Santo Domingo (Agenzia Fides) - “The Sacraments of Christian Initiation” are the subject of a Pastoral Letter issued by the Bishops of the Dominican Republic on the occasion of the feast of the National Patron Saint, Our Lady of Altagracia on 21 January. The purpose of the message is to “encourage the members of the pilgrim Church in the Dominican Republic to live the spirituality which flows from the Sacraments of Christian Initiation". The subject was chosen for two principal reasons: the imminent celebration of the 5th CELAM general conference because “the first step of discipleship is to live the path of Christian initiation”, and in keeping with the national pastoral plan, "aimed at a process of evangelisation in the form of extended catechumenate for the whole People of God". For this year the Plan proposes as the theme "Reception" and slogan "Disciple of the Lord, accept those who are near and seek out those who are far away": the Church welcomes all to receive Christian initiation.
The Bishops trace a brief historical outline of the reality of Christian initiation in the country, "where most Catholics received Christian initiation in the family". The deep religious sentiment of the people fostered “the handing on of the basic elements of the Catholic faith " although this initiation happened according to the knowledge of the faith at the time and when where was serious shortage of priests and catechists. Later there were more catechists to pass on the elements of the faith taught to them by priests. "The constitution of the Confederation of Christian Doctrine which organised catechism centres for children and adults as well as Parish Missions, home visiting and distribution of images of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, and an increase in the numbers of bishops, priests and religious, made it possible to deepen Christian Initiation". Later the evangelising impulse of Vatican II and the rediscovery of Christian Initiation during CELAM conferences in Medellin, Puebla and Santo Domingo "increased awareness that it is a duty for Christians to live the faith".
Nevertheless much remains to be done the Bishops say. Many people are not baptised, others have received the Sacraments of Initiation but have never heard the proclamation of the faith, and "few of the baptised are aware that they belong to the Church. Few regard Christian values as elements of their cultural identity and realise the necessity of participation in the Church’s and evangelising mission". Lay people are not always led by bishops and priests to discover and mature their proper vocation". Many people receive only the Sacrament of Baptism and never consider Holy Communion or Confirmation.
The Bishops of the Dominican Republic stress the need for “processes of Christian Initiation and ongoing formation which lead to the first encounter with Jesus Christ and help to build a Christian community which generates the missionaries necessary for the world today”. The ask parishes to organise catechumenate for children and adults . "Our people must realise that the reception of these Sacraments is vital for the life of the Lord’s disciples" the Bishops say, underlining that the Church will in this way be enriched “with disciples able to build communion and ready for mission ". (RG) (Agenzia Fides 22/1/2007; righe 42, parole 574)