UPDATED – VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis offered his condolences after the death of Carmen Hernandez, co-founder of the Neocatechumenal Way.
Highlighting her love for Jesus and great missionary zeal, he encouraged members to carry on with her spirit.
In a telegram to Kiko Arguello, who, with Hernandez, founded the Way, the pope expressed his spiritual closeness and affection to Hernandez’s family and all those who “appreciated her apostolic zeal.”
“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 marginalized people,” the pope said in written message July 20.
The pope encouraged “those who are part of the Neocatechumenal Way to keep her evangelizing eagerness alive, in an active communion with the bishops and priests, while exercising patience and mercy with all.”
Hernandez died in Madrid July 19 at the age of 85 and her funeral Mass was held July 21 in Madrid’s cathedral.
Together with Arguello, they founded the parish-based faith formation program in the 1960s as a way to deepen people’s faith and evangelize those normally excluded by society.
Hernandez, Arguello and Father Mario Pezzi served as the leaders of the Way on the international level. There are Neocatechumenal communities in 120 countries across the world.
Born in Olvega, Spain, Nov. 24, 1930, Hernandez received a degree in chemistry and worked for a time at a major food company her family founded and ran. However, she soon left to join the Missionaries of Christ Jesus to do mission work abroad. She also received a degree in theology.
Inspired by the work of the Second Vatican Council, Hernandez then spent two years in Israel deepening her understanding of Scripture and the importance of catechesis.
Back in Spain, she met Arguello and — both inspired by Blessed Charles de Foucauld — they sought to be present among the poor, according to Vatican Radio.
Though she normally turned down honorific titles and awards, Hernandez — together with Arguello — accepted an honorary degree from the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. in 2015, in recognition for “their devotion to the poor and the good work they have done for the church,” according to the university website.
Her funeral Mass was to be held July 21 in Madrid’s cathedral, celebrated by Archbishop Carlos Osoro Sierra.
Pope Francis spoke with Hernandez over the phone to offer encouragement July 1 during a private audience with Arguello and Father Pezzi, according to a press release from the Way.
In an interview with Vatican Radio 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.