Pray with the Pope: Viva, Catechists! Viva!
Intention: Let us pray for the catechists, summoned to announce the Word of God: may they be its witnesses, with courage and creativity and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
We Catholics do not normally preach on trains or on street corners. We still preach the Gospel through our schools, especially our primary schools, but in places where such schools no longer exist, the parish catechist is the last evangelist standing. Of course, the parish priest preaches the Gospel every Sunday, but he is normally addressing older people who are “fixtures” in the church. He is involved in maintenance rather than mission.
The priest’s preaching should normally also touch those in the adult converts’ programme, but the RCIA candidates get most of their knowledge of the faith and inspiration through the lay or religious catechists who accompany them through the course. They also draw inspiration from one another.
Sometimes evangelisation is just turning up. Parish clergy sometimes neglect simply to turn up and encourage their catechists at their work. Often pastoral leadership is just about showing your face. Father doesn’t have to be pivotal at every event he attends, but his simple affirmation, just by looking in and speaking a few words of encouragement, can be of immense value to catechists and their students. Father can also offer support by using the pulpit to persuade parents to make sure that their children attend catechism classes. He must show that he thinks catechism is important, vital even.
The credibility of catechists lies greatly in their volunteer spirit. Catechists are not in it for anything except for the joy of passing on the faith. No one ever became wealthy by being a parish catechist. “You received without charge; give without charge”, is what characterises their lives and vocations. And, incidentally, their example should be something that those clergy who tend to charge steeply for everything they do may reflect on when considering their own credibility as witnesses to the Gospel!
Support and honour
To face a class of lively primary kids or worldly-wise adolescents, week after week, certainly takes courage and creativity. Again, it is incumbent upon the leadership to help catechists by building up their confidence and creativity through professional formation. Make sure that they have the resources for the task. Do they have decent teaching spaces and is there adequate stationery freely available, or is this left up to them? Is there an adequate supply of suitable textbooks? Is there some kind of annual ceremony or event in the parish to honour catechists?
Catechists are the unsung, heroic evangelists of the Catholic Church. Most Catholics received the gift of faith through the ministry of a catechist. Most of us can remember our catechists and some of the things they said years ago. How many of us remember what our parish priest said last Sunday?
That the work of teaching catechism is a vocation and ministry in its own right has been recognised by Pope Francis in his apostolic decree of May 11, 2021, in which he established the lay ministry of the catechism teacher (it was briefly explained in the “Your Question Answered” pages in the July issue). Underlying this decree, titled Antiquum Ministerium (Ancient Ministry), is a recognition of the inestimable work done by lay catechists in Africa and other missionary regions.
It is worth remembering that the growth in the Catholic Church in the last two centuries in Africa is the largest and fastest in the Church’s history — and that it was greatly due to the work of zealous lay catechists, some of whom, like Bl Benedict Daswa, gave their lives for the Gospel.
Francis hopes that the ministry of catechist will be promoted as a vocation in its own right. Viva catechists, viva!