Neocatechumenal Way

Neocatechumenal Way January 19, 2011

More of a question that a post.  Does anyone have any personal contact with the Neocatechumenal Way?  I never heard of them before, but I learned today that the Bishops of Japan have been trying to ban them from their entire country.  The Wikipedia article is lengthy, but shows signs of having been edited by a partisan.  According to Wikipedia, they have 250 communities in the US.

The idea of the movement sounds intriguing, but I noticed that its constitutions appoint leaders for life, which seems unhealthy.




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  • Yes, I was a member of the Way for about 2-1/2 years. In fact that’s how I met my wife.

    We dropped out shortly after we got married, because we had reached a “stage” where they were expecting us to spend 3-4 days a week doing one activity or another, I forget exactly what. There were other things that annoyed us about it too, like the fact that scheduling was always sort of flaky and inconsiderate. For example a weekend retreat might be scheduled with only 3 days’ advance notice, and it was sort of implied that if we really put God first in our lives, we would just go with the flow and not complain about a little thing like that.

    That being said, I saw the Way do a lot of good for many people in terms of helping their faith to become more enlivened. The main negative feeling I have towards it now may be illustrated by a conversation I had with 3 or 4 members of the community that my wife and I had previously belonged to, together with the priest of the community.

    Basically they were trying to talk us into coming back. They said it was good for us, better than a “mere” Bible study because it’s an actual community, etc., and for that reason good for our children too.

    But what disturbed me was that they implied that it was God’s will that I re-join. I then asked them, a little incredulously, “Are you saying that if I don’t come back, I’m disobeying God’s will?” In reply they said, “Yes! That’s what we’re saying!” The priest was particularly emphatic on the point.

    Well, that killed any chance that I might have ever returned to them. It became apparent at that point that they do indeed consider themselves a “church within the Church”, since they believed they had the right to speak for God and tell me in particular what God’s will was for my life.

    Of course there’s a chance that most of the Way throughout the world doesn’t have that attitude. But I strongly suspect that they do, since they had always strongly emphasized submission to the decisions of the “responsibles” above you, and sort of equated such submission with submission to God’s will. Which means they themselves must have been submitting to those above them, and so on. Which means that attitude, and the presumption of knowing God’s will, likely starts at the top.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Thank you. This is interesting, because your experience shares some eerie parallels with the Legionaries of Christ. I have met some very good and holy priests from the Legion, but the whole obedience thing seemed overdone. (And history has shown how this was abused.) Of course, the same might have been said about the early Jesuits. 🙂

      • In fairness, I don’t know about the “obedience thing”. They made it really clear that it was entirely up to you whether you “submitted” or not.

        They would emphatically deny that obedience or submission were necessary, and there was nothing like a vow of obedience, at least during the time that I was there (there are apparently different “levels”, i.e. you are progressing on a journey — hence “the Way” — and I could not comment on what the “higher” levels involve).

        But often they would imply that doing what was proposed by the responsibles was an act of submission to God’s will, by framing it as a choice between placing a higher priority on what God wants versus what you want — will you attend this retreat as God wants you to do, or will you spend the weekend with your family as you prefer to do?

        It’s entirely your free choice, but the unspoken implication was that if you chose against the responsibles, you were choosing against God.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        In fairness to The Way, one problem I had when I was minister of my local Franciscan Fraternity was members who were fairly casual about attending meetings. I understand about family obligations, etc. but since we are bound by our rule to communal life (as represented by our meetings) but I often felt they were not arranging their lives to give sufficient priority to the fraternity. I could never find the right language to remonstrate with them (publicly or privately) but I would never have talked about “God’s will”. I sure did want to say something though.

        • Yes, I get your point. But there is no “rule” in the Way, at least not in the three years that I was in it (I said 2-1/2 before but later realized it was a bit longer). In fact they would specifically say, repeatedly, that you don’t “have” to come to any liturgies, retreats (which they called “convivances”), meetings, etc., you don’t have to make any steps, you don’t have to obey, submit, nothing. You merely choose to “walk” with them or you don’t.

          Of course the more things you miss, the more likely you will get left behind on your journey and will have to stay back with a later group instead of moving on to the next stage with your original group.

          Then there’s the matter of their liturgy, which at the time I thought was pretty neat, but which now likely would make me gag. Some of you more progressive liturgy types might really dig it. ; )

          In case you didn’t know, they have their own form of liturgy, which is always held on Saturday evenings, and is done sitting in a circle around a long table with the priest in a “throne” at the head. I could go on about that, but I won’t unless you want more detail.

  • Anonymous

    Answering your question (which is more like a post than a question): Does anyone have any personal contact with the Neocatechumenal Way? Yes, there are about a million people around the world who have personal contact with it. I am being one of them.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Would you care to comment on your experiences, especially in light of the article I linked to? I am genuinely curious.

  • digbydolben

    I, too, am interested in them–particularly in any differences they may have from the Legionaries or Opus Dei.

    I mean, why not just join Opus?–which, although I do not share their religious culture or ideological tendencies, I’ve always recognised to be intellectually formidable.

  • muldoont

    Actually the Pope intervened in this issue and the Japanese bishops have backed off. The Wikipedia article is not up to date.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Sandro Magister mentioned this (in the first link I gave). But he emphasized the part where the Pope was stressing fraternal relationships with pastors (i.e., get along with your bishops). One reason I made this post was I felt there was more going than I was seeing.

  • Jane

    Yes, I also wonder what else is going on here. Agellius, I am very interested in hearing about the NCW masses that you attended. What surprises me most is that Pope Benedict would embrace a group with such liturgical “creativity”.

  • Jane writes, “Yes, I also wonder what else is going on here. Agellius, I am very interested in hearing about the NCW masses that you attended. What surprises me most is that Pope Benedict would embrace a group with such liturgical “creativity”.”

    Well, they were embraced long before B16, by JP2. They were apparently founded in the 60s, and JP2 liked that they were forming “small communities” and helping to enliven people’s faith.

    Their liturgies are not “creative” in the sense of constantly being changed and “improved”. While I was there, they had one form of liturgy and did it the same way consistently, week after week. It’s just that it was markedly different from your standard parish mass.

    The first thing you notice is that everyone is seated in a semicircle around a long table, which serves as the altar. They are not actually seated *at* the table, as if sitting down for dinner. But the chairs are arrranged — sometimes in multiple rows, depending how many people are present — around three sides of the table, leaving room between the chairs and the table for people to walk around and distribute Communion. The priest sits on a chair that is usually raised up and is bigger than everyone else’s chairs. These masses are usually held in a hall, auditorium, gym, etc., depending on what’s available to them, but not in the parish church usually (at least in my experience).

    The songs are all taken from a single approved book, and I think most of them are composed by the Way’s founder, Kiko Arguello. Usually they are played on guitars with bongo accompaniment, tamborines, etc. The style is sort of Spanish-influenced and folksy.

    You have the usual prayers and readings taken from the Lectionary. But before each reading someone, who has been assigned the task ahead of time, gives an “admonition”, i.e. he has reflected on the reading beforehand and tries to give the people an idea what to think about while hearing the reading.

    At the time usually taken up by the homily, the people will take turns giving “echoes”, i.e. what struck them while listening to the readings, sometimes applying them to their own lives, for the edification of everyone else. After the echoes are done — or when the priest thinks they have gone on long enough — the priest delivers his homily.

    Communion is distributed by the priest and community members, who walk around the rows of chairs with a giant chalice, which everyone drinks from, and a platter of Hosts.

    The bread is always made by community members and is thick and chewy, but as far as I know it’s proper matter for the sacrament, being unleavened.

    At the end of mass there was always a dance, always to the same song, where people would sort of hold hands and dance in a big circle around the table, reminscient of a Jewish wedding (or at least Jewish weddings I have seen in movies).

    The Blessed Sacrament was always treated very reverently. I can’t fault them there. If crumbs were dropped they were picked up and consumed. It was just … different. I think the idea was to give a “primitive” flavor to the liturgy, to make us feel as though we were part of the early Church celebrating the mass in people’s houses.

    Note that the Vatican at some point in the past 10 years or so, made a ruling that certain things about the Way’s liturgy needed to change, to bring it into conformity with the rubrics. I forget the details now (since I had long since dropped out). Other than those changes, the Way’s liturgy was approved permanently. Prior to that time they had a temporary approval to try experimental liturgies, or something like that. I believe they are very obedient to authority, so the things they do differently are not done out of any spirit of rebellion. It’s just that, you know, they were founded in the 60s when everyone was experimenting and “change was in the air”, and so there was nothing really rebellious or disobedient about doing things differently in that context, since it was tolerated and even encouraged by most of the bishops.

  • Jane

    Well, it does sound groovy 🙂 and I can’t imagine my pastor allowing such a mass, but to be fair, it’s clearly working for a large number of people. I wouldn’t imagine that there is any intentional disobedience and my first inclination is that, if they’re not against us, then why not? However, as with the Legionnaries, they seem to “take over” parishes and set up a somewhat divisive structure. Some have said that “outsiders” are not really welcome at the liturgies. Also, is there a published rule or constitution for “the Way”? From what I have read, the documents remain a secret because there is a belief that someone in the first stage should be exposed sequentially to the later stages as though reading the whole thing would ruin your spiritual progress. Is that true? Secret documents about spirituality make me very suspicious.

    • Jose Sela

      lol Jane you made laugh…
      trust me these documents are not secret, but they exist in order to help Catequists give a convivence of a certain step after having lived it themselves…my parents are catequists, and every “secret document” they had was respected because my brothers and sisters wanted to live the step for ourselves and not have to read it out of the “secret document”. Our parents said dont touch, we obeyed.

      published rule? they’re called statutes.

      Im from Jersey, and ive heard it all…ive been to italy, spain, germany, australia, india, california, chicago, and a bunch of other places i cant remember right now…and “outsiders” constantly think we go in and take over a parish…
      I was once helping clean up the church with a few of my buddies…we range from the ages of 16-21 and we’re in the Way.. we’re just like any other young person except we have a certainty that God exists and we are called for something more than sex, drugs, stardom, fame, fortune…etc etc.
      the way has kept me a virgin up until now, i have experienced reconciliation with my parents, i have realized what God calls me for and i continue to search for happiness in living for the other as opposed to a narcistic life in which i look to please myself.

      and we’re mad groovy sista…

      the biggest thing about the way is freedom.
      freedom to live according to what God has imprinted in our hearts and not to follow “the flow” of the world.
      Freedom to obey or not to obey.
      Freedom to sin or not sin.
      Freedom to leave whenever the hell you want to.
      Freedom to love.

  • I think the Way makes bishops nervous because they do act like a “church within the Church” in some ways. And they are divisive — but not in the sense that outsiders are not welcome at their masses. I never found that to be the case, and I did invite visitors to mass a few times. But they are divisive in the sense that they divide themselves from the parish by having their own masses in a separate building at separate times, and with different rubrics.

    I don’t mean to second-guess the Vatican because I’m sure they have investigated it more thoroughly than I have. Then again maybe they don’t have firsthand experience like I have.

    I was given the impression that there is no published rule, in the sense of something that members have to adhere to. They would have said that everything anyone does is completely voluntary: no one can give orders to anyone else. But in practice orders are given and obeyed. I think they want to imply that people submit to the will of others out of agape and not out of obligation. But it’s funny that you don’t see responsibles submitting to those “beneath” them; the submission is all from the bottom up, so to speak.

    That being said, I believe they do have some sort of written constitution, otherwise the Vatican could not have given its stamp of approval. I was just not aware of any written rules that members were expected to adhere to. In fact, the lack of written rules was often a cause of frustration! Because it often seemed like things were done by the seat of our pants, and not thought through very well.

  • muldoont

    The latest: a pastoral letter by Bishop Osamu Mizobe of Takamatsu.

  • guillesala

    In answer to some of some of the question marks about the validity of the Catechumenal Way and their rules and where this comes from and if there is a valid Vatican approved set of rules or “statutes” or “rules” of what is the Neo-Catechumenal way and why participate as body of the catholic church the way we do. Please see below the attached link with latest “Vatican approval for the Neocatechumenal way statutes” as Jan 2011.

    The Neo-catechumenal way does not expect people to adhere to our way of living our catholic faith. We adhere to it because we have seen miracles in our personal lives that confirm that the way was a true and real way to get to know Jesus Christ and God in our lives not theoretically but living it day by day and radiating this fruits of the spirit to our brothers and sisters everywhere. Another very important point and a common misconception is that the catechumenal way imposes itself on the members and has the famous “rules” there’s no such a thing inside the community. No one obligates you to do anything; we are all adults here and if someone does not feel that this is the right way to walk with Christ he/she can leave at any point during the course of the way. No one obligates anyone at the Neo-catechumenal way that is just a lie. We are a public group inside parishes with real flesh and bone priests some that don’t even belong to the way personally, Nevertheless they just have seen the miracles of God in their parishes and they believe in the Neocatechumenal way as a positive group within the Catholic church.

    • Jose Sela

      You know, every time i speak to a person about why they left the way the same thing comes up. Rules. Man is inclined to disassociate himself with anything that may seem like he is being forced to obey. Like guillesala stated, no one, absolutely no one is expected to follow these “rules”. Im from NJ, i walk in a community and my parents started walking when i was 8 years old. They were on the verge of divorce. It was very normal to see divorce growing up. But ill tell you, each and every one of my friends whose parents divorced over the years was suffering profoundly. The Way found my parents and to this day we’re all together. My parents were closed to the possibility of more children because of the fear of suffering…but i tell you that today we are 7 children with one more on the way and i couldnt be happier. Im a 20 year old and i find it pretty unbelievable that im responding to this, but to all of you out there who judge the way, whether because something rubbed you the wrong way about it or because you simply need something to argue about, i can tell you first hand that the Way has saved my life. and my parents lives and my brothers and sisters lives. And many more…its not a sect, there are statutes that are more of a structure than a set of rules.

      • Jose writes, “You know, every time i speak to a person about why they left the way the same thing comes up. Rules. Man is inclined to disassociate himself with anything that may seem like he is being forced to obey.”

        For myself, I have no problems with rules whatsoever, whether you call them a Rule or statutes or guidelines or whatever. Nobody can figure out life all by himself, and if other people, through long experience have figured out good ways of living, and want to share that with others, I have all the respect in the world for that.

        But from my own experience in the Way, there was an expectation that the “rules” (however you want to refer to them) would be followed: that following them was “putting God first”, and not following them was putting yourself first. It was stated in so many words many, many times by those in higher positions.

        And I was in fact told by responsibles and a priest who had been in the Way for a good 20 years, that in leaving the Way I was disobeying God’s will.

        You may say I was free to obey or disobey what they said, and of course that’s true. But the fact is that they did present it as putting God first or putting self first, and when phrased in that way, it’s not really a choice.

        It’s sort of like when you have a gun to your head, sure, you’re free to disobey the guy with the gun, but if that choice is going to get you killed then it’s not really a free choice.

        Let me be clear, I’m not saying I was threatened in any way. But in presenting it as a choice between my will and God’s will, the implication is that choosing my way is a sin, since it’s always a sin to choose one’s own will in preference to God’s will. Being a Christian, telling me that a certain choice is a sin, may as well be a threat, because for a faithful Christian nothing can be worse than committing a deliberate sin.

        That being said, I totally agree that the Way does a lot of good for a lot of people. I still have friends and relations in the Way for whom I have nothing but respect, and that priest I mentioned did remain a good friend for many years afterwards.

        • For your consideration… There are many ‘Ways’ of living your Christian faith this life… the “Neo catechumenal Way is one ‘Way’ that is ‘approved’ by the Vatican (in the statutes) as a ‘valid Way to live your Faith’ or baptism. Now, You can either follow Christ with the help of the Church (with its many Charisms) or you follow something else… that something else could be so many things the World has to offer: money, career, family, etc… but don’t confuse things, either you follow the Will of God (through its Church) or you follow your will (or your idea of what this life should be like) i.e. without the help of the Church. So do not be ‘scandalized’ if someone tells you that if you don’t follow ‘a Way’ of faith that you are outside the Will of God.

          i.e. for the Israelites it was to follow Moses or stay in Egypt (in slavery to a ‘pharaoh’)… follow Moses in a ‘Way’ prepared by God that would help them ‘know themselves’… those who rebelled were outside the Will of God… but keep in mind that there are MANY ways to get to God… but certainty there are MILLIONS more Ways to follow the world… so choose wisely.

          Now, a question will be… how many ways do you know of that have been APPROVED by the Vatican to help you live your faith as an adult? Which one are you following? If none, do not say that God didn’t send you ‘messengers’ in this life to help you, because as you have clearly stated, these catechists/priest were after you… to help you… NOT TO COERCE YOU… which can easily be confused… depending on how you judge their intentions.

          Food for thought

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  • Agellius


    You write, “the “Neo catechumenal Way is one ‘Way’ that is ‘approved’ by the Vatican (in the statutes) as a ‘valid Way to live your Faith’ or baptism.”

    Understood. I never questioned whether the NCW is a valid “way”. What I question is the assertion made to me, that following the NCW is equivalent with obeying God’s will. I don’t think it’s God’s will that every Catholic join the NCW. If that were so, then joining the NCW would be equivalent to joining the Church, and you would have to say that all those outside the NCW are outside the Church. Private revelations are not binding on anyone but those to whom they are given.