Volume 100, Number 1
Recently our Chicago Spanish Language team for Spred catechist training enjoyed a virtual conference hosted by the Archdiocesan Catechetical team in Santiago Chile. Archbishop Octavio Ruiz Arenas participated from Rome, Italy where he is now the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization which has published:
The New Directory for Catechesis published on March 23, 2020 1
It would have been wonderful to have had this document when we were starting Spred for the Archdiocese of Chicago. However, thanks to the giants who helped us 2 we can now find ourselves in this new directory and discover anew our mission and our ministry.
Vocation of the Catechist
The catechist is a Christian who receives a particular call from God, which when accepted in faith, empowers the catechist for the transmission of faith and the task of initiating others into the Christian life...
The catechist who has been anointed with Holy Oils at Baptism and Confirmation relies on the Holy Spirit for two main missions:
To be a witness of faith
and to be a keeper of the memory of God.
Thankfully in Spred, we able to fulfill this mission by being a faith friend; one who accompanies others in their journey of faith. In Spred, we often call this person a Helper Catechist. This catechist is to be an expert in the art of being with another, one who accompanies a friend who has special needs. The catechist becomes a traveling companion with patience, a sense of goodness, docile to the action of the Spirit, to help others in their journey toward God. The catechist is an expert in humanity, knows the joys and hopes of others, their sadness and distress, and is able to situate them in relation to the Gospel of Jesus. (#112-113)
To accompany another in the journey of faith entails taking the other person seriously, being together, listening and understanding... to diminish loneliness, to take the sting out of discrimination, to awaken a desire to accept and respond to the love of God. (#235)
The goal of communion with Christ is only brought about by the process of accompaniment. (#3)
Our Friends with Disabilities
The Directory has a very fine section on people with disabilities. These disabilities seem to include those with developmental and intellectual disabilities, those who have hearing, visual, mobility limitations as well as those who have a multitude of human limitations including mental illness.
As for the references that apply to our friends with intellectual and developmental disabilities, we can be greatly encouraged. The Directory just assumes that our friends with special needs are educable in faith, when faith is relational and involves communion with others and with Jesus Christ. This process of building communion includes our friends with serious limitations. The document acknowledges the struggle our friends and their families have with discrimination and prejudice. These imposed limitations lead to a lack of opportunities for a full life of faith. Catechists who are devoted to catechesis with our friends with special needs are encouraged to develop opportunities for our friends to experience belonging with others, especially with those in the community of faith.
In developing a life of faith, our friends are called to the fullness of sacramental life, even those who struggle with severe limitations.
“No one can refuse the sacraments to a person with disabilities.”
Communities of Faith
It is understood that catechists who have been called to journey with our friends with special needs require their own support group of peers. Spred parish catechists form their own communities of faith. They nurture their faith during our adult preparation sessions. They become ready in this way to welcome those with special needs into their circle.
Catechesis is primarily about relationships and being in communion with one another. The Christian community is the origin, locus and goal of catechesis. The community that experiences the power of faith and is able to live and bear witness to love proclaims and educates in a natural way within this community of faith. The community of catechists form a circle in which many things happen; prayer, pastoral discernment, evaluation, plans to develop ways to open the pathways for faith. Each catechist is called to grow in moments of personal on-going formation within the community of catechists. The group of catechists is the real context in which each one can be continually evangelized. (#133-134)
Basic ecclesial communities, (such as the Spred communities,) being small help the process of faith development to be rooted in concrete, lived realities. In Spred, they have as their mission a fundamental option for the poor.
The Gospel has to be open to those who are poor, to those who need a more welcoming community, to those who must be offered a more deliberate invitation to belong. These small basic ecclesial communities are a sign of vitality within the life of the church. They are a great sign of hope for the church. They are an instrument for evangelization and a solid starting point for a new society based on a civilization of love. (#306)
The Spred catechist will walk alongside our friends with intellectual and developmental limitations wherever they may be. A decisive role is played by the catechist who is prepared to meet them in all kinds of living situations, particularly when they are living apart from their families. The Spred catechist offers unconditional acceptance. The Spred catechist has the capacity to form relationships with both clear-sightedness and mercy. (#280)
To be ready to do this, the Directory offers a schema for formation that is very supportive as we reflect on the Catechist Training required by Spred, particularly for those who have core team roles.
The basic orientation for becoming an effective catechist is to be able to assume the identity of a catechist. One has to agree to be a catechist. The catechist agrees to a sense of “knowing-how-to-be-with,” which means that the catechist receives an identity by being in relationship with others.
Being prepared to be a catechist involves becoming a witness of faith and a keeper of the memory of God. This calls for emotional maturity, inner unity and freedom to live relationships that support and enrich faith. Good formation nourishes the spirituality of the catechist so that the witness of faith comes from a life lived in faith.
With a sense of interiority in place, “knowing-how-to-be-with” becomes a natural capacity to relate in a personal way that is friendly and serene. (#136-140)
Centers for Catechist Formation
Centers for catechist formation, whether they be parochial, interparochial or diocesan have the task of providing a formation that meets the demands of the present time. Formation is to be of high quality to guarantee good pastoral awareness and service. Formation also provides opportunities to get to know and exchange ideas with other catechists. These experiences nourish ecclesial communion.
Centers of specialization, whether diocesan, interdiocesan or national or international have the objective of fostering the formation of leaders who are dedicating themselves to a long-term commitment. Their training is more demanding and takes place over a longer period of time. Those trained on this level of formation need to be ready to offer ongoing formation to other catechists. (# 154-155)
Catechesis is an essential part of the broader process of renewal that the church is called to bring about at this time. Catechesis participates according to its own nature in the effort of evangelization and is related to liturgy and social action so express an essential unity. (#1) The Directory is well worth pondering for years to come!
Sr. Mary Therese Harrington,
Spred Chicago, USA
1.Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, Directory for Catechesis, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City, 2020
2.Fr. Johannes Hofinger, S.J (Tyrol, Austria), Fr. Henri Bissonnier (Paris, France) Fr. Euchariste Paulhus (Sherbrook, Quebec) Fr. Jean Mesny (Lyons, France)
© 2013 SPRED, Special Religious Development . all rights preserved to SPRED.