For the five Sundays of Easter this year, members of the Neocatechumenal Way from all across the Los Angeles archdiocese and the San Bernardino and Orange dioceses took the good news of the Gospel to the public squares of Southern California.
In what the movement calls the "great mission," members volunteered to reach out to people in a public area -- perhaps the parking lot of a shopping center, perhaps in a park -- and invite them to a 75-minute gathering that included prayer and testimony from people walking "the Way," for short, as well as a group dialogue and catechesis.
"We walk with the Lord and with Peter and with the Apostles on the road to Emmaus. We take his message wherever we are sent," Bishop Kevin Vann of Orange told the neocatechumenates.
He made the comments as he blessed them and presided at a morning prayer for them at Christ Cathedral on the third Sunday of Easter, May 4.
It can be nerve-wracking to approach strangers with an evangelistic mission, neocatechumenates said, but their involvement in the Neocatechumenal Way prepared them for the great mission.
The movement -- a process of ever-deepening catechesis -- is made up of individuals in small communities who "walk" together, gathering weekly for a celebration of the Word and the Eucharist, and monthly for a "convivence," or day retreat.
Together, the group moves from phase to phase, and in each phase, they add to their Christian activities -- praying from the breviary each morning, for example, saying the rosary every day, and going door-to-door in pairs to share their experience of Christ.
The communities are important, but it's growth in faith and in relationship with the Lord that keeps neocatechumenates active in the movement.
Norma Castro, a parishioner at St. Anne in Santa Ana, was going through a family crisis and thinking of leaving the church when a priest told her about the movement. That was five years ago, and Castro says her outlook has completely changed.
"It's kind of like an internal joy, from the inside out," she explained before the prayer service started Sunday. "Everything that's going on in your life, it doesn't even matter, because God has this love for (you)."
Formed in Madrid in 1964, the Neocatechumenal Way received Vatican approval in 2008. It has had an active presence in the Orange diocese for decades. Many parishes have neocatechumenal communities -- seven of them launched 14 missions this Easter season -- but the largest is St. Barbara.
The Santa Ana parish has five English communities, two Vietnamese and about 19 Spanish, said Ed Sumner, who has been part of the movement at St. Barbara with his wife, Kathy, since 1978.
"It's probably the most (communities of any parish) in the United States," he said, "and it's the only parish that has neocatechumenate communities in three languages."
In his homily May 4, Vann said, "Our hearts (are) burning with fire for the love of our Lord Jesus Christ. We take that message to all who we meet.
"That's not something to keep, but something to share. Faith is not meant to stay inside, but outside."
[Elisabeth Deffner is editor of OCCatholicNews.com, the online publication of the Orange diocese.]