Catechist Service supports Religious Education, Sacrament preparation

16 Oct 2020

By The Record

“And so it is: love attracts us and sends us; it draws us in and gives us to others. This tension marks the beating of the heart of the Christian, especially the heart of the catechist.”

— Pope Francis (Address to Catechists, Rome 2013)

By Dr Pina Ford

The Catechist Service supports Religious Education and Sacrament preparation for the roughly 50 per cent of Catholic primary school-aged children who are not in Catholic schools.

It is a team within the Religious Education Directorate of Catholic Education Western Australia (CEWA) with a role to create teaching resources and train Catechists so they can establish parish-based programs with the help of the parish priest.

After-school curriculum exists in most parishes and about 3500 children attend these, taught by about 400 catechists. Since 1982, about 3500 volunteers have been trained and commissioned to serve as catechists in the Archdiocese.

Pope Francis, addressing catechists early in his pontificate in Rome 2013, captured their motivation and purpose: “Where there is true life in Christ, there follows an openness to others, and so a going out from oneself to encounter others in the name of Christ. And this is the job of the catechist: constantly to go forth to others out of love, to bear witness to Jesus”.

Catechists have told us their stories of love and service. They value their training, the teaching syllabus and ongoing support. They are often surprised that being a catechist has such an impact on their personal faith.

“When I volunteered to be a catechist, I was invited to complete the training and valued learning many new teaching skills and delivery techniques. But my favourite part was the theology. It is so rewarding watching children grow in faith and relationship with God. They enjoy the programme and at times I am surprised by their insights. The programme is outstanding. Based on Scripture and Church teaching, well-balanced with activities, discussions and meditations. Parents say the children can’t wait to come to class!” Tracey shared.

“I am in a new parish in a growing suburb where many young families from different countries and backgrounds, are settling. Some may not know the Church exists, so we invite children who wish to learn about God and the Sacraments to contact us. I see the faith of the children in our care, and of their families, growing and I pray the Holy Spirit will keep leading them to us,” Sr Duyen shared.

“Being a catechist for over 20 years is one of the most fulfilling roles of my life. I share my love of God with children who are our future. The Catechist Team provide us with training, workshops, seminars, conferences and support through well-planned programmes and resources. Catechists’ love of God and the Church is enriched, our understanding of the Gospel deepened, and we are empowered to pass on our faith. Anyone who pursues their hopes of becoming a catechist will be blessed with an ongoing inner joy,” Carmen shared.

“My journey as a catechist is essentially no different to any loving relationship: you need an open heart, one ready to respond to God’s love which is more powerful, bigger and stronger than my own. Faith is not something we can do alone,” Helen shared.

“Our parish is more complete for having a catechetical ministry for children. This is an opportunity to evangelise at the local level. I feel blessed to be a catechist: sometimes the fruit of our work takes time to see but it can also be right before our eyes. Either way, there is joy,” Stephen shared.
Other WA dioceses request resources and support from the Catechist Service. The team also helps parish and school communities engage roughly 12,000 parents annually in their child’s sacramental journey by providing workshops and adult faith opportunities.

The Catechist Service is supported by the Archdiocese and by CEWA, enabling a solidly based service to develop over many years. Two core strengths are the comprehensive formation program that is offered annually, and the mandated teaching resource, Gathered in My Name.
A third, most important strength is the opportunity for collaborative relationships across parishes, Catholic schools and other Archdiocesan agencies, resulting in a strong level of trust built over many years, especially with catechists and parish priests. This trust persists through difficult times.

Catechists come forward and seek training even when the Church has been at a low ebb, with new recruits doubling in recent years. Connection and commitment have increased rather than diminish through the COVID-19 experience.

The Catechist Service acknowledges the generosity of the catechists of the Archdiocese. Their faith inspires us to offer the very best we can.

From pages 28 and 29 of Issue 27: Adult Faith Formation in the context of Healing’ of The Record Magazine