BRAINTREE, Mass. (OSV News) -- When Boston Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley first met the co-initiators of the Neocatechumenal Way, Kiko Argüello and the late Carmen Hernandez, he was struck by the intense nature of their interactions, which — no matter how blunt or "irrepressible" — he came to realize were a manifestation of the genuine affection they had for one another.
"Carmen's job was always keeping Kiko grounded, and she did that with great expertise," Cardinal O'Malley said. "And Kiko was always very grateful for that. ... He realized the importance of her witness to him."
During the Jan. 7 presentation of the English edition of Hernandez's "Diaries: 1979–1981" (Gondolin Press), the prelate compared the "spiritual alliance" between Argüello and Hernandez, a servant of God, to that of St. Francis and St. Clare, or that of St. Benedict and his sister, St. Scholastica -- both pairs of saints were paramount in the transmission of great charisms in the history of the church.
Founded in Spain in the 1960s, amid the shanty towns of Palomeras Altas near Madrid, the Neocatechumenal Way was defined by St. John Paul II as "an itinerary of Catholic formation."
Cardinal O'Malley called Hernandez the midwife for the birth of the Neocatechumenal Way, which has over 21,000 communities worldwide according to its website. The cardinal said that it also has about a million members, 100 seminaries, "and (is) preparing for the evangelization of China."
"Who is doing that?" the cardinal asked the more than 200 people gathered at the Archdiocese of Boston's Pastoral Center in Braintree, Massachusetts.
He went on to cite Hernandez's nurture and love of community, constant meditation on the word, and intense Christo-centric spirituality as an essential part of her contribution to the life of the Neocatechumenal Way.
Cardinal O'Malley, who is episcopal moderator for the Neocatechumenal Way for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said these elements "forged the holiness of this fascinating woman, whose interior journey has been eloquently recorded for posterity in the diaries she left us as a window into her soul."
Also featured on the panel were Carlos Metola, postulator of Hernández's cause for sainthood; Bishop Peter Baldacchino of Las Cruces, New Mexico; and Claudia Gennarini, who, alongside her husband, Giuseppe, has overseen the Neocatechumenal Way in the United States for more than 40 years. The three of them knew Hernandez personally before her death in 2016.
Metola, who traveled from Madrid for the event, delved into the contents of the book, a compilation of almost daily entries between 1979 and 1981, in which Hernandez details moments of intense frustration and doubts about her mission, as well as her struggles with insomnia and sometimes tense relationship with Argüello.
Entries in which she expresses profound consolation and spiritual intimacy with Jesus Christ amid those sufferings also abound.
"In many pages (of the book), you'll find, 'My Jesus, I love you. Come, come, help me,'" Metola said.
He also acknowledged that "the language (Hernandez) uses is hard" and that her entries are often marked by a "gloomy, dark tone."
"Hers is the voice of a suffering woman who complains," Metola said, adding, "But, at the same time, it's an expression of prayer — a true prayer."
For her part, Claudia Gennarini said that the silence of God that Hernandez perceived was "part of the vocation that God gave her to participate in the total poverty of Christ, in which she had to entrust her life totally to her beloved."
"In her silence, she taught us how to suffer," Gennarini said. "And I think the mission of this book is to teach us how to suffer."
In his remarks, Bishop Baldacchino recounted how he learned of the Neocatechumenal Way in his native Malta as a teenager; years later, he heard Hernandez speak at a vocational meeting during World Youth Day 1989 in Santiago, Spain, which he said "got me thinking about my life and sowed the seeds of my vocation to the priesthood."
"Carmen was a woman of few words, yet a very profound theologian whose words carried convincing power that clearly came from God," he said.
Born in 1930 in Ólvega, Spain, Hernandez's cause for sainthood was officially opened in Madrid, the place of her death, by December 2022. The request to first open her cause was made July 19, 2021, exactly five years after her passing. Metola also confirmed that a medical committee is studying two reported medical miracles attributed to Hernandez's intercession that occurred in the U.S.
When her cause was formally opened, Hernandez was given the title "Servant of God." The next major step in her cause would be a Vatican declaration of Hernandez's heroic virtues, giving her the title "Venerable." Next would come beatification and then canonization. In general, these last two steps each require verification of a miracle having taken place through the sainthood candidate's intercession.
At the end of his remarks, Cardinal O'Malley said Hernandez was "truly a missionary disciple, a faithful friend of the divine master."
"We look forward to the day when the church formally acknowledges her heroic virtue and incredible contribution to the life and the mission of our church," Cardinal O'Malley said.