By ANDREW NELSON | Published January 25, 2024
ATLANTA—The Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Neocatechumenal Way are entering into a new relationship to form men to serve as priests in local parishes, but also for missionary work.
Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., signed an agreement outlining the partnership during a Mass in Cornelia attended by members of the eight Neocatechumenal Way communities here. It was formalized on Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, which is also a special day for the founding of the Neocatechumenal Way.
For now, two men will study for the priesthood at the Neocatechumenal Way’s Redemptoris Mater Seminary and the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and once ordained will serve as priests in north Georgia. As part of the agreement, the archbishop promises after five years of service in the archdiocese, the men will be considered for evangelization opportunities elsewhere with the Neocatechumenal Way.
Future seminarians, drawn from the worldwide communities of the Neocatechumenal Way, will be assigned by lottery to seminaries and dioceses, now including Atlanta. The number of seminarians studying in Washington may increase.
Father Daniele Rebeggiani, a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, grew up in the Neocatechumenal Way in his native Italy. For him, this collaboration signals the archdiocese’s commitment “to the evangelization of the world.” He serves the Neocatechumenal Way community in Clarkesville and makes the journey to Georgia twice a month.
Archbishop Hartmayer marked the new relationship by celebrating Mass in Cornelia with some of the 300 local members of the Neocatechumenal Way and signed the memorandum to formalize the partnership.
This movement can serve as a guide in the vibrant and multicultural church found in Atlanta, said the archbishop. Its message centers on hope, highlighting Christ’s ever-present mercy and forgiveness, regardless of one’s past, he said.
“We proclaim hope. No matter what we have done in life, Christ always offers us his mercy and forgiveness. He encounters us on our journey of life and accompanies us, as he did with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, opening for us the riches of his Word and bringing us into a living relationship with him who is ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life,’” he said.
There are an estimated 1 million Catholics in the archdiocese, with more than 100 churches and missions.
25 years of evangelizing in Atlanta
The Neocatechumenal Way began in 1964. It started in poor neighborhoods in Madrid, Spain, and has spread throughout the world. It is implemented through small parish-based communities.
Also known simply as the Way, it supports believers in strengthening their faith. The organization’s inspiration is from the catechumenate of the early church as converts were prepared for baptism. St. John Paul II called it “an itinerary of Catholic formation valid for our times and society.”
An estimated 1.5 million Catholics belong to the Way in about 40,000 parish-based groups worldwide.
More than 300 believers participate in the Way at eight communities in the archdiocese. Communities are at St. Mark Church, Clarkesville; St. Marguerite d’Youville, Lawrenceville; and St. Mary Church, Toccoa. The Way has been in the archdiocese for some 25 years.
“It is an itinerary of rediscovery of baptism, which is offered to the pastors as instrument for the evangelization,” said Father Rebeggiani.
For Archbishop Hartmayer, it is an opportunity for renewal. He said for Catholics, The Way allows a greater immersion into the faith and for people who have fallen away from practicing the faith, it is a way to return to the church by rediscovering Jesus and his Gospel.
He said a goal would be to see the ministry expand to many parishes throughout the archdiocese. Increasingly, people live out the faith in a challenging secularized society.
“To meet these challenges, it is not just enough to have a knowledge of the faith. What comes first is a living relationship with Jesus Christ,” said Archbishop Hartmayer.
Preparing men for the priesthood
Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Washington, D.C., is for men who found their vocation through Neocatechumenal Way parish communities and wish to remain connected to the community. There are eight similar seminaries in the United States and some 100 around the world.
Close to 30 men live and study at the Washington seminary. The two men slated to serve the Atlanta Archdiocese are Marcos Lluna, 20, who grew up in Denver, and Noah Schmit, 21, from Great Falls, Montana.
Lluna is from Spain. His family moved to the United States as Neocatechumenal Way missionaries. Schmit grew up in Montana, where he became attached to the group’s spirituality.
Once ordained, the men will be priests of the Archdiocese of Atlanta and work in local parishes, but with an understanding that Atlanta’s archbishop may decide to send them anywhere in the world as part of the Way’s mission.
During their studies, they will spend time in Atlanta parishes and faith communities to become familiar with the multicultural expressions of belief here, said Archbishop Hartmayer.
Just as these seminarians have been evangelized by missionaries and experienced firsthand the good they do, he said, their seminary studies and lifestyle prepare them for a mission, wherever it takes them.
The seminaries, like the one in Washington, have an intentional international appeal, drawing men from the Neocatechumenal Way movement globally. In Washington there are 28 seminarians. A quarter of the men are students from outside the United States. They come from Ecuador, Poland, Nicaragua, India, Rwanda, Argentina and Croatia.
In September, there is a chance additional men from Neocatechumenal Way will be selected by lottery to serve as priests for the archdiocese.