The TV2000 channel conducted an interview with Father Mario Pezzi about his experience as Priest of the team of the Initiators of the Neocatechumenal Way, Kiko and Carmen, and now Ascension.
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Interview to Fr. Mario Pezzi on the television program “SOUL” by Monica Mondo, journalist of TV2000, Rome (Italy), March 20, 2022.
Priest, Comboni Missionary, Rev. Mario Pezzi, Father Mario Pezzi, how do you prefer to be called?
Father, because I am still a Comboni Missionary at heart.
You are the priest of the International Team of the Neocatechumenal Way, of which you are the initiator together with Kiko Argüello and Carmen Hernández, although you say that you did not want to initiate anything.
No, I am not one of the initiators. The initiators are Kiko and Carmen. I have been called since 1971 to accompany them as itinerant presbyter, because in every itinerant team the presence of the presbyter is important.
But you are among the first ones.
Yes I am among the first.
And today, especially after the death of Carmen Hernández, with Kiko Argüello and María Ascensión Romero, you are responsible for the Way throughout the world. There are so many of you, aren’t there? What do you call them? Brothers, children?
Brothers and also children and grandchildren!…
You were born in Gottolengo, near Brescia. You would not have imagined to travel all over the world.
No, absolutely not.
How did you become a missionary?
I had a vocation to the priesthood very early, when I was a child. Then I met a missionary who was looking for vocations. The parish priest invited me to meet him and after a month’s tryout – they called it that, to see who could join – I was selected to enter the seminary. At that time, you entered after fifth grade. At the end of the fifth grade”, there was a final exam to pass to the following grades. And from there I began my formation.
Above all oriented to Africa. Then you found the Way. How did you find it? How did it happen? Later you will also have to explain to me what the Neocatechumenal Way is.
Yes. How did it happen? Not magically. It was the Lord who prepared me for many years, through an interior crisis that I had since the time of the novitiate and, above all, in Rome, where the superiors had sent me to study at the Urbaniana University.
It was after 1968, in 1969, and the “sixty-eight” had already entered the Pontifical Universities. My problem was to find a form of priestly ministry that was closer and more intelligible to the people. Because I noticed a separation between what we did in the church and what was lived outside. Already then this was something obvious. Moreover, the language of the priests no longer reached people, the sacraments did not have an impact on changing lives. The sacraments are in themselves effective, yes, but if there is no preparation, they do not produce fruits. Baptism gives us a small seed, which has an immense power, like every seed. When God creates a seed, it has within itself all the potential to develop, but in many of us – as John Paul II said many times – this seed remains as if it were dead, we are registered as Catholics, but we have not had the formation.
And did you have this formation?
I had it later, during the Way. I had a formation, thanks be to God, in a Christian family, in the Comboni Missionaries, with missionary saints, especially with the figure of Fr. Comboni, who was decisive for me.
The first time you met Kiko and Carmen, a strange couple because they were not married, but they acted together as Christians. What was your impression of them? What surprised you?
I found them to be normal people, united by a mission. And I was impressed, above all, by what they said, what they preached. Why? Because that’s where I found the answer… Because since my theology studies I began to look for a priestly figure closer to the people. I was in Spello, with the “Little Brothers”, I visited them. I knew the working priests of Louvain, not as extremist as the French. We were all searching, and many of my religious brothers left the priesthood.
I searched and searched, and a spiritual director told me: “Do not take any step until God manifests his will to you. Wait. I waited six years. I accepted to be ordained a priest, because I had no doubts about my vocation. I was ordained in March; in July I met the communities of the parish of the Canadian Martyrs and in November I met Kiko.
“Canadian Martyrs” is a parish in Rome where the Way began in Italy. If you had to say what the Way is to a person who does not know it, what is it?
The Way is a gift that the Lord has given, through Kiko and Carmen, to the Church of today. The Council was called, as John XXIII said, to find a language that would transmit the eternal truths in a new way. The Council gave the answer, discovering, above all, the value of the Word of God that cannot be understood without the Old Testament … It made this connection that is at the basis of the Neocatechumenal Way. He renewed the liturgy and Kiko as an artist…
Yes, because he was a painter, maybe he is still a painter…
Yes, he is a painter, musician, architect and many other things.
Carmen was more of a theologian, wasn’t she?
Carmen was more of a researcher, because she was a chemist. She was skilled in research. She researched books and through the Holy Scriptures and she passed this wisdom on to Kiko. I attended with them the birth of the various steps … the birth of the Christian initiation … of the Neocatechumenal Way.
How long does this Way last? Does it last a lifetime?
No. The Neocatechumenal Way has a duration that is not established, as the “Ordo Initiatonis Christianae Adultorum” says. That is to say, the new order for the Catechumenate of Adults says that there is no problem of “time” because the Way is identified in the Virgin Mary. The Virgin Mary receives an announcement: “You will be the mother of the Son of God”. “How is this possible?” she said. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and overshadow you; therefore, he who is to be born will be holy and will be called the Son of the Most High,” who will save mankind. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” And in Mary a process of gestation begins.
Then, our angels, itinerant catechists, who go without money and give their lives for the Announcement, announce the Good News: that God loves us as we are, that he does not ask us to change in order to love us. And this touches the hearts of many, especially many sinners, because we have always had the idea that God loves the good and punishes the bad. God has loved us when we were his enemies, when we crucified him, he says to us: “Father, forgive them”. Out of love for us, to save us from the slavery we have to death … It is not that men are evil, they are slaves, and Jesus Christ, by giving us his Spirit, makes us children of God.
Do you know what it means to be a child of God? It means that the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts. St. Paul says in his letter to the Galatians that the fruits of the flesh, of those who have not known Jesus Christ, are envy, jealousy, wars, evil speaking, etc . And the fruits of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us … Of course, an initiation is necessary. We are used to the fact that to be an engineer you have to study for many years, to be a surgeon … And to be a Christian? Because today the world is no longer Christian. That is why the Way is a gift for this society and it has an existential word that reaches the drug addicts, those with a destroyed marriages, that makes children be born, that makes many families leave their job, everything, to go to witness this love of God that has saved them, that there is salvation.
This is the mission, which is characteristic of the charism – this is the way your ecclesial movement stands in the Church. Explain this well.
No, it is not a movement. In the last audience with Pope Francis, in which he confirmed Kiko, as long as he lives – because he said that we are still in a foundational time, which will end when Kiko dies – he said: “you are not a movement, as Pope John Paul II said”. When Pope John Paul II went to the Canadian Martyrs parish, he said: “… because your movement”, and Carmen stood up publicly and said: “it is not a movement, it is a way, a progressive, gradual initiation to the Christian life”. Then the Pope said again “your movement”, and Carmen stood up again. The guards were already prepared to approach Carmen. And the Pope said: “Well, it is not a movement, but a way moves”.
John Paul II loved you very much, he esteemed you and supported you very much.
Yes, he loved us very much. Yes, because he came from the experience of Nazism and communism. What is happening today, he already lived it in his flesh. His greatest message to Christians is: “Do not be afraid“ How is it possible that God spoke to men for centuries through the prophets and lately through his Son and we do not even know what he said? We have not had a formation to the Christian life.
Even children no longer know how to make the sign of the Cross.
They do not even know who is the one on the Cross.
How can you Father, speak especially to young people, who are so confused and distracted, for whom God is an option, not a presence?
This is a great gift that the Lord has given to the Way: we have bet on the family. They did not want to make youth groups, no, not groups but the family. Because with the family comes the education of the children and the transmission of the faith to the children. In our families we have many supports.
For example, after a period of the Way, there is a domestic celebration on Sunday morning. On Sunday morning the families celebrate Lauds around a table with a tablecloth, flowers, candles, a crucifix, a Bible. The children play the drums, the grandparents also participate. After the psalms, the father reads the Gospel of the day and then asks the children: “What does this word say to you? Through this dialogue, which is very important, they transmit the faith. Then, when they are of a certain age, when they can behave well in the Eucharist, the parents take them to the Eucharist with them. And when they are thirteen, the age of puberty, they are invited to enter a new community.
It is a formative itinerary that, in a way, reminds us of the Jews, is that so?
Certainly. The Jews had a kind of catechumenate, of initiation, very serious, and before admitting a proselyte they would ask him: “But do you know that by entering our people, you can be killed, as many of our people are? If he answered, “Yes, I know” – because he was attracted by their way of life – if he said yes, they would admit him, and if he said no, they would not admit him.
You are saying that being a Christian is not easy and that it can also cost suffering, exclusion, persecution and death.
Yes. It is not that it is not easy; it is very easy. Because in the first period, which we call pre-catechumenate, we don’t ask anything of people. There are people who have a mistress, there are people on drugs… We don’t ask anything because the Way is celebratory, it is not an indoctrination. We base ourselves on the celebration of the Word every week, which is prepared by a group of the community. Then, when it is celebrated and the Word of God is proclaimed in a small community, the presence of the Holy Spirit has the power to touch the heart of the brothers and sisters.
This also means that the mission is not proselytism, right?
Yes, for this Pope Francis has thanked us many times, above all, because through the families in mission that live…
How many are there, Father?
I don’t know, about a thousand. Above all they are present in China, Laos, Vietnam, etc., but also in northern Europe, also in Latin America, among the ”Pueblos Jovenes”, etc. Just by their presence, by the way they live, they attract people. When a family with six, seven, ten, eleven children goes to the market, everyone admires them, it’s like a nostalgia, like a desire. We have families who are in mission since 1985, 1986, families who left, the first ones, to northern Europe, and also to the shantytowns of Lima. The families left their job, everything, to incarnate in those places. Because we have two types of charisms: the itinerants, they are the ones who “fly around”, because they are the ones who follow the whole itinerary of the Way until the end. They decide when it is time to make a step, if there is sufficient maturity. Another one is that of the families in mission and missio ad gentes, families that are stable in one place.
Do you also have many priests?
For this reason Kiko and Carmen wanted to found, thanks to John Paul II, a seminary to form priests to serve these families in evangelization.
In the Neocatechumenal Way, as in other forms of belonging to the Church, is there a crisis, a lack of adhesions, a lack of fascination, of attraction? That is to say, is the gift of the Spirit that John Paul II declared in these new forms, movements, diminishing?
The Kingdom of God is a mystery. Perhaps the Lord acts much more than what we see. Also because the Kingdom of God does not advertise. There are saints all over the world before God, upright men of good will who do not make news. They make news, instead, those who have the media and inflate things … now with the metaverse they create the hypervirtual reality that chains our young people to waste time.
We have seen that in our communities … During the first covid attack, which came out of China, where our families were, we received many letters that said, “This is a particular period that God gives us to be more intimate with Him, so that we do not waste time in the things to do.” They saw it as a grace. Then it came to us and we too, for a year, could not have face-to-face meetings; we had to have them, those who could, by “zoom”. But that year, 2020, we rediscovered the domestic celebration. That is, the families celebrated, as they could, the Easter Vigil. We prepared the children first, taught them the songs, etc. They also celebrated the Pentecost Vigil, both of which were marvelous! The faith of our brothers, although tested, resists and increases.
We have a catechesis on the Cross, which says that the Cross is glorious. Jesus Christ has made it glorious because through the Cross, the Lord strips us of the old man. And everyone, everyone, even non-believers, one day find themselves on a bed, powerless, and many who profess themselves communists, or atheists, ask to be reconciled with the Lord. Then, for the youth, we have a lot of initiatives. Apart from Sunday morning lauds, we have the “Scrutatio”. Every month we invite the young people to scrutinize the Scriptures in the parish. Then we have the “summer camps”, pilgrimages. We try to help them because they have to fight a huge battle, with pressure from the media, from the school, from gender, etc.
But what is more important is that your words have a prophetic look. I thank you very much and I ask you if there is a song of the Way that is particularly dear to you, that we can listen to and end with.
Yes, “Mary, little Mary” and the “Salve Regina”. But I don’t have them, do you have them?…
We are looking for them… Now we are already listening to it…