- Trying to square the circle
The opening days of the Synod on the Family have revealed distinct differences of opinion between the participants. How can their commitment to church teaching be matched with compassion for those who struggle with it?
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Pope Francis has praised the zeal of the Neocatechumenal Way, but has told the movement it should not impose its distinctively Spanish-Italian model of Church on other cultures or insist on following practices that are frowned upon by local bishops.
“I thank the Lord for the joy of your faith and for the ardour of your Christian witness,” the Pope told some 10,000 “Neo-Cat” members on 1 February.
But he then gave them “a few simple recommendations” before blessing 1,500 of them – priests, families, seminarians and religious sisters – who are to begin a missio ad gentes in 40 places around the world.
“The freedom of the individual must not be forced, and you must respect even the eventual choice of those who should decide to look, outside of the Way, for other forms of Christian life,” the Pope said.
It was a reference to the pressures that the Neo-Cats reportedly put on members who try to leave the movement and, what Francis called, its “long and demanding” itinerary. “In these cases the exercise of patience and mercy is a sign of maturity in the faith,” he said.
He urged them to also "have the utmost care to build and to preserve the communion within the particular Churches in which you will work".
The Pope reminded the Neo-Cats that in the far-flung places where they travel to evangelise – even in lands not traditionally Christian – they must realise that God and the Holy Spirit has already preceded them.
“God scatters the seed of the Word everywhere,” he told the movement. He said not only should its members learn the language of the people in these foreign lands, but also the cultures they would encounter. The Pope said they needed to see that the “Holy Spirit has worked in the life and history of every people”.
In some places where the Way sends its missionaries, especially in China and the Middle East, locals have complained that the movement has forced European songs, rituals and prayers on them. Neo-Catechumenate spiritual practices are wedded to the cultural experience of Kiko Argüello and Carmen Hernández, the movement’s two Spanish founders.