A painter studies under Pablo Picasso, then with only his guitar, crucifix and Bible goes to live in a wooden shack in a Madrid slum. Obviously, this is no ordinary person. In a lengthy interview, Argüello says, “As any youth, I had many questions: How is it possible that we live in a world full of injustices when inside we have a desire for justice?” Influenced by the plays and philosophy of atheist existentialist Sartre, Argüello says he tried to live, “consciously, existentially” in this way, only finding, “The world had turned to ashes for me.” Having won a National Extraordinary Prize for painting in Spain, a very high honour, he remained joyless and still searching.
Argüello describes his conversion this way:
There is a philosopher, Bergson, who says that intuition is a better way of knowing than reason. In some way, this, for me, was a small light. I mean, supposing Bergson is right, and that intuition is a form, deeper that reason itself, of arriving at truth. And, surprised, I found that deep inside my artist’s intuition did not accept the absurdity of existence; I was aware of the beauty of a tree, of the beauty of things; there is something there that can’t be absurd. Then, if the absurd is not the truth, if there is a reason for being… the next step was: then somebody created us. Then I called out to this Somebody: If you exist, if there is a God who has created me, speak to me, tell me who I am, what I have to do with my life. And, on calling God, I had a very deep encounter with Him in the depth of my being. I remember that I cried and cried, my tears flowed ceaselessly and I was surprised: Why do I cry? I realized that it is as when a person is condemned to death, on the way to his death, and when he is about to be killed they suddenly say: YOU ARE FREE.
From here, Philip Jenkins, in his new book, God’s Continent, writes briefly of his founding of the Neocatechumenate movement with former nun Carmen Hernandez. Jenkins explains, “The title refers to the ancient status of ‘catechumen’ that prospective members of the early Christian church enjoyed before baptism, a period of study and initiation. The suggestion is that modern Christians too need to relearn the basics of faith” (73). Argüello and Hernandez, living in the Madrid slum, began to meet with the poor of their area. Eventually, it began to form a small Christian community, “mainly composed of gypsies, illiterates, vagabonds, prostitutes, and unemployed people who were drawn by the discovery of the love Christ had for them despite their sins.”
Their little movement, termed the Neocatechumenate for its emphasis on encouraging faith in already baptized members, eventually spread around the world and now is present in some 6000 parishes. It has since been recognized by the Vatican as “a post-baptismal catechumenate,” the first of its kind in the history of the Church. Originally, the catechumenate was a path for those preparing for entrance into the Church, for baptism. But in Europe’s present situation, with so many baptized but without any living faith, the timing for such an order is ripe. Indeed, the order has “a special commitment to parts of the world experiencing dechristianization” (Jenkins, 73).