Echoes. What is a catechist?. Posted on 08/12/2022
Spread of the Faith
What is a catechist?
Maureen Crowley Heil
If you were to look up the word catechist in a dictionary, you would find several different meanings. Most of us think of catechists as volunteers who teach the faith to children in our parishes. Some may think of the right people running the RCIA courses. Many of the definitions I found were in this context; we were even reminded that parents are the first catechists of children!
Fortunately, I found a dictionary online that defined the word in a way we use in missionary ministry: a catechist is a local person in a missionary district who provides Christian teaching. In fact, a catechist can be the blood of a village, especially in the absence of a priest. Beyond basic catechesis, this man or woman is responsible for Liturgy of the Word services, preparation for the sacraments, youth ministry, and much more.
Recently, the Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle, headquartered here in Boston and ministering in impoverished areas of Peru, expanded its work by launching “The St. James the Apostle School of Faith Formation.” According to Father Isaac Robles Mejia, writing in the Society’s latest newsletter, “The Society of St. James seeks to help catechists develop an experience of life with God, as well as a deeper understanding of Catholic doctrine.”
The first gatherings, held last spring, were particularly moving as many catechists had lost loved ones to the Covid-19 pandemic. They spent time sharing their painful experiences. It was also evident that after such a long period of separation, catechists needed to come out of their “pandemic mindset” and be brought back to that of working with groups. They were lucky to have a qualified animator to help them; how many of us in these difficult times could benefit from the same coaching?
Catechists will continue their studies of the Bible, Christian Initiation, Liturgy, Christology, Church Social Doctrine and more over the next three years. It is a deep commitment to the evangelization of their neighbors and friends.
While presiding over the closing Mass, Father David Costello, Superior General of the Society of St. James, said, “The catechist is the eldest brother in faith, who helps in the formation of the parish, and that is the brother who makes those who receive this service feel like members of the parochial family.”
Pray that the mission church will be blessed with more committed “elder brothers and sisters” in the faith as well as dedicated missionaries to pass it on to them.
– Maureen Crowley Heil is director of programs and development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.
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