Saturday, January 15, 2011

Kikopalooza: For the Neocats, a Papal Party

Against the backdrop of a highly-public brawl with the Japanese bishops -- who tried to ban them from the country but were overruled by the Holy See in recent weeks -- in another rare coup, the Neocatechumenal Way is set to hold a prominent Vatican celebration led by the Pope himself.

Shown above flanking B16 at a recent private audience, the "initiators" of the oft-controversial million-member movement -- Kiko Arguello, Carmen Hernandez and Italian Fr Mario Pezzi -- will lead a Monday crowd of Neocats gathered in the Paul VI Audience Hall as, continuing a tradition begun by the soon to be Blessed John Paul II, the pontiff commissions 230 new missionary families for the Way before they're sent to some 46 countries. The audience will also commemorate the CDF's recent approval of a Catechetical Directory for the movement, which is intended to provide "security for [the Way's] implementation... offering also [a] doctrinal guarantee" of its purity in teaching "to all the shepherds of the church."

Now present in 105 countries, the Way's governing statutes were given final approval by Rome in 2008. Beyond its lay mission-work, the movement boasts over 70 Redemptorist Mater seminaries worldwide, five of them in the US.

Viewed by its critics as a "sect" (or even a "cult") for its tendency to form a "totally separate" life from the local churches in which it exists -- not to mention its unconventional liturgies and highly-regimented subgroups (where placement is contingent on one's advancement in the Way's methods) -- the group's most prominent clash with a local hierarchy has come over the last several years in Japan, where a former president of the nation's bishops once slammed the Spanish-born movement's presence there for, he said, having "caused sharp, painful division and strife within the church."

After the Japanese prelates first voiced their concerns over the Way's m.o., in 2006 Rome approved the closing of the country's Redemptorist Mater seminary. More recently, when the bishops pushed for a full ban of the Way for five years, they were publicly rebuffed by a message from the Secretariat of State, which instead called for a dialogue to begin immediately, mediated by a delegate yet to be named. In response, a leading Japanese prelate said this week that "in those places touched by the Neocatechumenal Way, there has been rampant confusion, conflict, division, and chaos" and that the bishops "could not ignore the damage."

At a 2006 commissioning of Neocat families, the Pope lauded the Spanish-born movement for birthing "a true 'springtime of hope' for the diocesan community of Rome and for the universal church."

However, the same text likewise gave voice to the criticism of the movement. "Your apostolic action, already very praiseworthy, will be all the more effective to the extent that you strive to constantly cultivate that yearning for unity which Jesus communicated to the Twelve during the Last Supper," Benedict said.

"Before the Passion our Redeemer prayed intensely that his disciples all would be one so that the world would be impelled to believe in him, because this unity can come only by the power of God. It is this unity, a gift of the Holy Spirit and a ceaseless quest of believers, which makes each community a living structure that is well integrated into the Mystical Body of Christ.

"The unity of the Lord's disciples," Benedict said, "is part of the very essence of the church and is an indispensable condition for its evangelizing action to be both fruitful and credible."

Even for the tough-talk, however, it bears noting that only one other "new movement" has received a similar outpouring of public en masse Pope-Time: Benedict's beloved Comunione e Liberazione -- whose founder he famously eulogized, and whose weekly "School of Community" is held in the papal apartment.

Following Monday's event, the founders will hold a press conference. From there, Arguello is expected to lead a catechesis for 200,000 young adults during August's World Youth Day in Madrid.