The catechists who teach the faith to 10,000 religious education students in the Diocese of Wilmington are being commissioned for their important ministry at parishes this Catechetical Sunday, Sept. 18.
Colleen Lindsey, director of the diocesan Office for Religious Education, recently reminded all catechists, including the parents of the students attending weekly classes, that they educate and prepare children, young people and adults “to enter the fullness of Christian life and to live as they have been taught.”
Lindsey’s reminder, in a letter to all in religious education in parishes, included Pope Francis’ job description of catechists:
“People who keep the memory of God alive; they keep it alive in themselves and they are able to revive it in others. This is something beautiful.”
In other words, directors of religious education, coordinators and their volunteer parish catechists are performing a crucial ministry, along with Catholic school teachers.
To fulfill their vocation, the U.S. bishops’ conference has given the theme for this Catechetical Sunday — “Prayer: the Faith Prayed.” The theme, Lindsey wrote, invites catechists “to a deeper study and practice of prayer for your own spiritual good and for the good of whom you serve.”
Lindsey, 30, knows whom catechists serve. She’s been a director of religious education in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and serves as a catechist now in her parish there.
Prayer is an important aspect of a catechist’s life, she said. Especially when the teacher’s job is to transmit the faith “authentically and purely” to the young.
“First-graders ask the toughest questions,” Lindsey said. “How do I transmit the faith to a 6-year-old? How do I do that without watering down the authentic teachings of Christ?”
On the parish level it’s up to the directors of religious education (DREs), coordinators and catechists to teach authentically and lead the children and adult learners “into a personal relationship with Christ,” Lindsey said. “That’s what catechesis is.”
The diocese has a curriculum-based program, “Becoming Disciples,” which specifies “core concepts” of the faith that students at each grade level are taught.
“I think our DREs do a great job,” Lindsey said. “I think they should be commended, praised and thanked way more than they are. They do tremendous things that are not noticed for the children. They really are the heartbeat of Catholic education. That goes for all catechists, adult educators, religious ed, sacramental prep, youth ministers and Catholic school teachers.
“We’re all catechists in a different capacity.”
Lindsey, in her second year heading the religious ed office, said the parents of children in religious ed need encouragement, too.
She wants catechists to be connected with the parents of their students.
“Parents do the best they can,” Lindsey said. Parish catechists should “keep them connected through their child’s faith journey in religious education.”
Lindsey’s faith journey includes three years in Catholic school, then public schooling until she attended Immaculata University, where she earned a degree in psychology. Next, she studied moral theology at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary and received her master’s degree.
Always involved in the church, Lindsey started a summer mission program to Mindo, Equador, over three summers while she attended Immaculata.
She raised money for land to grow food, and buy needed items — medicine, clothing, toiletries — for children at an orphanage run by the Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters who served there.
Living in the Andes Mountain region and experiencing the generosity of the children amid their abject poverty “strengthened my faith extremely,” Lindsey said.
“We’re all missionaries every day; we just don’t realize it. It’s how we react to people in our daily life. … I think we each have our own purpose, our own mission fulfilling what God has set forth for each of us.”
Parishes frequently look for volunteers to be catechists, so Lindsey recommends that people discern if that is where God is calling them, and then speak to the parish DRE or pastor to find out exactly what the commitment involves.
“It’s unofficially a vocation to be a catechist,” Lindsey said. Catechists lead “children, adults and parishioners into a personal relationship with Christ.”