Archbishop Charles J. Chaput: Neocatechumenal Way to send missionary Families to Philadelphia parishes based at St. Charles Borromeo
Two teams of missionary families with the Neocatechumenal Way -- a parish-based faith formation program -- will work in Philadelphia parishes starting in June at the request of Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput.
The mission teams will be based at St. Charles Borromeo and St. Michael parishes. Both parishes have seen a decline in the number of active parishioners in recent years.
St. Charles had a 35 percent drop in weekend Mass attendance from 2008 to 2012, even as the parish's population rose 24 percent. St. Michael similarly had a 22 percent drop in Mass attendance while the parish population increased by 53 percent.
The family mission teams, called "Missio ad Gentes" (mission to the nations), will include a priest and two families. While the traditional pastoral work of the parishes will continue, it will be aided by the families, who will move into the areas and meet in the homes of residents of the community to evangelize them.
There are 95 "Missio ad Gentes" teams around the world including six in the United States: one in Brooklyn, N.Y., three in Boston and now two in Philadelphia.
Currently there are about 1,000 Neocatechumenal Way communities in the U.S., each with an average of 40 members, according to Emanuele Contini, who supervises the communities in southeastern Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington and Virginia. There are seven Neocatechumenal Way parishes in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
During a special ceremony Feb. 1 at the Vatican, Pope Francis blessed and commissioned 450 families of the Neocatechumenal Way to go forth into the world to "evangelize with love, to be zealous and joyful missionaries."
Among those commissioned were Pedro and Carmen Dinorhie Biaggi, who will leave their Plainfield, N.J., home with their six children to resettle in Philadelphia and to evangelize in St. Michael Parish.
Pedro was baptized Catholic, but his parents joined a Pentecostal church when he was young so he grew up without a connection to Catholicism.
In 1992, when he was 21 and attending the funeral of a friend, a priest invited him to attend a parish catechesis program.
Even though the catechesis was in Spanish, a language he did not speak, the one thing he heard over and over was "God loves you."
That began his journey of faith, through the Neocatechumenal Way. Now he will leave his work as a machinist and come to St. Michael with his wife and children.
Carmen was raised in the Catholic faith and was first exposed to the Neocatechumenal Way when she was 12.
"I rebelled in my teen years and it left me with a question mark," she told CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Philadelphia Archdiocese. "I thought people who went to church were a bunch of fools and I left the church. I chose my friends. I chose sex. I chose everything the world has to offer."
Finally she attended a Neocatechumenal catechesis where she said her eyes were opened.
"The Lord had to take a long time with me," she said. "The one thing that kept me on the journey was my knowing that God has never given up on me."
Eventually she and Pedro wed, and now they have six children; the eldest, Matthew, is in the Neocatechumenal Way's Redemptoris Mater seminary of Dallas studying for the priesthood.
They also had two children who died.
"I see that God has a plan in all of this," Pedro said. "We have two angels to protect us and our marriage and our children. We need these two angels, I know my sons didn't die out of tragedy; God called them to be angels."
The Biaggi family intends to spread the good news through Christian example and encouragement and even by door-to-door evangelization.
The parishioners at St. Michael and St. Charles parishes will not be expected to join the Neocatechumenal Way and although the movement has special liturgies approved by the Holy See for its advanced members, the parishes will maintain their traditional liturgies.