“The bigger you make the bogeyman, the scarier you make it appear,” Dr. Ricardo Eusebio said, in an attempt to explain why the Neocatechumenal Way is being vilified as a cult. But like the bogeyman, he added, the purportedly malicious claims against the Neocatechumenal Way are nothing but propaganda myths.
“We have Eucharist celebration of the word in the middle of the week; you don’t see people in handcuffs. Nobody tells to come or not to come,” said Eusebio, who is marking his 20th anniversary as a follower of The Way next year. “Nobody ever forced me to join The Way. I wanted to do it because it made me become a better Catholic.”
The NCW has drawn 700 local members since the young evangelical movement was introduced to Guam in the mid-1990s. On Dec. 8, 1999, Archbishop Anthony Apuron established the Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary Redemptoris Mater, where NCW priests are ordained. There are NCW parishes around the island. The lay movement has more than a hundred 700 followers on Saipan and more than 100 in Kiribati.
The Neocatechumenal Way has enjoyed its peaceful existence on Guam without drawing piercing attention until the RMS property in Yona figured in an abysmal controversy. Subsequently, the NCW piqued the community’s curiosity, ruffled feathers and became the subject of scrutiny.
Also known as Neocatechumenate, the Neocatechumenal Way was founded in Madrid in 1964 by Kiko Argüello and Carmen Hernández. Aggressively missionary, the movement offers post-baptismal formation for Catholics who are seeking to deepen their faith beyond the ritual of going to Sunday Mass. Its followers see the Neocatechumenate as new evangelization in action. Its phenomenal success created a polarizing effect; it draws supporters and knockers in about equal measure.
The Neocatechumenal Way takes a more intimate approach to evangelization. It is focused on spiritual work in small groups, organized into parish-based communities of 20 to 50 people. The Neocatechumenate claims a following of more than one million in 124 nations, with about 2,000 priests operating around 100 seminaries.
“There is a course going on in Asan and there is one that will start in Barrigada. There are catechesis occurring every year in a number of parishes all over the island,” said Eusebio, a member of the RMS board.
The catechetical course runs for two months. At the end of the catechesis, the participants are asked if they want to continue. “Nobody handcuffs you; nobody says you have to stay,” Eusebio said. “Many people realize that they get something out of it, so they stay. There are some who attended and decide they don’t want to do it anymore, so they leave. It’s up to them.”
Critics, however, claim the Neocatechumenate fosters brainwashing and fanaticism that builds a cult of personality around Argüello and Hernandez. The “traditional” Catholics accuse the NCW of playing fast and loose with Church teaching and liturgical practices.
“The difference, they say, is that the songs at the mass and the way the mass is done are different. Instead of wafers you receive bread,” Eusebio said. “Do you think God cares how I receive communion or it more important that I receive communion?”
Eusebio came across the Neocatechumenate while he was soul-searching — at the time when he and his wife were on the verge of getting a divorce. “Msgr. David (Quitugua), who happens to be a good friend of my wife, suggested that we go to this catechesis,” he said. “I thought it was a way to find out a little bit more about my religion. So my wife and I went. Somehow, for the first time, I felt good.”
Joining the NCW, Eusebio said, was a healing process that helped renew his marriage. “My wife and I have been married for 41 years,” he said.
In the end, religion is a personal matter. “I finally became closer to Church and it’s helping me in my salvation,” Eusebio said. “I felt like I was in the right place.”