By Alessandro Speciale
Religion News Service
VATICAN CITY (RNS) After a 15-year process, the Holy See on Friday (Jan. 20) gave its final approval to the Neocatechumenal Way, a lay movement that has been criticized for its unorthodox liturgical practices but that has been successful in attracting followers.
The movement relies on tightly knit small groups, modeled on early Christian communities, that share a decade-long spiritual growth path under the guidance of a priest.
Pope Benedict XVI told around 7,000 members of the movement that Neocatechumenal communities could continue in their tradition of celebrating a special Saturday evening Mass, as long as the local bishop approved and the celebrations remained open to the public.
Nevertheless, he encouraged the movement's members not to remain "separate" from their parish community.
The pope praised the Neocatechumenal Way as a "special gift" of the Holy Spirit for modern times, especially as secularism "has eclipsed the sense of God and obscured Christian values." The movement, he said, can help Christians rediscover the "beauty" of their faith.
The Way's founder, Kiko Arguello, said Friday's approval was a "historic moment" after the "many troubles" the movement had faced in the process of receiving the Vatican's approval.
The movement's focus on preaching in secular contexts resonates with Benedict's recent focus on "re-evangelizing" Western countries where the faith has grown weak.
At the end of the audience, Benedict sent out 17 new teams of Neocatechumenal missionaries, who will work mostly in Europe and in the U.S. Each team is made up of three or four families accompanied by a priest.