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The faithful filled the Brooklyn arena to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Neocatechumenal Way in the US

The faithful filled the Brooklyn arena to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Neocatechumenal Way in the US

Pilgrims from Texas react during their gathering at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., before a July 7 Mass commemorating the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Neocatechumenal Way in the United States. (OSV News photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, The Tablet)

By Paula Katinas, OSV News

BROOKLYN, New York — On July 7, the air was filled with excitement, usually filled with fans cheering on the Brooklyn Nets.

The Barclays Center was the center of the Neocatechumenal Way universe that day as nearly 20,000 faithful gathered for Mass at the iconic basketball arena and concert venue to celebrate an important milestone—the 50th anniversary of the arrival of Catholic movement in the United States.

The main celebrant of the Mass was Cardinal Christophe Pierre, Papal Nuncio to the USA.

Brooklyn Bishop Robert J. Brennan was among several bishops from across the country, and hundreds of priests joined him to mark the anniversary. Retired Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and Auxiliary Bishop James Massa also represented the Brooklyn diocese. Brooklyn native Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Conn., also attended.

Pilgrims, both young and old, came from as far away as the Pacific Islands to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime gathering.

The Brooklyn Diocese was represented by hundreds of people from several churches who quickly joined in the spirit of the lively celebration, clapping, cheering, and playing tambourines and bongo drums they had brought from home.

“It’s very exciting,” said Gladys Fernando, from Jamaica in the New York borough of Queens. “I came with my kids and I’m glad I brought them.”

“This day is dedicated to families,” Fernando, a parishioner of Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, told Brooklyn’s diocesan newspaper, The Tablet.

The Neocatechumenal Way was founded in Spain in 1964 by two lay people, Kiko Argüello and Carmen Hernández, and a priest, Father Mario Pezzi, who wanted to find a way to convert baptized Catholics who had strayed.

The founders, who also wanted to encourage Catholics to undertake a lifelong process of faith formation, began to preach the Gospel to needy people in poverty-stricken areas of the country.

Ten years later, in 1974, Argüello and Hernández came to the United States, where they visited New York at the invitation of then-Father James Donegan, pastor of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Jackson Heights.

The first community of the Neocatechumenal Way in New York was established in the Archdiocese of New York, at St. Columba Church in Manhattan. Father Donegan, who was later named a monsignor, founded the community at St. Joan of Arc.

Fifty years later, there are now 1,100 Neocatechumenal Way communities in the United States — including several in Brooklyn and Queens — and nine Mater Redemptorist seminaries, including one in the Brooklyn diocese.

Pilgrims from the Pacific Islands were among thousands who attended a mass at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., July 7, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Neocatechumenal Way in the United States. (OSV News photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, The Tablet)

Bishop Brennan noted the strong presence of the movement. “Welcome home!” he told the congregation as cheers rang out throughout the arena. “You belong here.”

The Neocatechumenal Way received official approval from the Holy See in 2008. The Vatican has recognized it as a post-baptismal catechumenate and an important tool to assist dioceses and parishes in their efforts to evangelize adults.

In his homily, Cardinal Pierre said the Neocatechumenal Way is important because it fulfills the Church’s mission to “open doors to people in every situation,” including those trapped in the nightmares of addiction, violence and despair, and to lead them back to Jesus Christ.

“God can open a way where it seems impossible,” he added.

Maurilio Mora, a New Jersey resident, said the Neocatechumenal Way changed his life for the better.

“I used to be a good, faithful person, but now my wife and I put faith at the center of our family life and it has made all the difference in the world,” said the father of seven.

Because the Neocatechumenal Way seeks to revive the faith of those already baptized, younger members of the movement prepared for the July 7 Mass by spending the week on pilgrimages to spread the word of God, visiting sanctuaries and other holy places, and reading about the lives of the saints.

At the end of the mass, about 1,000 young men who will enter seminaries stood up to receive a blessing from Cardinal Pierre. The Cardinal also blessed 1,500 young women who stood up and expressed their desire to enter a monastery or take up a mission.