Members of the Neocatechumenal communities in the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland gathered on Oct. 1 at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Parma for evening prayer, testimonies, a message from Bishop Nelson Perez and fellowship.
Jack Craig, a catechist and member of the Neocatechumenal Way, travelled from New Jersey to lead the program. Neocatechumenal communities from Holy Family and St. Anthony of Padua parishes in Parma, St. Andrew Parish in Norton and Immaculate Conception Parish in Madison participated, along with priests from those parishes and others. About 60 members from the four parishes’ Neocatechumenal Way communities also participated.
Craig introduced the bishop, priests and other guests.
“The Diocese of Cleveland has been very welcoming to us,” Craig said. “When I called to speak to Bishop Perez about us, he asked what he could do to help.”
The Neocatechumenal Way is a charism in the Catholic Church, Craig explained. It began in 1964 in Spain and is dedicated to Christian formation. Communities are established in parishes and they follow the three-pronged Word of God, liturgy, community approach to catechesis.
Three people who represented various communities gave witness and shared their stories with the bishop and others in the congregation.
Marianne talked about how rebellious she was in her younger years and how she fell away from the Church. Her mother “prayed for me like St. Monica,” Marianne said, and eventually she found her way back to the faith through reconciliation. One day during the announcements at Mass, she heard about a meeting for the Neocatechumenal Way. She attended, and said she was fascinated at what she learned about her faith so she kept on attending the sessions.
“I found myself in a community with brothers and sisters who walk with me. I thank God for saving my soul from sin and for putting me into this community,” she said.
Elioth, a native of Venezuela, said he was struggling with loneliness and decided to attend one of the community meetings. After becoming involved, he said that “God blessed me with a beautiful wife and he gave us six children – so far.” Elioth said during more recent struggles, his faith in God and the support of the Neocatechumenal community helped dispel his fear.
“God did provide,” he said.
Janice, who recently retired, said although she was a practicing Catholic, she did not attend Catholic schools and felt she “wasn’t as good as the students who attended Catholic schools.” Although she attended religious education classes at her parish, Janice said she still had many unanswered questions about her faith. “I was restless,” she said.
Janice and her husband married in the Church and raised their children Catholic, but she still struggled with questions about the faith. Then 11 years ago, she spotted a sign inviting people to come and hear the good news, so she attended. “I went to one session after another. I loved it and I didn’t want it to end. And now, 11 years later, our community is still together. We read lots of Scripture, we reflect and we pray,” Janice said. She also learned to embrace the difficulties or crosses in her life.
“I wouldn’t be the person I am without them and I’ve learned to thank God for some of those crosses,” she added.
Bishop Perez, who was familiar with the Neocatechumenal Way from his youth in New Jersey, spoke briefly to the group, explaining that he only attended Catholic school for a couple of years. “I was a ‘publican,’ which is what the kids who attended public schools were called,” he said. And since he didn’t attend Catholic school, he wasn’t trained as an altar server. However, he wanted to be one, so he watched and learned – and then one day went into the sacristy before Mass and donned the server’s garb.
“The priest looked at me and asked who I was. I told him, ‘I’m your server.’ And he said, ‘I guess you are,’” the bishop said, adding that he continued serving Mass after that.
“God loves you as you are, where you are and for who you are. Thank you for the witness you give each other and thank you to the priests who walk with you on the Neocatechumenal Way. Serve as leaven for the world around you,” Bishop Perez said.
“You might not see the grace working through and around you right away,” he said, but he encouraged them to continue their prayer and catechesis.
“Those of you who gave witness tonight showed grace,” he added.
After prayer and a blessing from the bishop, the group enjoyed fellowship.