WelCom August 2021
In May this year, Pope Francis announced the establishment of the new lay ministry of Catechist, intended ‘to respond to an urgent need for the evangelisation of the modern world, and undertaken in a ‘secular’ manner, avoiding clericalisation’.
Bishop of Hamilton Stephen Lowe, Secretary of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference (NZCBC), said since the Pope’s announcement, the bishops have received many questions about the formation of the new lay catechists and how the ministry will link to lay pastoral workers.
‘These are all questions the bishops will have to study in the months ahead,’ he said. The New Zealand Catholic bishops will discuss the new ministry in depth at their next meeting (31 October–4 November,
Pope Francis announced the new lay ministry of Catechist in Antiquum Ministerium (Ancient Ministry) in a motu proprio (apostolic letter). The ministry is intended to give formal recognition of ‘those lay men and women who feel called by virtue of their baptism to co-operate in the work of catechesis’.
The ministry of Catechist has ancient origins, going back to the New Testament. It is mentioned, for example, in the Gospel of Luke and in St Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians and Galatians.
‘The history of evangelisation over the past two millennia,’ writes Pope Francis, ‘clearly shows the effectiveness of the mission of Catechists,’ who have ‘devoted their lives to catechetical instruction so that the faith might be an effective support for the life of every human being’ – even to the point of sacrificing their own lives.
Since the Second Vatican Council, there has been a growing awareness that ‘the role of Catechists is of the highest importance’ (Ad gentes, 17) for ‘the development of the Christian community’.
Every Catechist, says Pope Francis, ‘must be a witness to the faith, a teacher and mystagogue, a companion and pedagogue, who teaches for the Church’. All this is possible, he says, ‘only through prayer, study, and direct participation in the life of the community’, so that catechists can grow in their identity and in ‘the integrity and responsibility’ that identity entails.
Receiving the lay ministry of Catechist, in fact, ‘will emphasise even more the missionary commitment proper to every baptised person,’ writes Pope Francis, ‘a commitment that must, however, be carried out in a fully “secular” manner, avoiding any form of clericalisation.’
The motu proprio says local bishops’ conferences will determine the necessary process of formation and the criteria for admission to the new ministry.
Bishop Lowe says Aotearoa New Zealand already has a rich history of katekita Māori (Māori Catechists) going back to Bishop Pompallier.
‘The local Church also has a rich lay involvement and leadership, which includes parish leadership and pastoral workers in various forms according to the local context,’ he said. ‘The bishops’ discussion will also involve the ministries of lector and acolyte, which are now available to lay men and women.’
Sources: NZCBC, Vatican News
Pope Francis’ motu proprio announcing new lay ministry: tinyurl.com/Lay-Ministry-Catechist