Pope boosts catechists

Vicki Pavalko teaches Catechesis of the Good Shepherd at St. James the Apostle Church in Pulaski. (file photo)

Pope Francis has issued a new apostolic letter that creates an instituted lay ministry of catechists, underscoring the centrality of catechesis to the evangelizing mission of the Catholic Church.

In the letter entitled Antiquum Ministerium or “Ancient Ministry,” the Holy Father embraces with appreciation the catechists who teach the faith.

Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, who leads the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, called the document, known as a motu proprio, “a step further” for lay Catholics.

“With the institution of this ministry of Catechist, Pope Francis further promotes the formation and engagement of the laity,” the archbishop said.

“This is wonderful news for all of our catechists,” said Judene Indovina, diocesan director for Catholic identity. “Pope Francis is confirming that they are essential to the Church’s mission.”

All catechists teach in collaboration with their bishops, and are commissioned through priests to educate those seeking to grow in friendship with Jesus Christ.

In the document, Pope Francis said the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments will publish “in the near future” a rite of institution for the lay ministry of catechists to be adopted by bishops “in accordance with their own local traditions.”

Indovina said it will be a unique category of catechists in support of the bishops’ work, and is expected to vary by diocese. Pope Francis wrote that national conferences of bishops will decide “the necessary process of formation and the normative criteria for admission to this ministry.”

“The formal establishment of the lay ministry of catechist by Pope Francis emphasizes in a profound way the integral role of catechesis in the work of evangelization and the importance of the sound preparation of catechists,” said Bishop William Waltersheid, vicar for evangelization.  “It underlines the necessary collaboration between the clergy and the laity in helping people to have a deepening relationship with Jesus Christ who is the Divine Teacher of truth and the way to the life of salvation.”

Darcy Osby, director of faith formation at Saint Aidan Parish in Wexford, agrees that catechists are critical to evangelization.

“We are on the front lines of spreading the Good News,” she said. “Evangelization and catechesis go hand-in-hand.

“We have catechists who have a lifelong dedication, teaching the faith for 30 or 40 years.”

“In a time of increasing secularism, catechesis and evangelization are more important than ever,” Indovina said.