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bookmark_borderASIA/CHINA – Promote lay catechists to be witnesses of Christ in today’s society

Cheng Du – To train lay catechists so that they are “Christians of the new era” and witnesses of the Lord in today’s Chinese society: these are the objectives of the VI Formation Course for lay catechists active in the 7 dioceses of Si Chuan Province, mainland China. Due to the pandemic, the number of participants was limited to 60. The course was held at the Major Seminary of Si Chuan from October 11 to 17.
In the light of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter Antiquum Ministerium which establishes the ministry of the catechist, the participants attended lectures on various topics: catechism, Church teaching, liturgy and sacraments, Catholicism in China, Chinese cultural tradition and the inculturation of religion in China. Fr. Li Zheng Gang, from the diocese of Nanchong, presented Antiquum Ministerium, highlighting the important role played by catechists throughout the history of the Church in China and also in the life of the Church today, motivating those present to a greater sense of responsibility in evangelization. Father Huang Yi Liang, professor at the seminary, illustrated the contribution of missionaries to the development of liturgical life and the translation of the catechism into Chinese. Other priests discussed the seven sacraments and shared their pastoral and catechetical experience. Sister Chiara Duan, from the Pastoral Formation Center of the Diocese of Xi Chang, accompanied the spiritual journey of prayer of the catechists.
Fr. Tong Heng Jiu, executive vice-rector of the Si Chuan Major Seminary, encouraged the participants by welcoming them with these words: “May the cradle of vocations that is the Seminary, arouse in you, catechists of basic ecclesial communities, the missionary zeal and kindles a strong desire to be Christians worthy of the name of disciples of Jesus”.
Finally, he wished that catechists bring the fruits of their formation to the numerous brothers and sisters of the community, of society where they live and bear witness to their faith.

bookmark_borderASIA/HOLY LAND – Latin Patriarchate and University of Bethlehem collaborate to train catechists and fight unemployment among Palestinian youth

Bethlehem – In the Holy Land, the pandemic crisis, among the side effects caused by Covid-19, has also resulted in a sharp rise in unemployment rates that have particularly affected young Palestinians. Faced with this emergency, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the University of Bethlehem are trying to launch concrete initiatives that take into account the real material and spiritual factors, which condition the future of the young Palestinian generations.
In this regard, the two ecclesial institutions have just signed two “agreements” of collaboration to launch professional and catechetical-spiritual training initiatives reserved in particular for young people from the Palestinian ecclesial communities. The first “agreement” provides for the realization of a project aimed at increasing the professional skills of boys and girls and encouraging the creation of job opportunities for young people who attend the parishes of the Latin Patriarchate and those managed by the Custody of the Holy Land in the West Bank. The second “agreement” aims to train, in a qualified manner, Christian teachers who teach catechism and Christian doctrine courses in Christian schools in the West Bank, through training courses carried out under the supervision of the Catechetical Office of the Latin Patriarchate, in partnership with the faculty of religious studies of the University of Bethlehem. The various projects launched under the two “agreements” – signed at the end of August at the University of Bethlehem – will be implemented thanks to the financial support of the Porticus Foundation and the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher. The two “agreements” – underlines Peter Bray, of the Brothers of Christian Schools, Vice Chancellor of the University of Bethlehem – are particularly close to the heart of the staff who head the academic institution founded in 1973, at the behest of Pope Paul VI, in the city where Jesus was born: “as we are about to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the foundation” explains Brother Bray in a video released by the Christian Media Center in Jerusalem, “let’s go back to the reason why the University of Bethlehem began: to serve the Palestinian people through education”.

bookmark_borderAFRICA/LIBERIA – Catechists in Africa: reference point for Christians of small communities

Foya – “In Africa I would never have been able to carry out my missionary service without the help and support of so many catechists”, said Fr. Walter Maccalli in reference to the Motu Proprio “Antiquum ministerium” of May 10, 2021, with which Pope Francis established the ministry of catechists.
The priest, a missionary of the Society for African Missions , in the note sent to Fides, explained what the catechist does in the African Church. “They are the point of reference for Christians in small communities, since they live in close contact with them and animate Sunday celebrations when the missionary are unable. For example, in Angola, during the long civil war, catechists always remained on the spot, even when priests and nuns had to abandon their missions for security reasons. They gave proof of their faith, despite the danger and persecution”, underlines Fr. Maccalli. “They never stopped the work of evangelization, they continued to give Christian formation and assistance to the faithful, even in precarious conditions, in isolated villages in the forest, in the neighborhoods of the displaced people, or in refugee camps beyond the Angolan borders”.
As evidence of the irreplaceable role of catechists, the SMA missionary remembers one, Estêvão Tomais, born two years before 1961, the year in which the Angolan liberation war began. “He was destined to die because he was mestizo – he says. In fact, his father was Portuguese. He was saved by his Angolan mother, who fled to the forest. Catechist by vocation and responsible for the communities scattered in the large parish of Nambuangongo, he has become the faithful collaborator of the missionaries. He is still today the formator of new community leaders, to whom he teaches liturgy and how to explain the Bible”.
“The Angolan Catholic Church owes a lot to catechists for the incalculable contribution they have made to evangelization over the forty years of the war – said Fr. Walter. The impact of the words of an African catechist on the Christians of their communities is very strong, certainly greater than that of us European missionaries. As a connoisseur of local culture and traditions, his word is a stimulus and encouragement to live the Christian faith in those situations in which the Gospel comes into conflict with certain ancestral practices and mentalities. They know how to synthesize the many good things that exist in the African tradition and the novelty of the announcement of Jesus”
“Here in the mission of Foya, in Liberia, where I am now – concludes Fr. Walter – in our parish we can count on a catechist sent to us by the diocese. Among the various services offered, he prepares adult catechumens for Baptism, exercises an itinerant ministry in the villages, for catechesis and liturgy in the local language, the Kissi, as well as helping to restore peace in families and villages where conflicts have arisen”.

bookmark_borderAMERICA – Catechists: evangelizing force of the Church, especially in this period

Brasilia – Several countries in Latin America celebrate “Catechist’s Day” every August 21, on the occasion of the feast of Saint Pius X, who was the editor of the “Major Catechism”. This year the publication of the Apostolic Letter “Antiquum Ministerium” with which Pope Francis establishes the lay ministry of the Catechist has given a greater impetus to the appointment and the initiatives related to it, despite the limitations still in force due to the coronavirus pandemic. In Brazil, on the last Sunday of August of each year, the Church remembers catechists with gratitude and affection, recognizing the importance of this ministry at the service of evangelization. This is explained in the note from the Episcopal Conference sent to Agenzia Fides. In a video, on behalf of the Brazilian Episcopate, the Archbishop of Curitiba and president of the Episcopal Commission for Biblical-Catechetical Animation, Monsignor José Antônio Peruzzo, expresses his gratitude for the catechetical ministry, for the vocation of the catechist and for freedom and availability to give an answer to Jesus. “Even if they are in another part of the world, they will remember your person and your testimony as a catechist. If when giving catechesis, in addition to the passion for catechism there is also the joy of following the Lord, they will never forget the testimony given”, emphasizes Bishop Peruzzo. In the video, the Archbishop highlights that “catechesis and catechists are an evangelizing force of the Church in Brazil”, but here it is not about greatness, but about being “chosen, called and sent”. “Catechist, with great gratitude and affection, I want to tell you that one day the Lord Jesus will give you a big hug, a big hug of gratitude for having accepted and dedicated time and intelligence, affection and creativity, everything so that the name of the Lord Jesus be understood and loved. May the Lord multiply the blessings for you, dear catechists, for the blessing they are for the Church”, concludes Monsignor Peruzzo. In addition to the video, the Biblical-Catechetical Animation Commission also sent a Letter to catechists throughout Brazil. On Catechist Day, the Auxiliary Bishop of Bogotá, Monsignor Pedro Salamanca Mantilla, as president of the Commission of Catechesis and Biblical Animation of the Episcopal Conference of Colombia, addressed a special greeting to the catechists of the country, thanking them for the service they provide within the Church: “It is an essential, fundamental service, which consists of accompanying people so that they strengthen their adherence to the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, become more and more conformed to Him, and become decisively incorporated into the life of the Christian community”. The bishop stressed that, if this ministry did not exist, the Church could not fully fulfill her evangelizing task and also reiterated the urgent need for the presence of catechists in the current context that humanity lives. “At this time, this service is indispensable, because there are many people who have not met Jesus Christ, who have not had the joy of meeting him, and people who, having known Jesus Christ, are not yet on the path of growth to maturity. of the human being in Christ. That is why we need you”, he said. Before, families passed on the faith to younger generations, but today many families are no longer able to do so, because their members have other priorities or “they have not received the joy of the Christian proclamation”; furthermore, “the social environment tends to values different from those of the Gospel”. On the occasion of the National Catechetical Day, on August 18, the community of catechists of the diocese of Tacuarembó, in Uruguay, shared a celebration meeting via zoom convened by the diocesan bishop, Monsignor Pedro Wolcan and the Catechetical Commission. The meeting was attended by catechists from the four pastoral areas of the diocese and some priests. Two face-to-face trainings will be held shortly, one on September 17 in Tacuarembó and another on September 18 in Rivera. Also in Paraguay, the diocese of Mercedes proposed to the catechists of Soriano and Colonia to celebrate Catechist Day by sharing a moment of prayer in virtual mode, extending participation to the families of the catechists. Led by the Bishop of Mercedes, Monsignor Carlos Collazzi, the participants thanked God for the ministry received and prayed for each other and for the health situation that the country is going through. In Asunción, Chile, the national Catechist Song contest was launched for Catechist Day organized on Sunday, August 22. “This is your opportunity to create a song that represents catechists and their evangelizing mission in the formation of missionary disciples”, the organizers encouraged.

bookmark_borderASIA/INDONESIA – Young people become catechists by choice: a gift for the Church

Jakarta – Many young Catholics in Indonesia are committed to a special training and study program to become catechists. Those who come from families with much greater financial possibilities will go to university or be able to pursue higher education. Many others, although they come from families experiencing financial difficulties, can choose the path of formation to become catechists, which is not closed to anyone, since the Church considers it a ministry and a vocation.
Fides has collected some stories and experiences of catechists in Indonesia. August G. Thuru, a catechist in Denpasar, Bali, began his professional career as a teacher in various high schools. Years later, he continued his catechism training school in Madiun and later in a specialized Pastoral Institute in East Java.
“Since 1983, I have been a volunteer catechist at St Anthony’s Parish Church in Baturaja, Bali”, says Thuru, 65, who now lives in Flores, East Nusa Tenggara province. He has been doing the same job since he was a student in East Java, conducting pastoral catechism activities in various East Java logos between 1988 and 1990.
He then worked at a radio station in Padang, West Sumatra, and at a local newspaper in Bali, but Thuru still devotes himself personally as a fully trained catechist in Bali, “since 1999 without receiving any salary from the Church”, he adds.
Another story is told by Suwandi, a catechist from Sukakarya, Bengkulu province, in the Archdiocese of Palembang . Born in Central Java, Suwandi was brought up by his parents who emigrated to South Sumatra in the early 1960s. The opportunity to become a recognized and employed catechist was presented to him for the first time by a Dutch missionary priest in Palembang who motivated him to become a teacher.
He was then sent by the missionary priest to Malang to study pastoral care and catechism and then assigned to Bengkulu to begin his pastoral work as a catechist.
Riding a motorcycle in the middle of a dense forest, from central Bengkulu to dozens of different places in the province, was a precious experience for Suwandi, who came to know and share the gospel with people in many villages. “Many friends have helped me or even offered me hospitality in their homes”, Suwandi tells Fides, who is employed by the local Church, doing this job full-time. “Faith is a serious challenge”, says Suwandi, who lived it “on the road”, because in Bengkulu, where many palm plantation workers live in rural areas, catechism is offered “accommodating” them with usual lives of these low-income workers.
“Accidentally encountering wild animals on my travels is a normal experience”, says Suwandi. For both Thuru and Suwandi, becoming catechists was “a religious vocation to serve others”: their primary task is to prepare young people for baptism and confirmation.
A different story is shared with Fides by Francis Xavier Rickoloes Pricorianto, a professional geologist from the diocese of Bogor, in West Java. After years of working experience in remote areas with mining companies, of a national or international character in different areas of the country, Pricorianto was “called” spiritually to participate in a two-year training program on the Holy Scriptures. Animated by this training, students are motivated to become evangelizers for others in their social community. Enthusiastic, Pricorianto offered to help Msgr. Paskalis Bruno Syukur as an “evangelizer”.
“Since last year, I have been officially commissioned by the diocese of Bogor to teach catechism to people who are preparing for baptism and confirmation”, Pricorianto told Fides. Many challenges are encountered in carrying out this spiritual mission in Bogor: “It happens quite often that members of my catechism class leave the program due to an unforeseen event such as moving to another city, the annulment of a marriage or abandonment of the training course without any notice”. There we see the zeal of the catechist who approaches each of the participants, showing special personal attention, made up of understanding, empathy, consolation, comfort, hope.

bookmark_borderASIA/MYANMAR – Amid violence and difficulties, catechists bring forward the missionary work

Myitkyina – Bringing the Gospel “to the ends of the earth”: with this spirit, 72-year-old catechist John NgwaZar Dee continues his missionary work that has been going on for 50 years.
John NgwaZar Dee is the first catechist of the indigenous Lisu tribe of the diocese of Myitkyina, in the Kachin State, in Northern Myanmar. He was the first missionary in Zang Yaw, a remote place in the territories of the parish of Putao under the diocese of Myitkyina. When he arrived in the village, between the Lisu and Rawang indigenous people, he began to read the Gospel and talk about the salvation that Christ Jesus gives, addressing people who had never heard of him. To reach the village you have to walk for 15 days along rough and stony paths. The parish priest of the church of Putao hardly manages to reach that inaccessible area, sometimes not even once a year, given the long journey. But despite the distance, catechist John when he was younger visited the village 14 times, sowing the Gospel. Thanks to his missionary zeal and his example of life, almost all the inhabitants of the village and neighboring villages, attracted by the message and figure of Christ, asked to be baptized and embraced the Catholic faith. John recalled that from 1969 to 1970 he attended, with other young people, the training institute for catechists run by the missionaries of San Colombano. “It was a hard and difficult journey and some of my classmates dropped out; it is difficult for us catechists to find a livelihood, to survive”, he says in a note sent to Fides by the diocese of Myitkyina. “But I have a simple conviction: whenever I’m in difficulty I believe that God is with me and I turn to Him. He is my refuge”, says John, recounting how, in difficult times of widespread violence in Myanmar, the pastoral and catechetical activities continue and it is precious because it gives consolation and hope to the people who suffer.
“I often repeat to myself Jacob’s words: If we accept good from God, why shouldn’t we also accept evil?”, he explains. “God provides and does not abandon his people. The Lord gives me strength. I do not work for the praise of men but for the Kingdom of God. People sometimes praise you and sometimes despise you. But the Lord is faithful, loves and always forgives”, he notes. For the faithful of ethnic Lisu and Rewang, catechist John is a solid point of reference.
In his constant catechetical work, which lasted many years, he never wanted any reward from them: “The reward is given to me by the Lord. So far I do not even own a house. The house I live in now is not mine, but I do not care because the Lord is with me”, he says. His testimony is also precious for young people. Young Catholics and volunteers look to him and go to remote villages to carry out health education, education and pastoral animation activities for the little ones. They are the so-called “zetaman”, or “little evangelizers”, characteristic figures of the Catholic Church in Myanmar: these young volunteers reach isolated villages, in inaccessible areas, in rural and mountainous areas and stop there. They share the life of the community for a few days, spend a lot of time with the children, in a style of presence made of love, friendship and simple sharing of life. If asked, they give testimony of their faith, tell who they are and how the encounter with Jesus changed their lives. The “zetamans”, present in all the dioceses of Myanmar, are at the service of the weakest and most abandoned humanity. Thanks to figures such as catechist John NgwaZar Dee, the Churches ask their young people to donate at least three years of their life for a service to the diocese as “zetaman”, to be sent as young missionaries in difficult situations, in the mountainous villages, among people in conditions of extreme poverty, in the midst of armed conflicts. Hundreds of young people thus carry out a precious work of evangelization and human promotion that makes the presence of the Church felt “to the ends of the earth”.





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