Document of vocational, formative and promotional orientation
of Catechists in the territories dependent
on the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples
Vatican City 1993
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopacy,
Dearly beloved Priests,
In this historical period, which for various reasons is very sensitive and favorable, to the influence of the Christian message, the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples has maintained a special interest in some categories of people, who play a decisive role in missionary activity. In fact, after having looked at formation in major seminaries (1986) considered the life and ministry of priests (1989), our Congregation directed its attention to lay catechists, in the Plenary Assembly of April 1992.
Catechists have always had a very important role in the secular journey of evangelisation. Even today, they are considered to be irreplaceable evangelisers, as the encyclical Redemptoris Missio so rightly states. In his message to our Plenary Assembly, the Holy Father confirmed the uniqueness of their role: "During my apostolic journeys I have been able observe personally what the catechists offer, especially in mission territories, an 'outstanding and absolutely necessary contribution to the spread of the faith and the Church'" (AG 17).
The Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples experiences directly the undisputed effectiveness of lay catechists. Under the direction of priests, in fact, they continue with frankness to announce "the Good News" to their brothers and sisters of other religions, preparing them for entry into the ecclesial community through baptism. Through religious instruction, preparation for the sacraments, animation of prayer and other works of charity, they help the baptised to grow in the fervour of the Christian life. Where there is a shortage of priests, the catechists are also entrusted with the pastoral guidance of the little community separated from the Centre. Often, they are called to witness to their faith by harsh trials and painful privations.The history of evangelisation past and present attests to their constancy even to the giving of life itself. Catechists are truly the pride of the missionary Church!
The present Catechists' Guide, fruit of the last Plenary Assembly, expresses the concern of the missionary Dicastery on behalf of this "deserving band" of lay-apostles. This Guide contains a vast and precise amount of material, which covers various topics: the identity of the catechist, his/her selection, formation and spirituality; basic apostolic tasks and finally, the economic situation.
With great hope I entrust this Guide to the Bishops, Priests and to the Catechists themselves, inviting them to scrutinise it carefully and to carry out its directives. In particular, I ask Catechetical Centres and Schools for catechists, to refer to this document for their formation and teaching programmes, whilst for content they already have in their hands the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published after the Plenary Assembly.
The diligent and faithful use of this Catechists' Guide in all the Churches dependent on our missionary Dicastery, will contribute, not only to bringing about a renewed image of the catechist but will also guarantee a concerted growth in this vital sector for the future of mission in the world.
This is my sincere wish confided in prayer to Mary,"Mother and Model of Catechists", so that she may become more and more a consoling reality in all the young Churches.
The Holy Father, informed of this commitment of our Dicastery and having seen the text of the Guide, greatly appreciated and encouraged the initiative, wholeheartedly giving his apostolic blessing, most particularly to the catechists.
Rome, Feast of Saint Francis Xavier, 3rd December 1993
Jozef Card. Tomko
1. An indispensable service. The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (CEP) has always had a special concern for catechists, convinced as it is that these are, under the direction of their Pastors, a factor of prime importance in evangelization. In April 1970 it published some practical directives for catechists, and now, conscious of its responsibility and of radical changes in the missionary world, the CEP would like to call attention to the present situation, the problems that arise, and prospects for the development of this "praiseworthy army" of lay apostles. It is encouraged in this project by the many pressing interventions of His Holiness Pope John Paul II, who, during his apostolic voyages, makes use of every opportunity to stress the importance and relevance of the work of catechists as a "fundamental evangelical service".
Our task is a demanding but also a necessary and an attractive one, seeing that, from the very beginning of Christianity and wherever there has been missionary activity, catechists have made, and continue to make, "an outstanding and indispensable contribution to the spread of the faith and of the Church".
And so, having examined, in its Plenary Assembly of 27-30 April 1992, the information and suggestions that came in from a wide-ranging consultation with Bishops and catechetical centres in mission territories, the CEP has drawn up this Guide for Catechists, which treats in a doctrinal, existential and practical way the principal aspects of the catechists' vocation, identity, spirituality, selection and training, missionary and pastoral tasks, and remuneration, along with the responsibility of the People of God towards them, in today's conditions and those of the immediate future.
Under each heading we will try to give the ideals to be aimed at, along with the essential considerations, while taking account of the difficulty, in certain missionary situations, of defining who exactly can be called a catechist. The directives are deliberately given in general terms, so as to be applicable to all catechists in the young Churches. It is up to the respective Pastors to make them more specific, in keeping with the requirements and possibilities of the individual Churches.
The Guide is addressed first of all to the lay catechists themselves, but also to the Bishops, priests, religious, formators and the faithful, by reason of the strong links between the various components of the ecclesial community.
Before this Guide could see light, the Holy Father John Paul II had approved the Catechism of the Catholic Church ordering its publication. The extraordinary importance, for the Church as well as for every man of good will, of this rich and synthetic "exposition of the faith of the Church and of catholic doctrine, verified and enlightened by the Sacred Scripture, by the apostolic Tradition and by the Magisterium" is well known. Even though this is a document of different aim and content, it becomes immediately evident that the new catechism could offer some special enlightenment at different points of the Guide and, above all, that it could be a sure and authentic point of reference for the formation and for the activities of the catechists. In the final edition of the text, therefore, care has been taken to point out, particularly in the notes, the principal connections with the themes exposed in the catechism.
It is our hope that this Guide will be used as a reference book and will be a source of unity and encouragement for catechists and, through them, for their ecclesial communities. The CEP offers it, therefore, to the Episcopal Conferences and to individual Bishops as an aid to the life and apostolate of their catechists and as a basis for the renewal of national and diocesan catechetical programs and directors.
AN APOSTLE EVER RELEVANT
I. THE CATECHIST IN A MISSIONARY CHURCH
2. Vocation and identity. Every baptized Catholic is personally called by the Holy Spirit to make his or her contribution to the coming of God's kingdom. Within the lay state there are various vocations, or different spiritual and apostolic roads to be followed by both individuals and groups. Within the general vocation of the laity there are particular ones.
At the origin of the catechist's vocation, therefore, apart from the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, there is a specific call from the Holy Spirit, a "special charism recognized by the Church" and made explicit by the Bishop's mandate. It is important for the catechist candidate to recognize the supernatural and ecclesial significance of this call, so as to be able to respond, like the Son of God, "Here I come" (Heb 10:7), or, like the prophet, "Here I am, send me" (Is 6:8).
In actual missionary practice, the catechist's vocation is both specific, i.e. for the task of catechizing, and general, for collaborating in whatever apostolic services are useful for the building up of the Church.
The CEP insists on the value and distinctiveness of the catechist's vocation. Each one, therefore, should try to discover, discern and foster his or her own particular vocation .
From these premises it can be seen that catechists in mission territories have their own identity, which characterizes them in respect to those working in the older Churches, as the Church's magisterium and legislation clearly recognize .
In short, the catechist in mission territories is identified by four elements: a call from the Holy Spirit; an ecclesial mission; collaboration with the Bishop's apostolic mandate; and a special link with missionary activity ad gentes.
3. Role. Closely linked to the question of identity is that of the role of the catechist in missionary activity, a role that is both important and many-sided. Apart from the explicit proclamation of the Christian message and the accompaniment of catechumens and newly baptized Christians on their road to full maturity in the faith and in sacramental life, the catechist's role comprises presence and witness, and involvement in human development, inculturation and dialogue.
Thus the Church's Magisterium, when it speaks of catechists "in mission lands", treats the subject as an important one and gives space to it. The Encyclical Redemptoris Missio, for instance, describes catechists as "specialized workers, direct witnesses, indispensable evangelizers, who represent the basic strength of Christian communities, especially in the young Churches". The Code of Canon Law has a canon on catechists involved in strictly missionary activity and describes them as "lay members of Christ's faithful who have received proper formation and are outstanding in their living of the Christian life. Under the direction of missionaries, they are to present the Gospel teaching and engage in liturgical worship and in works of charity".
This description of the catechist corresponds with that of the CEP in its 1970 Plenary Assembly: "The catechist is a lay person specially appointed by the Church, in accordance with local needs, to make Christ known, loved and followed by those who do not yet know Him and by the faithful themselves".
To the catechist, as indeed to other members of the faithful, may be entrusted, in accordance with the canonical norms, certain functions of the sacred ministry which do not require the character of Holy Orders. The execution of these functions, when a priest is not available, does not make a pastor of the catechist, inasmuch as he or she derives legitimation directly from the official permission granted by the Pastors. However, we may recall a clarification made in the past by the CEP itself: in his or her ordinary activity, "the catechist is not a simple substitute for the priest, but is, by right, a witness of Christ in the community".
4. Categories and tasks. Catechists in mission territories are not only different from those in older Churches, but among themselves vary greatly in characteristics and modes of action from one young Church to another, so that it is difficult to give a single description that would apply to all.
There are two main types of catechist: full-time catechists, who devote their life completely to this service and are officially recognized as such; and part-time catechists, who offer a more limited, but still precious, collaboration. The proportion between the two categories varies from place to place, but in general there are far more part-time than full-time catechists.
Various tasks are entrusted to both types of catechist, and it is in these tasks that one can see the great diversity that exists between different areas. The following outline would seem to give a realistic summary of the main functions entrusted to catechists in Churches dependent on the CEP:
- Catechists with the specific task of catechizing, which includes educating young people and adults in the faith, preparing candidates and their families for the sacraments of Christian initiation, and helping with retreats and other meetings connected with catechesis. Catechists with these functions are more numerous in Churches that have stressed the development of lay services.
- Catechists who collaborate in different forms of apostolate with ordained ministers, whose direction they willingly accept. The tasks entrusted to them are multiple: preaching to non-Christians; catechizing catechumens and those already baptized; leading community prayer, especially at the Sunday liturgy in the absence of a priest; helping the sick and presiding at funerals; training other catechists in special centres or guiding volunteer catechists in their work; taking charge of pastoral initiatives and organizing parish functions; helping the poor and working for human development and justice. This type of catechist is more common in places where parishes cover a large area with scattered communities far from the centre, or where, because of a shortage of clergy, parish priests select lay leaders to help them.
The dynamism of the young Churches and their socio-cultural situation give rise to other apostolic functions. For instance, there are religion teachers in schools, teaching both baptized and non-Christian students. These can be found in government schools, where the State allows religious instruction, as well as in Catholic schools. There are also Sunday catechists, who teach in Sunday schools organized by the parish, especially where the State does not allow religious instruction in its schools. And in large cities, especially in the poorer quarters, there are lay apostles doing excellent work among the destitute, immigrants, prisoners and others in need. Such functions are considered, according to the sensibilities and experience of the different Churches, as either proper to the catechist or as a general form of lay service to the Church and its mission. The CEP considers the multiplicity and variety of these tasks as an expression of the richness of the Spirit at work in the young Churches, and recommends them all to the attention of the Bishops. It asks them to foster especially those that best respond to present needs and to the immediate future, in so far as this can be foreseen.
There is another consideration. Catechists may be old or young, male or female, married or single, and these factors should be taken into account in assigning tasks in the various cultural settings. Thus, a married man seems most indicated to be the community leader, especially in societies where men still have a dominant role. Women would seem to be the natural choice for educating the young and working for the Christian promotion of women. Married adults have greater stability and can give witness to the values of Christian marriage. The young, on the other hand, are to be preferred for contact with youth and for activities that take up more time.
Finally, one should bear in mind that, beside the lay catechists, there is a great number of religious men and women, who carry out catechesis and, because of their special consecration, are able to bear a unique witness in the capacity of their mission and consequently are called to be available and prepared in their own way for this task. In practice they take on many of the tasks of the catechist and, because of their close cooperation with the priests, often play a directing role. The CEP, therefore, strongly recommends the involvement of religious men and women, as is already the practice in many places, in this important sector of ecclesial life, especially in the training and guidance of catechists.
5. Prospects for development in the near future. The tendency in general, and one which the CEP approves of and encourages, is for the figure of the catechist as such to be affirmed and developed, independently of the tasks he or she performs. The value of catechists and their influence on the apostolate are always decisive for the Church's mission.
Basing itself on its own worldwide experience, the CEP offers the following suggestions to help promote reflection on this subject:
- Absolute precedence must be given to quality. A common problem is certainly the scarcity of properly trained candidates. The character of the catechist is of prime importance, and this must influence the criteria for selection and the program for training and guidance. The words of the Holy Father are illuminating: "For such a fundamental evangelical service a great number of workers are necessary. But, while striving for numbers, we must aim above all today at securing the quality of the catechist".
- In view of the present impetus towards a renewed mission ad gentes, the future of the catechist in the young Churches will certainly be marked by missionary zeal. Catechists, therefore, should be ever more fully qualified as lay pioneers of the apostolate. In the future, as in the past, they should be distinguished by their indispensable contribution to missionary activity ad gentes.
- It is not enough to fix an objective, but suitable means must be chosen for attaining the goal, and this holds true also for the training of catechists. Concrete programs should be drawn up, adequate structures and financial support provided, and qualified formators secured, so as to provide the catechists with a solid formation. Obviously the scale of the facilities and the level of study will vary according to the real possibilities of each Church, but certain standards should be attained by all, without giving in to difficulties.
- The cadres in charge to be strengthened. Everywhere there should be at least a few professional catechists who have been trained in suitable centres and who, placed in key posts of the catechetical organization under the direction of their Pastors, see to the preparation of new candidates, introduce them to their functions and guide them in their work. These cadres should be found at all levels - parish, diocesan and national - and will be a guarantee of the good functioning of such an important sector of the Church's life.
- The CEP expects that in the near future the work of catechists will be still further developed, and we should try to see from now how tomorrow's protagonists will act.
Special encouragement will be given to catechists with a marked missionary spirit, who "will themselves become missionary animators in their ecclesial communities and would be willing, if the Spirit so calls them and their Pastors commission them, to go outside their own territory to preach the gospel, prepare catechumens for baptism and build new ecclesial communities".
Catechists who are involved in the catechesis will have a developing future, because, the young Churches are multiplying the services of the lay apostolate, which are distinct from those of the catechists. Hence it will be of great use to have specialized catechists, for instance, those who promote christian life where the majority of the people are already baptized but where the level of religious instruction and of the life of faith is not high. Catechists should also be trained for challenges which already face us today and will become even greater in future: urbanization, increasing numbers going on to third-level education, the world of youngsters, migrants and refugees, growing secularization, political changes, the influence of the mass media, etc.
The CEP draws attention to these future prospects and the need to face up to them, while realizing that it is up to the local Pastors to see how best to go about it. Episcopal Conferences and individual Bishops should draw up a program for the preparation of catechists for the future, giving special attention to the missionary dimension in both their training and activity. These programs should not be vague, but specific and adapted to local conditions, so that each Church will have both the catechists it needs today and those that will be necessary in the near future.
II. THE CATECHIST'S SPIRITUALITY
6. Necessity and nature of spirituality for the catechist. Catechists must have a deep spirituality, i.e. they must live in the Spirit, who will help them to renew themselves continually in their specific identity.
The need for a spirituality proper to catechists springs from their vocation and mission. It includes, therefore, a new and special motivation, a call to sanctity. Pope John Paul II's saying: "The true missionary is the saint", can be applied without hesitation to the catechist. Like every member of the faithful, catechists are "called to holiness and to mission", i.e. to live out their own vocation "with the fervour of the saints".
Their spirituality is closely bound up with their status as lay Christians, made participants, in their own degree, in Christ's prophetic, priestly and kingly offices. As members of the laity, they are involved in the secular world and have, "according to the condition of each, the special obligation to permeate and perfect the temporal order of things with the spirit of the gospel. In this way, particularly in conducting secular business and exercising secular functions, they are to give witness to Christ".
For married catechists, matrimonial life forms an integral part of their spirituality. As the Pope justly affirms, "married catechists are expected to bear witness constantly to the Christian value of matrimony, living the sacrament in full fidelity and educating their children with a sense of responsibility". This matrimonial spirituality can have great impact on their activity, and it would be good for them to involve their spouse and children in the work, so that the whole family radiates apostolic witness.
Catechists' spirituality is also conditioned by their apostolic vocation, and therefore should bear the marks of: openness to God's word, to the Church and to the world; authenticity of life; missionary zeal; and devotion to Mary.
7. Openness to the Word. The office of catechist is basically that of communicating God's word, and so the fundamental spiritual attitude should be one of openness to this word, contained in revelation, preached by the Church, celebrated in the liturgy and lived out in the lives of saints. This is always an encounter with Christ, hidden in his word, in the eucharist and in our brothers and sisters. Openness to the word means openness to God, to the Church and to the world. - Openness to God Uno et Trino, who is in the most intimate depths of each person and gives meaning to his or her life: convictions, criteria, scale of values, decisions, relationships, behavior etc. Catechists should allow themselves to be drawn into the circle of the Father, who communicates the word; of the Son, the incarnate Word, who speaks only the words He hears from the Father (cf. Jn 8:26; 12:49); and of the Holy Spirit, who enlightens the mind to help it understand God's words and opens the heart to receive them with love and put them into practice (cf. Jn 16:12-14).
It is a spirituality, therefore, that is rooted in the living word of God, with a Trinitarian dimension, like the universal mission itself with its offer of salvation. It requires a corresponding interior attitude which shares in the love of the Father, who wishes that all should come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved (cf. 1Tim 2:4); which seeks communion with Christ, so as to share his own "mind" (Phil 2:5) and experience, like Paul, his comforting presence: "Do not be afraid... because I am with you" (Acts 18:9-10); which allows oneself to be molded by the Spirit and transformed into a courageous witness of Christ and enlightened preacher of the word.
- Openness to the Church, of which catechists are living members, which they strive to build up, and from which they receive their mandate. The word is entrusted to the Church, so that it may keep it faithfully, deepen its understanding of it with the help of the Holy Spirit, and proclaim it to the whole world.
As People of God and the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church requires from catechists a deep sense of belonging and responsibility, inasmuch as they are living and active members of it; as universal sacrament of salvation, it elicits the will to live its mystery and its manifold grace so as to be enriched by it and become a visible sign to the community. The catechist's service is never an individual or isolated act, but is always deeply ecclesial.
Openness to the Church expresses itself by filial love, dedication to its service and a willingness to suffer for its cause. In particular, it is expressed in the attachment and obedience to the Roman Pontiff, the centre of unity and the bond of universal communion, so also to the Bishop, the father and guide of the particular Church. Catechists should share responsibly in the earthly vicissitudes of the pilgrim Church, which is by nature missionary, and aspire with it towards the final reunion with Christ the Spouse.
The ecclesial sense that is proper to the catechist's spirituality expresses itself, therefore, in sincere love of the Church, in imitation of Christ, who "loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her" (Eph 5:25). It is an active and total love, which becomes a sharing in the Church's mission of salvation to the point even of giving one's life for it if necessary.
- Missionary openness to the world, finally - the world which is offered the salvation that springs from "that fountain of love or charity within God the Father"; the world in which historically God's Word came to live among us to redeem us (cf. Jn 1:14), and in which the Holy Spirit was poured out to sanctify men and women and gather them into the Church, to have access to the Father through Christ in the one Spirit (cf. Eph 2:18).
Catechists, therefore, will be open and attentive to the needs of the world, knowing that they are called to work in and for the world, without however belonging completely to it (cf. Jn 17:14-21). This means that they must be thoroughly involved in the life of the society about them, without pulling back from fear of difficulties or withdrawing through love of tranquillity. But they must keep a supernatural outlook on life and trust in the efficacy of God's word, which does not return to Him without "succeeding in what it was sent to do" (Is 55:11).
Openness to the world is a characteristic of the catechist's spirituality in virtue of the apostolic love of Jesus the Good Shepherd, who came "to gather together in unity the scattered children of God" (Jn 11:52). Catechists must be filled with this love, bringing it to their brothers and sisters as they preach to them that God loves and offers his salvation to all.
8. Coherence and authenticity of life. The work of catechists involves their whole being. Before they preach the word, they must make it their own and live by it . "The world (...) needs evangelizers who speak of a God that they know and who is familiar to them, as if they saw the Invisible".
What catechists teach should not be a purely human science nor the sum of their personal opinions but the Church's faith, which is the same throughout the world, which they themselves live and whose witnesses they are.
Hence the need for coherence and authenticity of life. Before doing the catechesis one must first of all be a catechist. The truth of their lives confirms their message. It would be sad if they did not "practice what they preached" and spoke about a God of whom they had theoretical knowledge but with whom they had no contact. They should apply to themselves the words of St. Mark concerning the vocation of the apostles: "He appointed twelve, to be his companions and to be sent out to preach" (Mk 3:14-15).
Authenticity of life means a life of prayer, experience of God and fidelity to the action of the Holy Spirit. It implies a certain intensity and an internal and external orderliness, adapted to the various personal and family situations of each. It might be objected that catechists, being members of the laity, cannot have a structured spiritual life like that of religious and that therefore they must content themselves with something less. But in every life situation, whether one is engaged in secular work or in the ministry, it is possible for everyone, priest, religious or lay person, to attain a high degree of communion with God and an ordered rhythm of prayer, including the finding of times of silence for entering more deeply into the contemplation of God. The more intense and real one's spiritual life is, the more convincing and efficacious will one's witness and activity be.
It is also important for catechists that they grow interiorly in the peace and joy of Christ, so that they may be examples of hope and courage (cf. Rom 12:12). For Christ "is our peace" (Eph 2:14), and He gives his apostles his joy that their "joy may be full" (Jn 15:11).
Catechists, therefore, should be bearers of paschal joy and hope, in the name of the Church. In fact, "the most precious gift that the Church can offer to the bewildered and restless world of our time is to form within it Christians who are confirmed in what is essential and who are humbly joyful in their faith".
9. Missionary zeal. In view of their baptism and special vocation, catechists who live in daily contact with large numbers of non-Christians, as is the case in mission territories, cannot but feel moved by Christ's words: "Other sheep I have that are not of this fold, and these too I must lead" (Jn 10:16); "go out to the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mk 16:15). To be able to affirm, like Peter and John before the Sanhedrin, "we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20), and to realize with Paul the ideal of apostolic ministry: "the love of Christ overwhelms us" (2Cor 5:14), catechists should have a strong missionary spirit - a spirit that will be all the more effective if they are seen to be convinced of what they say and are enthusiastic and courageous, without ever being ashamed of the gospel (cf. Rom 1:16). While the wise ones according to this world seek immediate gratification, the catechist will glory only in Christ, who gives strength (cf. Col 1:29), and will wish to know and preach only "Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1Cor 1:24). As the Catechism of the Catholic Church rightly affirms, from "the loving knowledge of Christ springs out the irresistible desire to announce, to 'evangelize' and to lead others to the 'yes' of the faith in Jesus Christ. At the same time, one also feels the need to know this faith ever better".
Catechists will try to be like the shepherd who goes in search of the lost sheep "until he finds it" (Lk 15:4), or like the woman with the lost drachma who would "search thoroughly until she had found it" (Lk 15:8). Their convictions should be a source of apostolic zeal: "I have made myself all things to all in order to save some at any cost. I do it all for the sake of the gospel" (1Cor 9:22-23; cf. 2Cor 12:15). And again St. Paul says: "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel" (1Cor 9:16). The burning zeal of St. Paul should inspire catechists to stir up their own zeal, which should be the response to their vocation, and which will help them to preach Christ boldly and work actively for the growth of the ecclesial community .
Finally, one should not forget that the stamp of authenticity on the missionary spirit is that of the cross. The Christ whom catechists have come to know is "a crucified Christ" (1Cor 2:2); he whom they preach is "Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles" (1Cor 1:23), whom the Father raised from the dead on the third day (cf. Acts 10:40). They should be prepared, therefore, to live in hope the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ in the midst of difficult situations, personal suffering, family problems and obstacles in their apostolic work, as they strive to follow the Lord on his own difficult road: "in my own body I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, the Church" (Col 1:24) .
10. Devotion to Mary. Through her own special vocation, Mary saw the Son of God "grow in wisdom, in age and in grace" (Lk 2:52). She was the teacher who "trained Him in human knowledge of the Scriptures and of God's loving plan for his people, and in adoration of the Father". She was also "the first of his disciples". As St. Augustine boldly affirmed, to be his disciple was more important for Mary than to be his mother. One can say with reason and joy that Mary is a "living catechism", "mother and model of catechists".
The spirituality of catechists, like that of every Christian and especially those involved in the apostolate, will be enriched by a deep devotion to the Mother of God. Before explaining to others the place of Mary in the mystery of Christ and the Church, they should have her present in their own soul and should give evidence of a sincere Marian piety, which they will communicate to the community. They will find in Mary a simple and effective model, for themselves and others: "The Virgin Mary in her own life lived an example of that maternal love by which all should be fittingly animated who cooperate in the apostolic mission of the Church on behalf of the rebirth of humanity".
The preaching of the word is always connected with prayer, the celebration of the eucharist and the building of community. The earliest Christian community was a model of this (cf. Acts 2-4), united around Mary the mother of Jesus (cf. Acts 1:14).
III. THE CATECHIST'S ATTITUDE TO SOME CONTEMPORARY ISSUES
11. Service to the community as a whole and to particular groups. There are various groups in the community that may require the services of catechists: young people and adults, men and women, students and workers, Catholics, other Christians and non-Christians. It is not the same thing to be a catechist for catechumens preparing for baptism as to be community leader for a village of Catholics, with responsibility for various pastoral activities, or to be a religion teacher in a school, or to be charged with preparing people for the sacraments, or to be assigned to pastoral work in an inner-city area, etc.
Catechists will try to promote communication and communion between the members of the community, and will devote themselves to the groups committed to their care, trying to understand their particular needs so as to help them as much as possible. As the needs differ from group to group, so the training of catechists will have to be adapted for the groups envisaged. It would be useful, therefore, for catechists to know in advance the sort of work they will be called to and make acquaintance with the groups concerned. Some useful suggestions in connection with this have already been offered by the Magisterium, especially in the General Catechetical Directory, nos. 77-97, and the Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae, nos. 34-35.
Special attention should be paid to the sick and aged, because their physical and psychological weakness calls for greater charity and concern.
The sick should be helped to understand the redemptive value of the cross, in union with Jesus, who took upon himself the weight of our infirmities (cf. Mt 8:17; Is 53:4). Catechists should visit them frequently, offering them the comfort of God's word and, when commissioned to do so, the Eucharist.
The aged too should be followed with special care, for they have an important role in the community, as Pope John Paul II recognizes when he calls them "witnesses of the tradition of faith (cf. Ps 44:1; Ex 12:26-27), teachers of wisdom (cf. Sir 6:34; 8:11-12), workers of charity". Families should be encouraged to keep their elderly members with them, to "bear witness to the past and instil wisdom in the young". The aged should feel the support of the whole community and should be helped to bear in faith their inevitable limitations and, in certain cases, their solitude. Catechists will prepare them for their meeting with the Lord and help them experience the joy that comes from our hope in eternal life.
Catechists will also show sensitivity in dealing with people in difficult situations such as those in irregular marriages, the children of broken marriages, etc. They must be able to share in and express the immense compassion of the heart of Jesus (cf. Mt 9:36; Mk 6:34; 8:2; Lk 7:13).
12. Need for inculturation. Like all forms of evangelization, catechesis too is called to bring the gospel into the heart of the different cultures. The process of inculturation takes time, as it is a deep, gradual and all-embracing process. Through it, as Pope John Paul II explains, "the Church makes the gospel incarnate in different cultures and at the same time introduces peoples, together with their cultures, into her own community; she transmits to them her own values, at the same time taking the good elements that already exist in them and renewing them from within".
Catechists, like all missionary personnel, will play an active part in this process. They should be specifically prepared for it, with courses on the elements of cultural anthropology and on their own culture, and should be aware of the guidelines that the Church has laid down on this matter and which may be summarized as follows:
- The gospel message, though it can never be identified with any one culture, is necessarily incarnated in cultures. From its very beginnings it was incarnated in certain specific cultures, and one must take account of this if one is not to deprive the new Churches of values which are now the patrimony of the universal Church.
- The gospel is a force for renewal, and can rectify elements in cultures which do not conform to it.
- The local ecclesial communities, which are the primary subjects of inculturation, live out their daily experience of faith and charity in a particular culture, and the Bishop should indicate the best ways to bring out the positive values in that culture. The experts give incentive and support.
- Inculturation is genuine when it is guided by two principles: it must be founded on the word of God, revealed in the Scriptures, and must follow the Church's tradition and the guidance of the Magisterium; and it must never go against the Church unity that was willed by the Lord.
- Popular piety, understood as an expression of Catholic devotion colored by local values, traditions and attitudes, when purified of defects caused by ignorance and superstition, expresses the wisdom of God's people and is a privileged form of inculturation of the gospel.
Following the above directives, catechists should contribute to inculturation by fitting into the overall pastoral plan drawn up by the competent authorities and avoiding adventures into particular experiments that might upset the faithful. They should be convinced that the gospel is strong enough to penetrate any culture and enrich and strengthen it from within.
13. Human development and option for the poor. There is a "close connection" between the preaching of the gospel and the promotion of human development. They are both included in the Church's mission. "Through the gospel message, the Church offers a force for liberation which promotes development precisely because it leads to conversion of heart and of ways of thinking, fosters the recognition of each person's dignity, encourages solidarity, commitment and service of one's neighbor, and gives everyone a place in God's plan, which is the building of his kingdom of peace and justice, beginning already in this life. This is the biblical perspective of the new heavens and a new earth (cf. Is 65:17; 2 Pt 3:13; Rev 21:1), which has been the stimulus and goal for humanity's advancement in history".
It is well known that the Church claims for itself a mission of a "religious" nature, but this has to take place, to be incarnated, in the real life and history of humanity.
To take the values of the gospel into the economic, social and political fields is a task especially for the laity. Catechists have an important role in the field of human development and the promotion of justice. Living as lay people in society, they can well understand, interpret and try to bring solutions to personal and social problems in the light of the gospel. They should therefore be close to the people, help them to understand the realities of social life so as to try to improve it, and, when necessary, they should have the courage to speak out for the weak and defend their rights.
When it is necessary to take practical initiatives in this area, they should act in union with the community, in a program drawn up with the approval of the Bishop.
Connected with human development is the question of the preferential option for the poor. Catechists, especially those engaged in the general apostolate, have a duty to make this ecclesial option, which does not mean that they are interested only in the poor, but that these should have a prior claim on their attention. The foundation of their interest in the poor must be love, for, as Pope John Paul II explicitly says, "love has been and remains the driving force of mission".
By the poor should be understood especially the materially poor, who are so numerous in many mission territories. These brothers and sisters of Christ should be able to feel the Church's maternal love for them, even when they do not yet belong to it, so as to be encouraged to accept and overcome their difficulties with the help of Christian faith and themselves become agents of their own integral development. The Church's charitable activity, like all pastoral activity, "brings light and an impulse towards true development" to the poor.
Apart from the financially deprived, catechists should pay special attention also to other groups in need: those who are oppressed, persecuted or marginalized, the handicapped, the unemployed, prisoners, refugees, drug addicts, those suffering from AIDS, etc..
14. Spirit of Ecumenism. Discord among Christians "openly contradicts the will of Christ, provides a stumbling block to the world, and inflicts damage on the most holy cause of proclaiming the good news to every creature".
All Christian communities should "participate in ecumenical dialogue and in other initiatives designed to promote Christian unity". In mission territories this task assumes special urgency so that Jesus' prayer to his Father should not be in vain: "may they be one in us... so that the world may believe it was you who sent me" (Jn 17:21).
Catechists, by their very mission, are necessarily involved in this aspect of the apostolate and should promote an ecumenical spirit in the community, beginning with the catechumens and newly baptized. They should have a deep desire for Christian unity, should willingly engage in dialogue with Christians of other denominations, and should commit themselves generously to ecumenical initiatives, keeping to their particular role and following the Church's directives as specified by the Episcopal Conference and the local BishopTheir catechetical activity, therefore, and their teaching of religion in schools should instil an openness to ecumenical cooperation.
Their activity will be truly ecumenical if they can both courageously "teach that the fullness of the revealed truths and of the means of salvation instituted by Christ is found in the Catholic Church"and also "give a correct and fair presentation of the other Churches and ecclesial communities that the Spirit of Christ does not refrain from using as means of salvation".
They should try to have good relations with catechists and leaders of other denominations, in accord with their Pastors and, when so charged, as their representatives. They should avoid stirring up useless rivalries; should help the faithful to live in harmony with and respect for Christians of other denominations, while fully maintaining their own Catholic identity; and should join other believers in working for peace.
15. Dialogue with those of other religions. Inter-religious dialogue forms part of the Church's evangelizing mission. Like preaching, it is also a way of making Christ known, and it is essential that the Catholic Church maintain good relations and contact with those of other faiths. It should be a saving dialogue, approached in the spirit of Christ himself.
Catechists, with their task of communicating the faith, should be open to this kind of dialogue and be trained to take part in it. They should be taught to realize its value and put it into practice in accordance with the guidelines of the Magisterium, especially those of Redemptoris Missio, of the subsequent document Dialogue and Proclamation, which was drawn up jointly by the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue and the CEP, and of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. These guidelines include:
- Listening to the Spirit, who blows where He wills (cf. Jn 3:8); respecting his work in souls; and striving for inner purification, without which dialogue cannot bear fruit.
- Accurate knowledge of the religions practiced in the area: their history and organization; the values in them which, like "seeds of the Word", can be a "preparation for the gospel"; their limitations and errors which are not in conformity with the gospel and which should be respectively completed and corrected.
- A conviction that salvation comes from Christ and that, therefore, dialogue does not dispense one from proclamation, that the Church is the ordinary way of salvation and that only she possesses the fulness of revealed truth and salvific means. As Pope John Paul II confirmed, while referring to Redemptoris Missio: "One cannot place on the same level God's revelation in Christ and the scriptures or traditions of other religions. A theocentrism which did not recognize Christ in his full identity would be unacceptable to the Catholic faith. (...)Christ's missionary command remains permanently valid and is an explicit call to make disciples of all nations and to baptize them, in order to bring them the fullness of God's gift". Dialogue should not, therefore, lead to religious relativism.
- Practical cooperation with non-Christian religious bodies in facing the great challenges to humanity such as the bringing about of peace, justice, development etc.. There should always be an attitude of esteem and openness towards persons. God is the Father of all, and it is his love that should unite the human family in working for good.
In taking part in such dialogue, catechists should not be left on their own but should be integrated in the community. Initiatives in this area should be undertaken in the context of programs approved by the Bishop and, when necessary, by the Episcopal Conference or the Holy See. Catechists should not act unilaterally, and especially should do nothing against the norms laid down.
Finally, one should continue to believe in dialogue, even when it seems difficult or misunderstood. In certain conditions, it is indeed the only way to bear witness to Christ; it is always "a path towards the Kingdom and will certainly bear fruit, even if the times and seasons are known only to the Father" (cf. Acts 1:7).
16. Attention to the spread of sects. The rapid spread of sects of both Christian and non-Christian origin presents a pastoral challenge for the Church throughout the world today. In mission territories they are a serious obstacle to the preaching of the gospel and the orderly growth of the young Churches, because they damage the integrity of faith and communion.
Certain regions and persons are more vulnerable and more exposed to the influence of these sects. What the sects offer seems to work in their favour, as they present apparently simple and immediate answers to the felt needs of the people, and the means they use are adapted to local sensibilities and cultures.
As is well known, the Church's Magisterium has often given warnings about the dangers posed by sects, and called for "serious reflection" in view of their rapid spread. Rather than a positive campaign against them, however, what is called for in mission territories is a renewal of mission itself.
Catechists would seem to be particularly suitable for counteracting the influence of the sects. As they have the task of teaching the faith and of fostering the growth of Christian life, they can help both Christians and non-Christians understand what the real answers to their needs are, without having recourse to the pseudo-securities of the sects. Also, being members of the laity, they are closer to the people and can know their direct and lived situations.
The preferential work-lines for the catechists should be: to study first of all what exactly the sects teach and the points on which they particularly attack the Church, so as to be able to point out the inconsistencies in their position; to forestall their encroachment by giving positive instruction and encouraging the Christian community to greater fervour; and to proclaim clearly the Christian message. They should give personal attention to people and their problems, helping them to clarify doubts and to be wary of the specious promises of the sects.
It must not be forgotten that many of the sects are intolerant and are particularly hostile to Catholicism. Constructive dialogue is often not possible with them, even though here too one must have respect and understanding for persons. The Church's position must be made clear in this and also in an ecumenical way, for the spread of the sects poses a danger to the other Christian denominations as well. Here, as in other areas, catechists should remain firmly within the common pastoral program approved by the Church authorities.
CHOICE AND FORMATION OF CATECHIST
IV. CHOICE OF CANDIDATES
17. Importance of a proper choice. It is difficult to lay down rules as to the level of faith and the strength of motivation that a candidate should have in order to be accepted for training as a catechist. Among the reasons for this are: the varying levels of religious maturity in the different ecclesial communities, the scarcity of suitable and available personnel, socio-political conditions, poor educational standards and financial difficulties. But one should not give in to the difficulties and lower one's standards.
The CEP insists on the principle that a good choice of candidates is essential. Right from the beginning, a high quality must be set. Pastors should be convinced of this as the goal to be aimed at and, even though it may be achieved only gradually, they should not easily settle for less. They should also prepare the community, and especially the young, by explaining the role of catechists, so as to awaken an interest in this form of ecclesial service. It should not be forgotten either that the community's esteem for this service will be directly proportional to the way in which pastors treat their catechists, giving them worthwhile tasks and respecting their responsibility. A fulfilled, responsible and dynamic catechist, working enthusiastically and joyfully in the tasks assigned appreciated and properly remunerated, is the best promoter of other vocations.
18. Criteria for selection. In choosing candidates, some criteria should be considered essential while others might be optional. It is useful to have a list of criteria for the whole Church, which could be referred to by those with the charge of choosing candidates. These criteria, which should be sufficient, precise, realistic and controllable, could be adapted to local conditions by the local authorities, who are the ones best able to judge the needs and possibilities of the community.
The following general considerations should be kept in mind, so that there may be a common policy in all mission areas, while respecting inevitable differences.
- Some criteria concern the catechist's person. A basic rule is that no one should be accepted as a candidate unless he or she is positively motivated and is not seeking the post simply because another suitable job is not available. Positive qualities in candidates should be: faith that manifests itself in their piety and daily life; love for the Church and communion with its Pastors; apostolic spirit and missionary zeal; love for their brothers and sisters and a willingness to give generous service; sufficient education; the respect of the community; the human, moral and technical qualities necessary for the work of a catechist, such as dynamism, good relations with others, etc.
- Other criteria concern the actual process of selection. As it is a question of ecclesial service, the decision belongs to the Pastor, which in this case usually means the parish priest, but the community should be involved in the proposal of candidates and their evaluation. At a later stage, the parish priest should present the candidates chosen to the Bishop or his representative, to confirm the choice and eventually give them their official mandate.
- There should also be special criteria for the acceptance of candidates in catechetical centres. Apart from the general criteria, each centre, in keeping with its character, will have its own requirements concerning the level of scholastic achievement needed for entry, its conditions for participation, its formation program, etc.
These general guidelines will have to be made more specific for local conditions and applied to the particular circumstances in each area.
V. PROCESS OF FORMATION
19. Need for proper formation. In order to have a sufficient number of suitable catechists for the communities, besides a careful selection, it is indispensable to stress on the training to which the quality is connected. This has often been stressed by the Magisterium, because every apostolic activity "which is not supported by properly trained persons is condemned to failure".
The relevant documents of the Magisterium require both a general and a specific formation for catechists: general, in the sense that their whole character and personality should be developed; and specific, with a view to the particular tasks they will be charged with in a supplementary way: preaching the word to both Christians and non-Christians, leading the community, presiding when necessary at liturgical prayers, and helping in various ways those in spiritual or material need. As Pope John Paul II said: "To set high standards means both to provide a thorough basic training and to keep it constantly updated. This is a fundamental duty, in order to ensure qualified personnel for the Church's mission, with good training programs and adequate structures, providing for all aspects of formation - human, spiritual, doctrinal, apostolic and professional".
It will be a demanding training program, therefore, both for the candidates and for those who have to provide it. The CEP entrusts its realization to the Bishops as part of their pastoral task.
20. Unity and harmony in the personality of catechist. In living out their vocation, catechists, like all members of the Catholic laity, "must be formed according to the union which exists from their being members of the Church and citizens of human society". There cannot be separate parallel lives: a "spiritual" life with its values and demands, a "secular" life with its various forms of expression, and an "apostolic" life with its own requirements.
To bring about unity and harmony in one's personality, certain obstacles of a temperamental, intellectual or emotional nature must first of all be overcome, and an ordered life style established. But what will be decisive will be the ability to reach into the depths of one's soul and find there the principle and source of the catechist's identity, namely the person of Christ himself.
The first and essential object of catechesis is, of course, the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the only begotten of the Father, "full of grace and truth" (Jn 1:14), "the way, the truth and the life" (Jn 14:6). It is the "mystery of Christ" (Eph 3:4) in its integrity, "hidden for ages and generations" (Col 1:26), which must be revealed. It follows that the catechists' concern should be to transmit, through their teaching and behavior, the doctrine and life of Christ. Their mode of being and of working should depend entirely on that of Christ. The unity and harmony in their personalities should be Christocentric, built upon "a deep intimacy with Christ and with the Father", in the Spirit. This cannot be too strongly insisted upon, when there is question of the catechist's role and importance in these decisive times for the Church's mission.
21. Human maturity. From the beginning it should be clear that the candidate possesses basic human qualities that can be further developed. What is to be aimed at is a person with human maturity, suitable for a responsible role in the community.
The following qualities should be taken into consideration: in the purely human sphere: psychophysical equilibrium; good health, a sense of responsibility, honesty, dynamism; good professional and family conduct; a spirit of sacrifice, strength, perseverance, etc.; with a view to the functions of a catechist: good human relations, ability to dialogue with those of other religions, grasp of one's own culture, ability to communicate, willingness to work with others, leadership qualities, balanced judgement, openness of mind, a sense of realism, a capacity to transmit consolation and hope, etc.; with a view to