Carmen Hernandez, co-founder of the Neocatechumenal Way, died in Madrid on July 19 at the age of 85.
Together with Kiko Arguello, Hernandez founded the parish-based faith formation programme in the 1960s as a way to deepen people’s faith and evangelise those normally excluded by society.
Hernandez, Arguello and Fr 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, on November 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 DC 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 on July 21 in Madrid’s cathedral, celebrated by Archbishop Carlos Osoro Sierra.
Pope Francis spoke with Hernandez over the phone to offer encouragement on July 1 during a private audience with Arguello and Fr Pezzi, according to a press release from the Way.
In an interview with Vatican Radio on 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.