Pope Francis today reminded catechists that they are called to be missionary disciples and he recalled the important role that catechists played in his personal faith.
The Holy Father’s remarks came when he met representatives of the European bishops’ conferences who are responsible for catechesis. They were in Rome for a Vatican meeting organized by the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization on “Catechesis and Catechists for the New Evangelization.”
“Catechesis … isn’t an abstract communication of theoretical knowledge to memorize as if they were formulas of mathematics or chemistry,” the Pope said. “It is, rather, the mystagogical experience of all those that learn to encounter brothers where they live and work, because they themselves have encountered Christ, who has called them to become missionary disciples.”
Believing in the vital role of catechists, the Holy Father issued a motu proprio called Antiquum Ministerium on May 11, 2021, instituting the ministry of catechist.
Signed by the Holy Father on May 10, the liturgical memorial of Saint John of Avila, priest, doctor of the Church and a great catechist who effectively communicated the faith “in a simple and accessible way,” the motu proprio was published in numerous languages today, and for the first time, also in sign language by the Vatican Publishing House, the LEV.
In today’s talk, Francis made it clear that catechists not only have an important role in the Church but for him personally. He recounted how two catechists made a difference in his life.
“I remember with love the two catechists that prepared me for my First Communion, and I have continued the relationship with them as a priest and also, with one of them who is still alive, as Bishop,” the Pope remembered. “I felt a great respect, also a sentiment of gratitude, without making it explicit, but it was felt as an admiration.
“Why? I felt it because they were the women that prepared me for my First Communion, together with a Sister. I want to tell you this experience because it was a beautiful thing for me, to accompany them until the end of their life — both. And also the Sister, who prepared me for the liturgical part of Communion: she died, and I was there, with her, accompanying her. There is a closeness, a very important bond with catechists.”
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The Holy Father’s Address
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning and welcome!
I receive you with pleasure, on this occasion in which you have had the opportunity to exchange views as those responsible for the catechesis of the local Churches in Europe, on the reception of the new Directory for Catechesis, published last year. I thank H.E. Monsignor Rino Fisichella for this initiative that I’m certain will extend also to the Episcopal Conferences of the other Continents, so that the common catechetical path is enriched by the many local experiences.
I have just returned from the celebration of the International Eucharistic Congress, held in Budapest in the past days, and the occasion is favorable to verify how the great commitment of catechesis can be effective in the work of evangelization if one’s gaze is fixed on the Eucharistic mystery. We cannot forget that the privileged place of catechesis is, in fact, the Eucharistic celebration, where brothers and sisters get together to discover increasingly the different ways of God’s presence in their life. I like to think of that passage in Matthew’s Gospel where the disciples ask Jesus: “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” (26:17). Jesus’ answer manifests clearly that He has already planned everything: He knew the course a man would follow with a jar of water, he knew about the large, upper room of the house already furnished (cf. Luke 22:10-12); and, without saying it, He perceived what was in the hearts of His friends regarding what would happen in the coming days.
The initial words with which He sent them were: “Go into the city” (Matthew 26:18). This particular — thinking of you and of your service –, makes us reread the path of catechesis as a moment through which Christians, that are preparing to celebrate the summit of the mystery of the Faith, are sent to go first “into the city,” to meet the people, busy in their daily commitments. Catechesis — as the new Directory underscores – isn’t an abstract communication of theoretical knowledge to memorize as if they were formulas of mathematics or chemistry. It is, rather, the mystagogical experience of all those that learn to encounter brothers where they live and work, because they themselves have encountered Christ, who has called them to become missionary disciples. We must insist on it to point out the heart of catechesis: Jesus Christ Risen loves you and never abandons you! This first proclamation must never find us tired or repetitive in the various phases of the catechetical path.
Therefore, I instituted the ministry of the catechist. They are preparing the ritual for the “creation” – in quotation marks – of catechists. So that the Christian community feels the exigency to awaken this vocation and to experience the service of some men and women that, living of the Eucharistic celebration, feel more vividly the passion to transmit the faith as evangelizers. The man and woman catechists are witnesses that put themselves at the service of the Christian community, to support the deepening of the faith in the concrete dimension of daily life. They are people that proclaim the Gospel of mercy without tiring; people capable of creating the necessary bonds of reception and closeness that enable to taste better the Word of God and to celebrate the Eucharistic mystery offering the fruits of good works.
I remember with love the two catechists that prepared me for my First Communion, and I have continued the relationship with them as a priest and also, with one of them who is still alive, as Bishop. I felt a great respect, also a sentiment of gratitude, without making it explicit, but it was felt as an admiration. Why? I felt it because they were the women that prepared me for my First Communion, together with a Sister. I want to tell you this experience because it was a beautiful thing for me, to accompany them until the end of their life — both. And also the Sister, who prepared me for the liturgical part of Communion: she died, and I was there, with her, accompanying her. There is a closeness, a very important bond with catechists.
As I said last Monday in the Cathedral of Bratislava, evangelization is never mere repetition of the past. The great evangelizing Saints, such as Cyril and Methodius, as Boniface, were creative, with the creativity of the Holy Spirit. They opened new ways, invented new languages — new “alphabets,” to transmit the Gospel, for the inculturation of the Faith. This requires to be able to listen to the people, the peoples to whom one proclaims: to listen to their culture, their history; to listen not superficially, thinking already of the ready-made answers that we have in our bag, no! To truly listen, and to compare those cultures, those languages, also and especially what is not said, not expressed, with the Word of God, with Jesus Christ living Gospel. And I repeat the question: is this not the most urgent task of the Church among the peoples of Europe? The Continent’s great Christian tradition must not become a historical find, otherwise, it’s no longer “tradition!” Tradition is either alive or it isn’t. And catechesis is tradition; it is to hand over but a living tradition, from heart to heart, from mind to mind, from life to life. Therefore, be passionate and creative, with the thrust of the Holy Spirit. I used the word “ready-made” for the language, but I’m afraid of catechists with a “ready-made” heart, attitude, and face. No. The catechist is either free or he is not a catechist. The catechist lets himself be struck by the reality he finds and transmits the Gospel with great creativity or he is not a catechist. Think well on this.
Dearests, through you I would like to have my personal gratitude reach the thousands of women and men catechists of Europe. I’m thinking in particular of those that, beginning in the coming weeks, will dedicate great commitment to children and youngsters preparing to complete their course of Christian initiation. But I think of each and all. May the Virgin Mary intercede for you, that you may always be helped by the Hoy Spirit. I accompany you with my prayer and with the Apostolic Blessing. And you too, please, don’t forget to pray for me. Thank you!
© Libreria Editrice Vatican
[Original text: Italian] [Exaudi’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]