APPROVAL OF STATUTES: GUARANTEE OF AUTHENTICITY
Cardinal J. Francis Stafford
President, Pontifical Council for Laity


See Decree of Approval

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford's address of 30 June to Neocatechumenal Way

On Sunday, 30 June, Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, gave this address at Porto San Giorgio to the itinerant catechists of the Neocatechumenal Way who were thanking God for the approval of the Statutes of the Way. This long process of elaboration and examination of the Statutes was both a providential opportunity and an important time for the discernment by the Holy See of the message and experience of the Neocatechumenal Way. It culminates in this "further guarantee of the authenticity of your charism" (cf. John Paul II, Address to the Neocatechumenal Way, 24 January 1997, op. cit, Autograph Letter, op. cit., n. 2) that is the approval of the Statutes.

The initiators of the Way, and those who assisted them during this process, can testify to the great determination with which the Pontifical Council for the Laity proceeded to fulfil the Holy Father's mandate within the sphere of its own responsibility and the care and respect with which it worked so that the reality of the Way might be respected, in accord with the guidelines proposed by its initiators…. The participation of the ecclesiastical authorities was limited to verifying and ensuring the conformity of the Statutes with the doctrine and discipline of the Church. This was done to ensure that the experience of the Way would bear even greater fruit of the "Gospel radicalism and extraordinary missionary zeal that it brings to the life of the lay faithful, to families, to parish communities, and the abundance of vocations it inspires to the priestly and religious life" (cf. Decree of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, 29 June 2002), and that this good fruit would be ever more deeply rooted in the fertile soil of the Catholic Church". The Cardinal singled out for attention four sets of relationships: with the local bishop, with the parish priest and the parish community, the protection of the internal forum freedom of the members, and the respect for the manifold ways in which the Spirit acts in the Church. Here is a translation of the Cardinal's address which was written in Italian and given to itinerant catechists meeting in Porto S. Giorgio.

It is a great joy to be with you here in Porto San Giorgio, itinerant catechists from all continents who are gathered in prayer, praising God and thanking him for the approval of the Statutes of the Neocatechumenal Way by the Pontifical Council for the Laity. In fact, on 28 June I put into the hands of Kiko Argüello, Carmen Hernández and Fr Mario Pezzi the Decree of approval of the Statutes, bearing the date of 29 June, Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul, that I signed as President of the Council along with Archbishop Stanislaw Ryłko, Secretary of the Council.

Ecclesial meaning of act of approval

Of course, it was a juridical act, but it also has profound ecclesial meaning. You should be convinced of it. He would be mistaken who thought that the approval of the Statutes was merely a bureaucratic measure. Rather, it satisfies a deep desire of the Holy Father, which he expressed at the meeting on 24 January 1997as you rememberand repeated in the Autograph Letter he sent to me on 5 April 2001, confirming the mandate of the Pontifical Council for the Laity to complete the delicate process of the discernment and approval of the Statutes, as one of the "unavoidable provisions" for the "existence of the Way" (Letter to Cardinal Stafford, President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity; ORE, 2 May 2001, p. 5).

Three main points

Today, my brief discourse will deal with three main points: first, the great gift that the Neocatechumenal Way is for the Church; second, the importance of the process of the drafting of the Statutes and of the Statutes themselves; and thirdly, four areas that require special attention in the life of the Way: the relationship with the bishops, the priests and all the dimensions of the parish and the other ecclesial communities, as well as scrupulous respect for the individual's freedom with a special emphasis on the "internal forum".

Abundant fruits of the Way

On many occasions, the Holy Father has underlined the abundant fruits of conversion, mature faith, fraternal communion and missionary zeal of the Neocatchumenal Communities on various occasions, recognizing the Way as "an effective means of Catholic formation for society and for the present time" (AAS 82 [1990-11] 1513-1515). Nor can I fail to mention the words the Pope addressed to you for the 30th anniversary of the Way: "How far you have come with the Lord's help! In recent years the Way has realized a truly impressive growth and spread in the Church like the mustard seed of the Gospel, a great tree which has now spread to more than 100 countries of the world..." and so the Pope underscored "the abundant gifts that in these years the Lord has granted to you, and through you, to the whole Church". In his address, the Pope mentioned your flourishing development in terms of the blossoming of charisms and new ways of expressing the Church as the mystery of missionary communion (cf. John Paul II, Address to members of the Neocatechumenal Way, 24 January 1997; ORE, 5 February 1997).

Drafting, Approval of Statutes: sure rule of life

To this encouraging recognition, however, a concrete response had to be given, namely, the examination and consequent approval of the Statutes of the Way. Since this movement is as varied as it is complex, consisting of Neocatechumenal Communities in a multitude of dioceses and parishes in many different countries, the work of the itinerant catechists and mission families, the existence of more than 40 "Redemptoris Mater" diocesan seminaries connected with the experience of the Way, how could it do without a clear and sure "light and rule of life" (cf. Autograph Letter n. 2), to be translated into the drafting of normative statutes? If it were based solely on oral tradition, did it not risk being indefinite, putting everything at the mercy of possible arbitrary decisions due to the lack of certain guidelines, that everyone would accept and respect? Today these normative statutes approved by the Holy Seeas it clearly says in the Decreeconstitute firm and reliable guidelines for the life of the Way.

Initiators' 5 year dialogue with Council

The initiators of the Way became increasingly aware of the importance of Statutes. Along with some collaborators, they were involved in an ongoing dialogue with our Council, to achieve the goal pointed out by the Holy Father for the good of the Church and, especially, of the Neocatechumenal Way. For more than five years I have been involved in examining the various versions and successive drafts of the Statutes that they submitted to the Pontifical Council for the Laity. The dialogue was lively, at times even difficult, but was always guided by a deep sense of ecclesial consciousness and charity. During these years, the Pontifical Council for the Laity has always worked in close collaboration with the other departments of the Roman Curia directly interested in this matter, by reason of their particular area of responsibility.

Roman Curia contributed greatly

We received valuable observations from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which were duly incorporated into the definitive text. In recent years, we have been in frequent contact with the individual bishops and bishops' conferences around the world, to evaluate the experience of the Way at local, diocesan and national levels. Many patriarchs, cardinals and bishops have written to the Holy Father to encourage the examination and approval of the Statutes. For our part, we have frequently consulted canonical experts, and have not neglected to weigh carefully the large number of other reports and observations from those who have first hand experience of the Way. This long process of elaboration and examination of the Statutes was both a providential opportunity and an important time for the discernment by the Holy See of the message and experience of the Neocatechumenal Way. It culminates in this "further guarantee of the authenticity of your charism" (cf. John Paul II, Address to the Neocatechumenal Way, 24 January 1997, op. cit, Autograph Letter, op. cit., n. 2) that is the approval of the Statutes.

Respect for the reality of the Way

The initiators of the Way, and those who assisted them during this process, can testify to the great determination with which the Pontifical Council for the Laity proceeded to fulfil the Holy Father's mandate within the sphere of its own responsibility and the care and respect with which it worked so that the reality of the Way might be respected, in accord with the guidelines proposed by its initiators. In fact, our Council is not entitled to work out or impose normative statutes on the different realities that enjoy the freedom to express in the statutes that they submit to the Holy See, their own charism, aims, pedagogy, "style" and specific procedures and ways of working. In the case of the Neocatechumenal Way, the participation of the ecclesiastical authorities was limited to verifying and ensuring the conformity of the Statutes with the doctrine and discipline of the Church. This was done to ensure that the experience of the Way would bear even greater fruit of the "Gospel radicalism and extraordinary missionary zeal that it brings to the life of the lay faithful, to families, to parish communities, and the abundance of vocations it inspires to the priestly and religious life" (cf. Decree of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, 29 June 2002), and that this good fruit would be ever more deeply rooted in the fertile soil of the Catholic Church.

Safeguards proposed by Holy See

At the same time, the Holy See insisted on some fundamental aspects which I would like to call to your attention. The relations of Christians with one another are governed by the great law that St Paul gave us: "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Eph 5,21). This doctrinal and moral principle, rooted in the dignity of every baptized person, governs relations between all Christians. In the last part of the fifth chapter of his letter, St Paul applies this principle to the special relations existing in the life of the Church.

Mission of the local bishops

The first catechists in the Church are the bishops, successors of the Apostles, consecrated by God and assisted by the Holy Spirit so that they may be good shepherds of their flocks, the heads of the different local Churches. Consequently, they are charged with the delicate and pressing responsibility of proclaiming Christ's Gospel, of being stewards of the divine mysteries, of teaching the truth of the faith and sound doctrine, and of presiding over the faithful, gathered in the unity of charity. Therefore you must always defer respectfully and obediently to the bishops united with the Holy Father in the Apostolic College. Do nothing without the bishop! The Statutes are offered to bishopsas is said in the decreeas an "important aid" in their "fatherly and careful guidance of the Neocatechumenal communities" (cf. Decree of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, 29 June 2002). The Statutes are an instrument at the service of communion, hence, they are also an "instrument at the service of the bishops" (cf. art. 5 of the Statutes). We are pleased to recall and to apply here what the Holy Father said in his Encyclical Letter Redemptoris missio, in paragraph 72, when he asked the bishops to give a cordial and generous welcome to the new ecclesial movements present in their dioceses, and asked of these movements a true spirit of humility in proposing and following their itinerary, as they integrate themselves into the living, manifold fabric of Christian communities. It is true that the approval of the Statutes on the part of the Holy See is an invitation and a guarantee that the experience of the Way will continue to develop in many new dioceses, as the Statutes themselves say, affirming that it is up to each bishop "to authorize the introduction of the Neocatechumenal Way in the diocese" (art. 26) so that it may go forward in the parishes to which it has been expressly invited. The Statutes thus invest the bishops with a great responsibility. "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ": this principle governs relations between the bishops and all those who belong to the Way.

Appreciate the mission of the parish priest, the vocation of clerics and religious

The Holy See was also concerned in the Statutes to clarify the importance of the mission of the parish priest in the Neocatechumenal Community, appreciating the presence of the priest and his office of governing, teaching and sanctifying; as well as ensuring the proper respect for the vocation of clerics and the discipline of the religious who follow the Way.

Protect the freedom of the internal forum

The strong affirmation of the protection of the "internal forum" of the members was felt as a need. This is not meant to restrict the "way" of conversion according to the proper pedagogy of the community, but rather to guarantee people's free option, while at the same time increasing their appreciation of the sacrament of Penance, in agreement with what the Holy Father recently taught in his "Motu proprio" Misericordia Dei. Many are the observations incorporated into the text and in all this I must give credit to the initiators of the Way for having received obediently and intelligently all that was suggested, which in their mind agrees with the true nature and practice of the Way.

Willingness to be integrated into parish and diocesan communities

I particularly wish to stress the fundamental aspect, represented by your full openness of spirit and effective willingness to be integrated into parish and diocesan communities, not only at the service of those who follow the "Way", but of the whole community; you offer the gifts and talents the Lord has given you, and, at the same time, you appreciate all that the Spirit inspires in the life of the faithful through the different processes of Christian formation and different ways of expressing his mystery of holiness and communion. St Paul "makes his exhortations, which describe a life imbued with the Spirit, culminate in the invitation addressed to all believers to be subject to one another.... Furthermore, the duties are listed as reciprocal duties: "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ" (C. S. Keenan).

Now the application begins

I entrust these Statutes to each of you, to the responsibility of each one before God. You are all co-responsible for adapting your work to the rule you have been given, whose normative directives are to be fully respected. Indeed, the Statutes have been examined and revised down to the smallest detail: there is a reason for every expression. They must always be for each of you and all of you, an enlightened directive for fruitful growth in the Church and for the Church.

Further tasks pending

Of course, one cannot ask everything of the Statutes. Since they are a juridical instrument, they cannot afford a deep systematic orientation for doctrinal, liturgical or catechetical matters. In fact, it is not by chance that the Statutes of the Way refer explicitly to the Catechetical Directory ("The Neocatechumenal Way. Guidelines for the teams of catechists") whose different volumes you have presented to the congregations responsiblethe Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith, for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and for the Clergyand are awaiting their examination and joint approval. The approval of the Statutes can be an authoritative and useful support for the work of revision that is under way.

Council is to continue its guidance

Furthermore, the approval of the Statutes has been granted ad experimentum for five years. This commits the Pontifical Council for the Laity not only to fulfil carefully the mandate entrusted by the Supreme Pontiff, but also "to continue accompanying the Way in the future" (cf. John Paul II, Autograph Letter, op. cit., n. 3), and continue the dialogue with the initiators of the Way to discern and verify the application of the Statutes to the practice of the Way.

What is truly important is that these Statutes, approved by the Pontifical Council for the Laity in accord with the Holy Father's desire, be for you cause for gratitude, joy, certainty and hope on your journey as well as a reminder of divine Providence to take ever greater responsibility for the gift the Lord has given to you for the sanctification of persons, for the building of Christian communities and for a growing zeal for taking the "new evangelization" to the ends of the earth for the greater glory of God.

The mystery of the glorious cross

All who are acquainted with the Neocatechumenal Way are familiar with the representation of the glorious cross which some of you even have at home. In the catechesis for the convivencia before the first scrutiny, Kiko Argüello proclaims: "The glorious Cross is the profound secret of Christianity.... The Cross is really the way of our salvation".

It is the Cross of Jesus which shapes from within the Decree and the Statutes whose approval we are celebrating today. The mystery of the Cross, into which every Christian has been baptized, is a unique mystery, the mystery of the love of the Father and the Son. Coming to the end of his earthly pilgrimage, the Son abandoned himself with obedient love to his Father: "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" (Lk 23,46).

In these years during which you will progress together in the application of these Statutes, I ask you to be attentive to all the paths that lead to God, shown by the obedient love of the One who died on the Cross. The acceptance and faithful application of the Statutes, as well as obedience to the Holy Father and to the bishops of the Church, are essential to the reward promised to those who follow the way of the Beatitudes: "good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap" (Lk 6,38).

Obedient love requires the poverty that permeates the Beatitudes. Through obedient love, you will always be led further into the mystery of the fullness of God's glory, revealed in the Cross of Jesus. All those among you who walk this blessed way will be like the little ones, whose angels constantly look upon the face of the Father. Your own holy simplicity will open up to you God's indivisible simplicity.

 
Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
7/14 August 2002, page 3

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