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VATICAN - Catechists: a pride of the missionary Church

Vatican City (Agenzia Fides) - During one of his pastoral visits to Africa, Pope John Paul II addressed the catechists of Angola, gathered in the Cathedral of Benguela, with these words that can reflect the reality of catechists in the young Churches: "Dear catechists, how great is your mission in the Church! You are a true vanguard of the laity.

Many times the consolidation of new Christian communities has depended on you, not to mention the first stone of its foundation, with the first proclamation of the Gospel to those who did not know it. If the missionaries could not be present or had to leave in a hurry immediately after the first announcement, it was you, the catechists, who supported and trained the catechumens, who prepared the Christian people for the sacraments, who taught catechesis and those of you who assumed the animation of Christian life in your towns or neighborhoods (...).

Thank the Lord for the gift of your vocation, through which Christ has called and chosen you among other men and women to be instruments of his salvation. Respond generously to your vocation and you will have your name written in heaven" (Benguela, 9 June 1992).

The latest Statistical Yearbook of the Church (2019) records that there are 3,074,034 catechists in the world. The continental breakdown, with the countries where they are present in greater number, shows the following figures: AFRICA: total 439,219 (D.R. Congo 78,921; Mozambique 56,366; Algeria 43,018). AMERICA: total 1,721,782. (North: USA 325.259; Center: Mexico 288.628; South: Brazil 510.861). ASIA: total 390,465 (India 145,877; Philippines 97,782; Vietnam 67,247). EUROPE: total 508,650 (Italy 237,717; Spain 97,822; Portugal 53,995). OCEANIA: total 13,918 (Australia 6,844; Papua New Guinea 2,574); Solomon islands 1,020).

The Second Vatican Council, in its Decree on the missionary activity of the Church Ad Gentes (n.17), cited "Likewise worthy of praise are the ranks of men and women catechists, well deserving of missionary work to the nations. Imbued with the apostolic spirit, they labor much to make an outstanding and altogether necessary contribution to the spread of the Faith and of the Church". Recognizing that "the task of the catechist is of the utmost importance", Pope Paul VI underlined the importance of their formation, "so that they can carry out their task in the best way" and suggested the opening of diocesan and regional schools, the organization of conferences and refresher courses. He then wished that "the formation and sustenance of catechists will be adequately provided by special subsidies from the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda Fide" and that suitably formed catechists will be given "the canonical mission in the public celebration of the liturgy, so that they may be at the service of the faith with greater authority in the eyes of the people".

The Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith annually allocates part of its contributions to the formation of catechists and their support in the mission territories. The latest figures indicate that some 11.5 million dollars are destined mainly to Africa and Asia, and to a lesser extent to Latin America and Oceania. The Pontifical Society of the Holy Childhood, which aims at the missionary openness of children and young people, is also constantly engaged in the formation of catechists at the local level, in the production of guides and aids for catechists and children, as well as in the creation of structures where catechetical activities can be carried out. I

n its "Guide for Catechists", the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples recognizes the importance of lay catechists. "Under the guidance of priests, in fact, they continue to announce the "good news" to their brothers belonging to other religions, then preparing them to enter the ecclesial community with baptism. Through religious instruction, preparation for the sacraments, animation of prayer and works of charity, they help the baptized to grow in the fervor of Christian life.

 Where priests are scarce, they are also entrusted with the pastoral care of small communities far from the center. They are often called to bear witness to their faithfulness by enduring severe trials and painful difficulties. Catechists are truly a pride of the missionary Church!". (SL) (Agenzia Fides, 11/5/2021)

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