Faithful fill Brooklyn arena to celebrate Neocatechumenal Way’s 50th anniversary in US

Pilgrims from Texas react as they are introduced at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., prior to a Mass July 7 marking the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Neocatechumenal Way in the United States. (OSV News photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, The Tablet)

By Paula Katinas, OSV News

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — An arena typically filled with fans cheering on the Brooklyn Nets had a different kind of excitement in the air July 7.

The Barclays Center was the center of the Neocatechumenal Way universe for the day as nearly 20,000 faithful gathered for a Mass in the famous basketball arena and concert venue to celebrate a significant milestone — the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Catholic movement in the United States.

Cardinal Christophe Pierre, the papal nuncio to the U.S., was the main celebrant of Mass.

Brooklyn Bishop Robert J. Brennan was among several bishops from around the country, and hundreds of priests joined him to mark the anniversary. Retired Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and Auxiliary Bishop James Massa also represented the Diocese of Brooklyn. Brooklyn native Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, was also present.

Pilgrims, young and old, came from as far away as the Pacific Islands to participate in the once-in-a-lifetime gathering.

The Diocese of Brooklyn was represented by hundreds of people from several churches who quickly fell in with the spirit of the lively celebration by clapping, cheering, playing tambourines, and banging on bongo drums they had brought from home.

“This is very exciting,” said Gladys Fernando of Jamaica in the New York City borough of Queens. “I came with my children, and I am happy I brought them.”

“This day is about families,” Fernando, a parishioner of Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, told The Tablet, Brooklyn’s diocesan newspaper.

The Neocatechumenal Way was founded in Spain in 1964 by two laypeople, Kiko Argüello and Carmen Hernández, and a priest, Father Mario Pezzi, who wanted to find a way to bring baptized Catholics, who had strayed, back to the faith.

The founders, who were also seeking to encourage Catholics to embark on a lifelong faith formation journey, began proclaiming the Gospel to destitute people in poverty-stricken areas of the country.

Ten years later, in 1974, Argüello and Hernández came to the U.S., where they visited New York City at the invitation of then-Father James Donegan, pastor of St. Joan of Arc in Jackson Heights.

The first Neocatechumenal Way community in New York was established in the Archdiocese of New York — at St. Columba Church in Manhattan. Father Donegan, who was later named a monsignor, started a community at St. Joan of Arc.

Fast forward 50 years, and there are now 1,100 Neocatechumenal Way communities in the U.S. — including several in Brooklyn and Queens — and nine Redemptorist Mater seminaries, including one in the Brooklyn Diocese.

Pilgrims from the Pacific Islands were among thousands who attended a Mass at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., July 7 marking the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Neocatechumenal Way in the United States. (OSV News photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, The Tablet)

Bishop Brennan noted the movement’s strong presence. “Welcome home!” he told the faithful as cheers cascaded throughout the arena. “You belong here.”

The Neocatechumenal Way received the Holy See’s official approval in 2008. The Vatican recognized it as a post-baptismal catechumenate and a vital instrument for assisting dioceses and parishes in their efforts to evangelize adults.

During his homily, Cardinal Pierre said the Neocatechumenal Way is important because it lives out the church’s mission of “opening the doors to people in all situations,” including those trapped in the nightmares of addiction, violence and despair, and leading them back to Jesus Christ.

“God can open a way where it seems impossible,” he added.

Maurilio Mora, who lives in New Jersey, said the Neocatechumenal Way changed his life for the better.

“I was a good, faithful person before, but now my wife and I put our faith at the center of our family life, and it has made all the difference in the world,” said the father of seven children.

Because the Neocatechumenal Way strives to rekindle faith in people who have already been baptized, the younger members of the movement prepared for the July 7 Mass by spending a week on pilgrimages to spread the word of God, visiting shrines and other holy sites, and reading about the lives of saints.

Near the end of the Mass, an estimated 1,000 young men who will be entering seminaries stood up to receive a blessing from Cardinal Pierre. The cardinal also blessed 1,500 young women who stood up and expressed their desire to enter a convent or enter into a mission.

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