The Church is facing an unprecedented crisis that had been steadily creeping up over the past twenty years. The alarm bells should have sounded, when the early warning signs came about, but complacent in its status as a moral authority and as an institution, the Church did not pay heed to the grumblings and rumblings that were felt on the ground. People are increasingly leaving the Church in an attempt to find meaning outside of the Church.
In Europe from the years between 1980 and 2012, the numbers of people being baptised in infancy fell by 1.5 million; Catholics getting married to Catholics, and Catholics celebrating the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony collapsed from roughly 1.4 million to 585,000. Priestly vocations to the Catholic Church, declined by 32 percent and weekly Mass attendance kept diminishing, from 37 percent in the 1980s to 20 percent since 2010. (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), 2015) While more recent data conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) (n.d.) tells us that the number of those who once identified as Catholic but no longer, rose from 3.5 million in 1970 to 29.5 million in 2020 in the United States of America.
A shocking statistic conducted by a survey by Ryan Burge (2021), an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Eastern Illinois University, provides a look at the religious landscape of America from the years 1970 to 2018. In this survey, it was documented that the biggest numbers of people who describe themselves as Catholic, who were simply no longer attending Mass were found in America’s lowest income bracket. The numbers of those who “never attend” Mass rose from 6 percent in 1972, to approximately 25 percent in 2018. In the second tier from the bottom income rung, the statistical numbers of those who “never attend” Mass rose from 1 percent to 21 percent. In the middle tier, a level below the top earners, the numbers of non-attendees had risen from 2 percent to 17 percent.
Ironically, in the top-income earners, there was a drop in those who were non-attendees from 13 percent to 4 percent. The Church has had a long history of ministering to the poor and the downtrodden, however from these recently published statistics, the Church appears to have forgotten the poor, turning its attention to those who can afford to attend Mass. For many surviving at the poverty line or below the poverty belt, and for a substantial number even for the middle strata of classes, attending Mass is a luxury that few of them can attain to. They are too busy trying to survive at multiple jobs that they hold, and trying to pay off their bills and debts; they find difficulty thus in matching the schedules that are demanded of them from their multiple jobs, with the schedules of the Mass, as they are working 70 to 80 hours a week. There had been many instances when these had been too exhausted after working 12-hour night shifts, to even attend Mass on Sunday. They also lack access to amenities such as cars or money for public transportation that would allow them to travel easily from where they are located at to attend Mass at the nearest church (Burge, 2021; Clarke, 2020).
Closer home, as a youth coordinator working previously at a local Catholic parish in Singapore, there are anecdotal stories of persons who took three to four hours to walk from their homes to try and seek help at a parish because they had recently lost their jobs, and had to care for their spouses and children. They had heard that such-and-such parish could help, only to be turned away or were re-directed to the parish in their home vicinity and boundaries by Church volunteers who were working the ground on that day, as if to say that is the other parish’s business, not ours.
People are not receiving the Kerygma anymore. Neither, is there a true and joyous proclamation of the Gospel Message in a way that is real to the people. The Church has sadly, become obsolete to the very people it is supposed to love and serve.
Kerygma (from the Greek keryssein, to proclaim, and keryx, herald) refers to the initial and essential proclamation of Good News, the message that is found in the Gospel, and to which Jesus begins his ministry, by quoting from the book of Isaiah. The word, keryssein appears nine times in the New Testament: once in Matthew 12:41, once in Mark 16:20, once in Luke 11:32, and six times in the letters of St. Paul (Romans. 16:25; 1 Corinthians 1:21, 2:4, 15:14; 2 Timothy 4:17; and Titus 1:3). The kerygma is the very heart of the Gospel and is the core and most important message of Christianity that all believers are call to proclaim (Molina, 2013)
How may this Kerygma be proclaimed to a world where Catholics are leaving the Church in mass diasporas? How may the Good News renew, heal, and touch lives once again? Is the Kerygma even relevant today, especially to those who have been hurt, those who are broken, those who may even possibly felt betrayed by the Church? Catholics need to be evangelised once again with the Truth of the Kerygma – only when we have experienced the love of God, can a Christian go forth to love others and to bring others to the Love of God. There has to be a realness and authenticity of the encounter, a realness that is palpable and can be tangibly felt.
A way may be explored and found in the life, the inspiration, and the fruitful faith communities founded by Francisco José Gómez Argüello (Kiko), an artist who after winning the prestigious Special National Painting Prize in 1959, fell into a deep existentialist crisis. He would find the meaning of his life in the shanty towns of Palomeras Altas, near Madrid (Spain). These slums would house those who were rejected by society at that time – the illiterate, the gypsies, the thieves, the homeless, the prostitutes, youth-at-risk, and a large number of refugees and immigrants. In the suffering and in the environment of abject poverty, Kiko found the Face of the Crucified Christ. This profound encounter, caused Kiko to leave everything behind, and inspired by Charles de Foucauld went to Palomera Altas to live and dwell among the poor. He was further inspired by the Blessed Virgin Mary to found and live in authentic Christian communities modelled after the simplicity and the humility of the Holy Family in Nazareth.
Together with Carmen Hernández, a graduate of Theology with the Dominicans of Valencia and who was to be Kiko’s collaborator, and coupled with Kiko’s own training as a Catechist in the Cursillos of Christianity, the first community was formed in 1964 among the poorest of the poor. This community would take on the hue of a kerygmatic, theological-catechetical synthesis on which its foundation is the trifecta Word of God-Liturgy-Community, leading to fraternal communion and mature faith.
This new community that was very much aligned with the spirit of renewal of Vatican II was welcomed by the then archbishop of Madrid, Mons. Casimiro Morcillo, who encouraged the founders of the Way to spread it in the parishes that requested it. This new and exciting form of catechesis extended gradually in the archdiocese of Madrid, in Zamora and in other Spanish dioceses.
Eventually, the Holy Spirit would move to bring the Way to Rome, and light the fire of fervour that would soon see it gain international momentum. In 1974, Pope Paul VI, in an audience granted to the first Neocatechumenal communities, recognised the Way as a fruit of the Second Vatican Council: “Here are the fruits of the Council! You do after Baptism what the early Church did before: before or after, is secondary. The fact is that you look at the authenticity, the fullness, the coherence, the sincerity of the Christian life. And this has a great merit, which comforts us greatly (…) How much joy they give us with their presence and activity! ” (Pope Paul VI, 1974). Subsequently, The Way was recognised and encouraged by the popes following Pope Paul VI. In 2008, under the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, the Statutes were definitively approved by the Pontifical Council for the Laity. In turn, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith gave its doctrinal approval to the Catechetical Directory in 2010.
To date, the Neocatechumenal Way is active in 134 nations across 5 continents, with 21,300 communities in 6,270 parishes, as well as 1,668 families in mission of which 216 are Missio ad Gentes in dechristianised cities in 5 continents, with 125 diocesan missionary Redemptoris Mater seminaries. (Neocatechumenal Way, n.d.)
The charism of the Neocatechumenal Way is dedicated to Christian Formation. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “By its very nature infant Baptism requires a post-baptismal catechumenate. Not only is there a need for instruction after Baptism, but also for the necessary flowering of baptismal grace in personal growth.” (CCC. 1231)
And in the chaos of today, this is needed more than ever.
By the Grace of God,
Brian Bartholomew Tan
Burge, R. P. (2021). The Nones: Where They Came From, Who They Are, and Where They Are Going. 1517 Media. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv17vf41v
Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA). (2015). Global Catholicism: Trends and Forecasts. Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. Georgetown University. Retrieved September 17, 2021, from https://cara.georgetown.edu/staff/webpages/global catholicism release.pdf
Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) (n.d.) Frequently Requested Church Statistics. Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. Georgetown University. Retrieved September 17, 2021, from https://cara.georgetown.edu/frequently-requested-church-statistics/
Clarke, K. (2020). The church is losing touch with working-class Catholics. America the Jesuit Review. Retrieved September 17, 2021, from https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2020/10/16/church-losing-touch-working-class-catholics
Molina, H. (2013). The Kerygma Enigma. Catholic Answers. Retrieved September 17, 2021 from https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/the-kerygma-enigma
Neocatechumenal Way. (n.d.). What is the Neocatechumenal Way? Neocatechumenal Way. Retrieved September 17, 2021.
Pope Paul VI (1974, May 8). General Audience. Libreria Editrice Vaticana