ASIA/INDIA - A Directory on the identity, formation and role of lay catechists, who bring the first proclamation of the faith

Monday, 18 September 2023 catechists   local churches  

New Delhi (Agenzia Fides) - Their favorite means of transport is often the bicycle. Sometimes, when it is possible, and when the distances are too large, they travel by motorcycle, if the parish has one available. These are the catechists who, in all the dioceses of the Indian Church, play an important role: they are the ones who regularly visit the faithful in the villages and show the attention and pastoral care of the Church to groups of Catholic families, sometimes very few in number, scattered in remote areas, where priests rarely manage to arrive. This is the case, for example, in the diocese of Rayagada, in the state of Odisha (once also known as Orissa), where there are 50,000 Catholics out of a total population of around 5.5 million people. The Catholic faithful come from the poorest and most socially excluded sections of society, and many of them live on subsistence agriculture and have no education. The diocese's approximately 30 catechists follow and accompany these tribal families on their journey of faith, even covering considerable distances. This scenario is common to many other local realities, where the ministry of the catechist is precious for the parishes. It is with this in mind that the Conference of Latin Rite Bishops of India (CCBI) has published the "Directory of Lay Catechists", a document which contains indications on the identity, training and role of lay catechists: those involved in the formation process Sunday for children and teenagers, traditionally present in Indian parishes; those who are engaged in the Sunday formation course for children and young people, traditionally present in Indian parishes; those who do catechesis in schools or parishes, with other groups of young people or adults; those who are full-time catechists, engaged in mission areas. Mgr. George Palliparambil, Salesian Bishop of the Diocese of Miao, President of the Commission for Catechesis of the Conference of Latin Rite Bishops of India, noted that "the Directory for Lay Catechists is a set of guidelines on the vocation and mission of lay catechists, in application of the apostolic letter Antiquum Ministerium, published on May 10, 2021 by Pope Francis, which made this "ancient ministry" relevant for our times. "It is important that Bishops, clergy and faithful can know and fully understand the identity and mission of the catechist today", noted Father Stephen Alathara, Deputy General Secretary of the CCBI, stating that it is necessary "to help parish priests choose lay catechists, to ensure their training and to give them a specific role in pastoral and missionary work, to ensure their training and to give them a specific role in pastoral and missionary work , because they help to strengthen the faith of Christians and to bring new people to the faith, participating - as men and women of faith - in the Church's mission of evangelization. The Pope gives them the mandate to 'go out' and proclaim the Gospel. Often in our reality, it is the lay catechists who actually bring the first announcement of the faith to ordinary people, to those who do not know Christ," he noted. Particularly in communities where there is no resident priest nor men and women religious, "catechists are essential points of reference for communities, guiding and animating the faithful in prayer and works of charity". This service therefore sometimes involves dangers, because catechists may be threatened, chased or suffer violence from people who consider them “foreigners” in their territory. The Directory of the Indian Church, receiving and applying the Apostolic Letter Antiquum Ministerium to the local Indian reality, intends to reorganize the institution and pastoral service of the catechist, including in his legal and administrative position within the local Churches, without clericalizing his role and duties, but recognizing him as an indispensable figure within the community. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 18/9/2023)