By ELAINE RUTH FLETCHERc. 2000 Religion News Service KORAZIN, Israel -- When Rinaldo Moro heard the Sermon on the Mountrecited by Pope John Paul II, he was thinking of the wife who died 14years ago in childbirth, and the daughter that was spiritually lost tohim and now has returned. And he thought of how the lessons of `blessedare the poor in spirit' can be applied to his everyday life today,raising a family of five children alone. The 55-year-old Italian-born widow, now living with his family inBrussels,was standing Friday (March 24) on this hillside just above theMount of Beatitudes today with three of his daughters to witness thepontiff deliver the ancient New Testament homily to a group of nearly50,000 Christians from countries as far-flung as Madagascar and Japan.They came to celebrate this mass as part of a controversial spiritualrenewal movement within the Catholic Church known as theNeo-Catechumenal Way. The Mass, celebrated with guitar music and folk tunes in Hebrew,Arabic, French and Spanish, was deeply colored with the sensibilities ofthe youth-oriented movement. That support was amply evident as the busloads of pilgrims, mostlyteenagers and students in their 20s, but also middle-aged guides andleaders like Moro, began assembling here in the rain and chill of thepre-dawn hours for the 10 a.m. Mass, bused in from tent encampments onthe Sea of Galilee and from Kibbutz guests houses, where they arecurrently staying while on a weeklong pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Long after the pope had left, these thousands of Catholics whoadhere to mainstream Catholic church doctrine but fashion theirreligious practice loosely after the rituals and symbols of the earlyChristians, remained in the mud and the cold, praying and singing, andhearing from the testimony, or catechises, of other believers. Among the most famous was the Spanish founder of this spiritualpath, the artist and musician Kiko Arguidlo, who gave up his life as awealthy painter to teach the Bible in the poor barrios of Madrid in themid-1960s. "The meaning of the word catechises is based in the Greek root ofthe word `to listen,"' he said. The Neo-Catechumenal groups meet twice a week in their own inchurches and homes to celebrate the Eucharist and hear the personaltestimony and religious lessons of lay people within the movement whoare involved in everyday life and thus are able to link the Biblicaltext with the struggles of husbands and wives, children and elderlygrandparents, in a way that might be difficult for the average parishpriest. "Man looks for meaning in his work, his career, his family, butdoesn't always find it," Moro said. "This way of life has given me afaith that permitted me to live through the experiences of death, ofsuffering, whose meaning you can't always explain. When you understandthat God is a god of history, who manifests himself in the history ofyour own life, then you can find peace and happiness. "Look at my 14-year-old daughter, Maria," he added, pointing to ayoung girl with dark hair sitting in on plastic sheeting in the mud justa few feet away
. "Her mother died in childbirth, she doesn't evenremember her face, and yet God gave her eternal life, and in this life,short or long, the opportunity to find love. God gives us another way tofind meaning in our history and our lives." A few years after the death of her mother, Maria's older sisterAlberta, suffered a crisis with her faith. Shaking a head of long darkcurls from her face, she describes how she left the Neo-Catechumenalgroup in a crisis in her teens to look for her own answers to life, butreturned five years later. "I found that just a normal life didn't have any answers either,"Alberta said. "I found an emptiness in the lives of my friends. Sure Istill have my questions and my problems, but this gives me the strengthto go on," says the young woman who is now a university student incommunications and is engaged to be married to a fellow believer." For many young Europeans who do not come from devout backgrounds,the renewal movement has become a major avenue back to the church, said41-year-old Marina Martini, who together with her husband is the leaderof a Neo- Catechumenal group in the Brussels suburb of as Liege. "In many places in Europe the churches are empty," she said. "Thereare no people who want to become priests, and people don't want to havefamilies anymore. "The Neo-Catechumenal Way touches them and their experience in apersonal way," she added. "It makes it relevant. More and more, now, thepeople who are choosing to become priests or nuns have had contact withthis path.
" In many other cases, single people and couples volunteer to givetheir time to the church as "catechists," or itinerant preachers, toplaces as exotic as Afghanistan. More established families sometimesvolunteer to be dispatched to Catholic regions of northern Europe wherethe church is weak, and set up new Neo-Catechumenal communities, orserve as part of the lay leadership of an existing community. Marina, and her husband Ricardo, 43, encountered the communitynearly 20 years ago in their hometown of Turin, Italy. She and herhusband were newly married, childless and on the verge of divorce. "We saw a announcement on the apartment bulletin board that said`God loves you as you are,"' recalled Ricardo. "We went to a gathering.And I was struck by the message -- that I could be loved as I am. Wealso were struck by the married couples that we saw there, couples wholived in joy and internal peace. At the time, we were on the verge ofseparation and didn't even want children. I was a slave to sex and topornography. Through the community we found joy in our marriage and asparents." Five years ago they volunteered to go with their children abroad asenvoys abroad for the church to work in another Neo-Catechumenalcommunity. "I was afraid they might send me somewhere like Afghanistan," hesays, with a bit of a shiver. But when the letter came from Pope JohnPaul II himself, it was a dispatch to Belgium, one of the northernEuropean states where this Mediterranean-rooted movement is trying toexpand.
The formula for the group's meetings is based on a personal style ofteaching, or witness, believed to be common in the early church. "In the early days, catechism was an initiation that was to lead tobaptism," he said. "Today it is a path by which Christians canrediscover their faith."