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KOTA KINABALU – Carmen Hernandez, who with Kiko Arguello, founded the Neocatechumenal Way in 1964, passed away on 19 July 2016 at the age of 85 at her home in Madrid, Spain.
Her funeral mass on July 21, was celebrated by Archbishop Carlos Osoro Sierra of Madrid and concelebrated by several cardinals and bishops. On the evening when her funeral Mass was held in Madrid, local Neocatechumenal communities celebrated Eucharist as a mark of tribute to their co-founder.
Carmen Hernandez, together with co-founder Kiko Arguello, also from Spain, and their team member Fr Mario Pezzi, an Italian priest, had visited Sabah on a number of occasions in the past.
They first visited the Neocatechumenal communities in the state in 1996 and met Emeritus Archbishop John Lee who was Bishop of Kota Kinabalu Diocese at that time.
They were back in Sabah in 2002 when the Neocatechumenal Way sponsored a gathering of 120 Asian bishops, 254 priests and laypersons in family ministry to affirm the need to journey together in small communities to fulfill the Church’s evangelising mission in Asia.
Bishop Lee, who hosted the event, said in his welcome remarks that the idea of journeying together in small communities seemed to be the common pastoral goal.
“This move is imperative, because we are ‘a small flock’ within the fast developing economies and societies in the region,” added Bishop Lee who described the Neocatechumenal Way’s gathering known as “convivence” as “most timely and historical.”
Present at the convivence were representatives from India, with its 52 bishops forming the largest contingent, Brunei, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, and Turkmenistan. Bishops from Australia and the Oceania were also in attendance.
The first community of the Neocatechumenal Way was started in the Sacred Heart Cathedral parish in Kota Kinabalu, in September 1980 when the late Fr Tobias Chi was the rector and the late Simon Fung was Bishop.
Since then, many such communities have been formed at Dontozidon, Tuaran, Sandakan, Kepayan, Tawau, Lahad Datu, Kota Marudu, Papar, Kota Belud, and in the Diocese of Sibu, Sarawak.
Each community is a group of people wishing to rediscover and live Christian life to the full, and to live the essential consequences of their Baptism, by means of the Neocatechumenate that moves at different stages.
The first community at the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Kota Kinabalu, for instance, has celebrated the final stage of election during Lent and Easter in 2011 and made a pilgrimage together as a community to the Holy Land.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis in his message to Arguello, assured his affection and spiritual closeness upon the death of Hernandez, “after a long life marked by her love for Jesus and for a great missionary enthusiasm”.
“I give thanks to the Lord for the witness of this woman, animated by a sincere love for the Church, who has spent her life in the announcement of the Good News in every place, as well as those far away, never forgetting the most marginalised people.
“I encourage those who have known her and all those who are part of the Neocatechumenal Way to keep their evangelising eagerness alive, in active communion with the bishops and priests, while exercising patience and mercy to all,” wrote the Pope with much affection.
It is estimated that the movement contains about 1 million members, in some 40,000 parish-based communities around the world.
In an interview with Vatican Radio on July 20, Arguello said Hernandez was an important role model for many young women. “They said it was thanks to Carmen they found pride in being a woman,” he said.
“She always talked about the importance of women in the Church” and how they figured prominently in the Bible, he said. She would personally ask young women to consider monastic life, he said, adding that more than 4,000 young women from the Neocatechumenal Way are now cloistered nuns. – Joseph Leong/other sources