By ELAINE RUTH FLETCHER c. 2000 Religion News Service KORAZIN, Israel -- When Rinaldo Moro heard the Sermon on the Mount recited by Pope John Paul II, he was thinking of the wife who died 14 years ago in childbirth, and the daughter that was spiritually lost to him and now has returned. And he thought of how the lessons of `blessed are 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 in Brussels,was standing Friday (March 24) on this hillside just above the Mount of Beatitudes today with three of his daughters to witness the pontiff deliver the ancient New Testament homily to a group of nearly 50,000 Christians from countries as far-flung as Madagascar and Japan. They came to celebrate this mass as part of a controversial spiritual renewal movement within the Catholic Church known as the Neo-Catechumenal Way. The Mass, celebrated with guitar music and folk tunes in Hebrew, Arabic, French and Spanish, was deeply colored with the sensibilities of the youth-oriented movement. That support was amply evident as the busloads of pilgrims, mostly teenagers and students in their 20s, but also middle-aged guides and leaders like Moro, began assembling here in the rain and chill of the pre-dawn hours for the 10 a.m. Mass, bused in from tent encampments on the Sea of Galilee and from Kibbutz guests houses, where they are currently staying while on a weeklong pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Long after the pope had left, these thousands of Catholics who adhere to mainstream Catholic church doctrine but fashion their religious practice loosely after the rituals and symbols of the early Christians, remained in the mud and the cold, praying and singing, and hearing from the testimony, or catechises, of other believers. Among the most famous was the Spanish founder of this spiritual path, the artist and musician Kiko Arguidlo, who gave up his life as a wealthy painter to teach the Bible in the poor barrios of Madrid in the mid-1960s. "The meaning of the word catechises is based in the Greek root of the word `to listen,"' he said. The Neo-Catechumenal groups meet twice a week in their own in churches and homes to celebrate the Eucharist and hear the personal testimony and religious lessons of lay people within the movement who are involved in everyday life and thus are able to link the Biblical text with the struggles of husbands and wives, children and elderly grandparents, in a way that might be difficult for the average parish priest. "Man looks for meaning in his work, his career, his family, but doesn't always find it," Moro said. "This way of life has given me a faith that permitted me to live through the experiences of death, of suffering, whose meaning you can't always explain. When you understand that God is a god of history, who manifests himself in the history of your own life, then you can find peace and happiness.
"Look at my 14-year-old daughter, Maria," he added, pointing to a young girl with dark hair sitting in on plastic sheeting in the mud just a few feet away. "Her mother died in childbirth, she doesn't even remember 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 to find meaning in our history and our lives." A few years after the death of her mother, Maria's older sister Alberta, suffered a crisis with her faith. Shaking a head of long dark curls from her face, she describes how she left the Neo-Catechumenal group in a crisis in her teens to look for her own answers to life, but returned 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 I still have my questions and my problems, but this gives me the strength to go on," says the young woman who is now a university student in communications 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, said 41-year-old Marina Martini, who together with her husband is the leader of a Neo- Catechumenal group in the Brussels suburb of as Liege. "In many places in Europe the churches are empty," she said. "There are no people who want to become priests, and people don't want to have families anymore.
"The Neo-Catechumenal Way touches them and their experience in a personal way," she added. "It makes it relevant. More and more, now, the people who are choosing to become priests or nuns have had contact with this path." In many other cases, single people and couples volunteer to give their time to the church as "catechists," or itinerant preachers, to places as exotic as Afghanistan. More established families sometimes volunteer to be dispatched to Catholic regions of northern Europe where the church is weak, and set up new Neo-Catechumenal communities, or serve as part of the lay leadership of an existing community. Marina, and her husband Ricardo, 43, encountered the community nearly 20 years ago in their hometown of Turin, Italy. She and her husband 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. We also were struck by the married couples that we saw there, couples who lived in joy and internal peace. At the time, we were on the verge of separation and didn't even want children. I was a slave to sex and to pornography. Through the community we found joy in our marriage and as parents." Five years ago they volunteered to go with their children abroad as envoys abroad for the church to work in another Neo-Catechumenal community. "I was afraid they might send me somewhere like Afghanistan," he says, with a bit of a shiver. But when the letter came from Pope John Paul II himself, it was a dispatch to Belgium, one of the northern European states where this Mediterranean-rooted movement is trying to expand. The formula for the group's meetings is based on a personal style of teaching, or witness, believed to be common in the early church. "In the early days, catechism was an initiation that was to lead to baptism," he said. "Today it is a path by which Christians can rediscover their faith."
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