This ecclesial reality is "at the service of diocesan bishops and parish priests as a way of rediscovering the sacrament of baptism, and of permanent education in the faith," according to the Pontifical Council for the Laity.
The Way is present in more than 900 dioceses, with 17,000 communities in 5,500 parishes.
The Neocatechumenal Way has given rise to 49 Redemptoris Mater seminaries, with 1,500 seminarians. More than 800 alumni already are ordained. Some 315 families that share in the spirituality of the Way have gone abroad as missionaries.
One of the first thanksgiving celebrations was presided over by Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela, archbishop of Madrid, the diocese where the Way started in the 1960s. The celebration Oct. 20 in the Cathedral of Almudena attracted 4,000 faithful.
In his homily Cardinal Rouco Varela said "the Neocatechumenal Way becomes a catechumenate for many men because through the catechists they discover Jesus Christ, dead and risen, and thus the life of faith flowers once again in the landscape of the Church."
For his part, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Pope's vicar for Rome and president of the Italian episcopal conference, presided over a thanksgiving Mass on Nov. 5 in the Basilica of St. John Lateran.
"In a secularized world, where religious indifference is spreading and many people live as if God did not exist, the Way is without a doubt a providential answer for a new discovery of the sacraments of Christian initiation," Cardinal Ruini said, underlining the conversions to the Catholic faith that he has witnessed in his diocese, thanks to people who follow the Way.
U.S. bishops also organized thanksgiving celebrations. Some, including Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, participated in the June 28 ceremony for the official handing over of the approval of the statutes by the Pontifical Council for the Laity.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver organized a thanksgiving Mass on Dec. 14.
"This is the first time in the history of our Church that a program of catechumenal renewal for the baptized has been blessed by the Church in this formal way," Archbishop Chaput said. "And so the stance of the Church, especially priests, because we priests can either facilitate this or turn it away, is to rejoice and give thanks to God because newness is the sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit."
In the thanksgiving ceremony he presided over in his diocese, Archbishop John Myers of Newark pointed out that the "need for a community, where faith can grow to adulthood, is especially necessary in our secularized world where many have abandoned the Church, or live their faith at a very superficial level."
Archbishop Myers continued: "Speaking to the American Church, Pope John Paul II has said: We cannot allow the anonymity of the cities to invade our eucharistic communities. We need to find new methods and new structures to build bridges between people, in such a way that there is truly realized that experience of reciprocal acceptance and closeness demanded of Christian fraternity. This experience, and the catechesis which must accompany it, may be realized in smaller communities." The archbishop cited "Ecclesia in America," No. 41.
On Sept. 28, Archbishop John Donoghue of Atlanta explained that with the approval of the statutes, a new stage opens for the Way.
"Our Holy Father understands the power and the grace that lives within this movement," the archbishop said, "and he understands, with all his bishops and priests, the soothing medicine that the Neocatechumenate brings to and applies to the wound of stubbornness of those our Lord indicts, when he says to the chief priests and elders, 'yet even when you saw ... you did not change your minds and believe.'"
Some bishops have gone even further. The thanksgiving celebrations prompted them to write letters to their priests asking them to open their parishes to the charism of the Neocatechumenal Way.
Bishop Juan Antonio Reig Pla of Segorbe-Castellon, for example, published a decree Dec. 7 in which he asked parish priests to solicit "the realization of the catecheses of this Neocatechumenal Way in the parishes I have entrusted to you."