Thursday, January 26, 2012

ARCHBISHOP ROMERO & THE NEOCATECHUMENAL WAY


In November of 1979, as the political situation in El Salvador deteriorated dramatically after an ill fated military coup d’état, Archbishop Romero retreated to a spiritual center in the hills above San Salvador with followers of the Neocatechumenal Way, a Church movement started in Spain in 1964, focusing on adult Christian formation, which has been promoted as a path for wayward Catholics to return to the Church, but which has been controversial because of its nonconventional celebrations—particularly, its Saturday night communal Masses in which adherents sit around a banquet style table and share unleavened bread (not the wheaten Host), and take turns expounding on the Gospel. In January 2012, Pope Benedict XVI definitively endorsed the movement, delivering three key messages to its adherents:
  1. The Church has recognized in the Neocatechumenal Way a particular gift aroused by the Holy Spirit.”
  2. The Neocatechumenal Way should “contribute, with new impetus and ardor, to the radical and joyful rediscovery of the gift of baptism and to offer your original contribution to the cause of the New Evangelization.”
  3. The Neocatechumenal Way should “seek always a profound communion with the pastors and with all the components of the particular Churches and the very different ecclesial contexts in which you are called to operate.”
(Pope Benedicts Jan. 17, 2012 Address.)

Benedict’s themes correspond dramatically with the message Romero gave the Neocatechumenal communities of San Salvador and Santiago de María three decades earlier. Like the Pope, Romero recognized the movement as an expression of the Holy Spirit, saying, “I am happy that in our country, but more specifically in these two dioceses, the movement of the Holy Spirit is flourishing.” (November 22, 1979 Sermon.) Romero also recognized “The Way” as “an institution that is intimately linked to our evangelization” (Pope Benedict, in fact, announced several new evangelization projects entrusted to the movement), and which nourishes the sacrament of Baptism: “For so many people the sacrament of Baptism is nothing more than a social ceremony in which godparents have to be found and a fiesta prepared, but so few are aware of the fact that Baptism signifies the incorporation of their child into the life of Christ, into the death and resurrection of Christ.” (Romero’s Sermon, ibid.)

Importantly, Romero, like the Pope, also encouraged the followers of The Way, not to be a separate, insular institution, but to steer catechumens (i.e., the baptized) back to the sacramental and community life of the Church. “I assure you and with all my heart I ask you as Pastor,” Romero said, “there wherever you go, in whatever parishes you are living, please be concerned about making the catechumenate a part of the Christian life of the people of that area.” He went on, “This catechumenate should consist of Biblical reflection, a sense of the sacraments, a Christian commitment to build community, but not a community that is closed in upon itself or comfortable with its own life,” he warned, “but rather a community that is Church and that leads people to Jesus Christ.” He concluded, “A catechumenate should never be far from the sacramental life, from that encounter with Christ in the Eucharist or Reconciliation or from all of the other holy sacraments.”

As his Church found itself in an hour of crisis, followers of the The Way, Romero suggested, should join in solidarity with the situation of the church, and be with that Church, “a community that exists to serve the world, a community that enlightens itself with the light of Christ in order to share this same light with the surrounding community, a community that is each day more committed to Christ, more committed to the redemption of Christ that becomes present in the midst of people and the world.”

In this sense, Romero reflected, the Way, which harkens back to the worship of the early Church, provided an important infusion and renewal to a Church seeking to be more authentic and radical in its commitment. “The Church,” he said, “must continue to be faithful to the apostles who spoke about carrying this treasure in fragile vessels and extending this treasure through creating new communities and by living together in community.”

More on Romero's Sermons in our Homiliarium
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