] opening seminaries, and we now have some 70, nor would we have thought of the mission "ad gentes."

The Orthodox Church too, which is present in this region, is interested, because they have seen that our catechesis is the same, and they have identified with our aesthetics, perfectly Eastern. They came to see the mural on the Last Judgment that we painted in the Domus Galilaeae and they have felt at home, with the same spirit. They were very surprised and were wondering what is happening in the Catholic Church. And what is happening is simply what Vatican Council II said, the spirit the Pope has -- communion among the Churches.

Q: What is the purpose of the Domus Galilaeae, the house the Way has opened in Galilee, on the Mount of the Beatitudes?

Argüello: This house, built on a plot of the Custody of the Holy Land, is the fruit of a desire to welcome brothers of the communities that were completing the Way -- the last stage of this "baptismal itinerary" is the solemn renewal of the baptismal promises on Easter night before the bishop, after which the entire community goes on pilgrimage for several days to the Holy Land.

However, our expectations are being surpassed also in this, because this house is bringing about an unforeseen bridge of union between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people. This year, around 700 buses full of Jews have come to visit us; they were surprised to see that the Torah, and Ten Commandments are there, in relation with the Beatitudes; that we sing the Shema -- a hymn that highlights the first commandment of God's law in Hebrew: "Listen, Israel, thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, thy whole soul, thy whole mind and thy whole strength."

Israel's minister of tourism came to the Domus to meet us and asked why the Way has this love for the Jewish people. I answered that for Christians, the history of the Jewish people was a sort of "catechumenate" that led to Christ, which is why the roots of Christianity are Jewish. John Paul II's words resonate in the Way -- that the Jews are "our elder brothers in the faith," avoiding judging them, given that St. Paul himself explains that a sort of "veil" has been placed over them so that they won't recognize the Messiah until the Gentiles come.

Q: Another characteristic note of the Way is, as you pointed out earlier, its missionary character, with the creation of Redemptoris Mater diocesan missionary seminaries and families on mission. Can you explain what they are?

Argüello: The Redemptoris Mater seminaries are a bishop's diocesan seminaries, with the particularity -- as the former archbishop of Madrid, cardinal Suquia, pointed out -- that the diocese has to breathe "with two lungs, one diocesan and another for the world." In Articles 9-10 of Presbyterorum Ordinis, Vatican Council II states that in the ordination of every priest there must be "solicitude for all the Churches." The Redemptoris Mater seminarians know that they might be sent to any part of the world, wherever bishops request them. However, these seminaries belong to the bishops. We have no authority whatsoever over the clergy.

In regard to families on mission, the initiative arose as a result of the Synod of Bishops of Europe in 1985, when, analyzing the situation of secularization in the West, especially in regard to the destruction of the family, John Paul II surprised the bishops by saying that the Holy Spirit was already answering this need, and that it was necessary to put aside the known models of evangelization and see where the Spirit was inspiring the answer. Since then, families of the Way have gone where bishops have requested them.

Then there is the "mission ad gentes," the "mission among the Gentiles," which has arisen in recent years. The Pope had also spoken about returning to the first apostolic model, born around homes and small communities. We find several of these communities in the Acts of the Apostles, such as the case of Nympha, or Aquilla and Priscilla. In the Way, we have seen that it is very important to return to this model, especially in those places where secularization has erased all traces of Christianity, a new "implantario ecclesiale." As always, it is the bishop who requests this mission. Several families go, accompanied by a priest.

However, there is more. We have also seen the need to send "communities on mission," namely, communities that have completed the Way, that have maturity in the faith, and are sent at the request of the parish priests, to help parishes that are experiencing difficulties. For example, in Rome, 12 communities have been offered to the vicariate to go to the neediest parishes on the outskirts.

Q: The approval of the statutes implies, hence, a point of arrival, but also a point of departure. What's next?

Argüello: What is next is to be able to offer ourselves to bishops, now with the guarantee that this is something of the Church for the new evangelization. What is next now is to encourage a leap forward in the new evangelization, because happiness is to give one's life for men, and this is what we Christians are called to do.

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On the Net

Part 1 of this interview: www.zenit.org/article-23084?l=english