The Pope expressed this view Saturday when he met with 1,200 priests and catechists of this new ecclesial reality, to celebrate the Holy See's approval of its statutes. Approval came June 29.
Present at the meeting, which was held in the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, were the founders of the Neocatechumenal Way: Kiko Argüello and Carmen Hernández, and an Italian priest, Father Mario Pezzi.
The founders had met a few days earlier at a center in Porto San Giorgio, Italy, to reflect on the Vatican's decision, which gave juridical framework to this reality that arose in Spain in 1964.
The Neocatechumenal Way, also called the Neocatechumenate, has 17,000 communities in 105 countries, spread over 900 dioceses and 5,500 parishes. More than 1 million lay people worldwide follow the Way, as well as 1,500 seminarians (who receive formation in the 49 Redemptoris Mater diocesan seminaries), and 800 priests.
"How can we not thank God for the fruits brought by the Neocatechumenal Way in its more than 30 years of existence?" the Pope asked during the meeting.
"In a secularized society like ours, where religious indifference increases and many people live as if God did not exist, many people need to rediscover the sacraments of Christian initiation, particularly baptism," the Holy Father continued.
"The Way is without a doubt one of the providential answers to this urgent need," he said. "Suffice it to see your communities: How many have rediscovered the beauty and grandeur of the baptismal vocation they received!"
"How much generosity and zeal there has been in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, especially to those most fallen away. How many vocations to the priesthood and religious life have been awakened thanks to this endeavor of Christian formation!" the Pope added.
The Holy Father said that the recently approved statutes should constitute "a clear and sure rule of life, a fundamental point of reference so that this process of formation, whose objective is to lead the faithful to a mature faith, might be realized in a way that is in keeping with the doctrine and discipline of the Church."
Therefore, "the approval of the statutes opens a new stage in the life of the Way," John Paul II emphasized.
"The Church now looks to you for an even more intense and generous commitment to the new evangelization and the service of the local churches and parishes," he added. "Therefore, you, priests and catechists of the Way, have the responsibility to ensure that the statutes are faithfully applied in all their aspects, so that they will become an authentic leaven for a new missionary thrust."
Moreover, "the statutes constitute an important help for all the pastors of the Church, in particular for the diocesan bishops, to whom the Lord has entrusted pastoral care, especially the Christian initiation of people in the dioceses," he said.
The statues, made up of 35 articles, define the Neocatechumenal Way as "Christian Initiation" -- it is not an association, movement or religious congregation -- which places itself at the service of the dioceses and parish priests. It does not function as an independent entity.
Kiko Argüello later told Vatican Radio that, following the approval of the statutes, he has noticed a great change in attitude, even among journalists who were very critical of the Way.