Dear reader, in our last article on witnessing to Christ, the Prophet, Priest and King, after the examples of the Uganda martyrs, we began a series of topics to promote the three pastoral Commissions of the Church i.e, the Teaching, Sanctifying and Governing Commission respectively.
This time we pick a topic from the Teaching Commission. In this Commission or Ministry are catechists and we, before the birth of the saviour shade some light on the challenges facing the identity, formation and ministry of catechists today. Wouldn’t this be a good Christmas Card to you dear Catechists?
Most of us catholics are very proud of our faith and the related rituals. But do we equally remember with gratitude the catechists, who in and out of season gave all it could cost them to instruct us in our faith, especially in preparation for the first sacraments like, Baptism, the Eucharist, Confirmation etc? For those who do and those who do not, let me sum up our Christmas gift and thanks to them through this article!
I am still deeply moved by the compelling words of the prophet of our time, Pope Francis during his recent pastoral visit in Uganda. At Munyonyo he addressed Catechists and Teachers: Thank you for your dedication, your example, your closeness to God’s people in their daily lives, and all the many ways you plant and nurture the seeds of faith throughout this vast land…!
Such a gratitude remineded me of the identity, ministry, challenges and Formation of catechists today. We are asking ourselves: how can we re-commit ourselves in an effective way to empower our catechists during their formation Today?
Avery Dulles claims that the single most dramatic shift that has occurred within the Church since Vatican II has been the shift from a static, institutional model of being Church to a missionary-minded evangelistic self-understanding Community of believers. Yes, we are living in a time where the Papacy is writing such documents as the Gospel of Joy and calling for New Evangelization, thus moving from a faith of Habit to a personal living experience of the Saviour.
This is why we re-examine the Formation of the Catechist, one of those few trusted, reliable and stable agents of Evangelization in the Local Church in Africa!
At Munyonyo Pope Francis reiterated: …I know that your work, although rewarding, is not easy. So I encourage you to persevere, and I ask your bishops and priests to support you with a doctrinal, spiritual and pastoral formation capable of making you ever more effective in your outreach. Indeed any aspect of quality formation today, calls for formation by presence, simplicity and objectivity in dialogue plus the clarity of the Mission ahead.
I feel prone to calling the term Catechist a relative one, in that, it immediately reminds me of Catechism as the content or the book, Catechetical Instructions and Catechesis as that on-going formation in the mysteries of our faith. Rightfully, this is the Ministry of explaining these mysteries to the people of God is at the core of the Church’s Teaching Ministry, after Jesus Christ Himself, the Prophet.
Those of us who throw a glance at the office of readings, in the Breviary (or on internet), one will note, that in the early Church, the Catechists were the Bishops themselves! By the coming of the first Missionaries here in Uganda, the Priests themselves were the Catechists. Then the Ministry shifted from priests, to the religious, from the religious to the person today called a catechist. But, also now, when catechists go for further training, on coming back to their parishes or communities, the majoriy preffer being more itinerary in giving workshops at the diocesan or deanery level to staying in their parishes or communities for Catechism!
What a Challenge to us Bishops, Priests, Religious, Christian Communities and Catechists, regarding this Teaching Ministry? Although such les-affaires record transpires, the most trusted and reliable Person to Instruction others in the faith, for a given time e.g. a year or more is still the Catechist!
I begin with the Christian Community because the principal contributors to the first stages of Formation are the families which, animated by the spirit of faith and love and by the sense of duty, become a kind of initial Formation-Milieu.
The suggestion that anyone can be a catechist should be scrupulously avoided in all communication involving the recruitment of catechists. In consultation with the parish catechetical leader, the pastor should assist the candidate in the discernment of the vocation to be a catechist.
Allowed to think outside the box or outside the common round, it would be the Christian Community, to Recruit, Train and Retain their catechist. In recruiting, they propose suitable candidates for formation to the Parish Priest, in Training, they support the Formation and in Retaining; if need be that the catechist comes back to serve the same community.
The Christian Community should be able to spell out some particular challenges for which they need the Catechist’s particular focus during his formation e.g. Catechesis for Infancy, the Youth etc.
The ministry of priests, deacons, and religious, in union with the active participation of the lay faithful in pastoral life, especially the Catechist, serves as a leaven to transform day-to-day life.
The daily life of a Catechist compliments the Pastoral Ministry of the Priest. He/She is more informed, lives in, works with and also takes leisure time with the community.
No wonder Pope Francis at Munyonyo said: Together with the bishops, priests and deacons who are ordained to preach the Gospel and care for the Lord’s flock, you, as catechists, play an outstanding part in bringing the Good News to every village and homestead in your country. Truly, catechists are more permanent in their Communities than the Clergy. Often, catechists are Married and thus speak more from experience about Family Pastoral: Women, Men, Children, Youth etc than a Priest.
At times, catechist have more needs than the Clergy, yet their commonly only source of income is the Catechetical Ministry. Catechists be motivated and monitored in self-sustenance through viable projects. Normally they have their families as the Manpower. This should be done in coordination with the Diocesan Catechists’ Offices. And the Catechists‘ Appointments should be commensurate to their quality of formation and or performance.
The instruments provided for catechesis cannot be truly effective unless well used by trained Catechists, who are formed to be creative in the Ministry. Thus the adequate formation of catechists cannot be overlooked. Consequently, diocesan pastoral programs must give absolute priority to the formation of lay catechists. We live in an age of hope. This is not a groundless euphoria but a confidence that God continues to grace the Church with challenges that urge us to reach deep within our lived experience of Jesus.
In the words of Pope Benedict XVI: Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction (Deus Caritas Est §1).
During Formation (on-going) the observations or recommendations of the Christian Community, of the Priests, of the Catechist himself/herself and of the Formators themselves should be merged for an objective package during Formation.
We believe that the ministry of catechesis is a work of the Holy Spirit, a work that he alone can initiate and sustain (CT, no. 72). Knowing that we cannot accomplish the mission of catechesis alone, the Church largely depends on the generosity of our catechetical leadership and catechists. I strongly affirm that lay catechists should be recognized, respected and loved by their Communities, Clergy and Formators. They should be supported in their formation and encouraged and helped to accomplish a task which is indispensable but far from easy. Theirs is a genuine service through which God in Christ continues His work of Mercy and salvation in the world .
In this spirit, which also is the atmosphere of this year of Mercy, we continue to pray with Pope Francis for Catechists at Munyonyo: May Saint Andrew, your patron, and all the Ugandan catechist martyrs, obtain for you the grace to be wise teachers (and catechists), men and women whose every word is filled with grace, convincing witnesses to the splendour of God’s truth and the joy of the Gospel!
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you dear Catechists, your families and friends!
Pastoral Commissioner, Kampala Archdiocese