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Catechist, A Missionary Agent

Pope Francis’ latest reforming move represents what some commentators call a “shake-up of a too clericalized church,” a cultural change within the Catholic Church opening up to lay ministries, such as lector and acolyte for women and now catechist.

From now on, the role of catechist will be regarded as a ministry thanks to the latest directive of Pope Francis that instituted the ministry of catechists in the Catholic Church. Bishops should look for suitable candidates and offer them solid formation, insisting on the secular character of their ministry. 

This is an overdue recognition that comes after years of deliberations on the task of catechists that never materialized. In 1972, St. Pope Paul VI had encouraged bishops to institute the ministry of catechists in their dioceses. 

With the publication of the apostolic letter Antiquum ministerium (ancient ministry) last May, Pope Francis has finally recognized the work of lay people in the transmission of faith, giving greater visibility to the mission of the laity and making the catechist a true missionary agent. 

We may tend to think that the Church is opening up to the ministries of lay people because of lack of priests. However, the underlying reason is theological in nature. It has to do with the baptismal principle that shows the co-responsibility of all believers in the task of proclaiming the Gospel and building up the Church. 

The ministry of catechists goes way back to the New Testament times. Namely, the First Epistle to the Corinthians refers to “teachers” within the early Christian community. In the document instituting the ministry of catechists, the pope recalls the critical role the catechists played in the missionary expansion of the Church. 

I am a witness of the extraordinary job catechists carry out in the evangelization of Africa. They are authentic leaders and animators of communities, with full responsibility over the pastoral care of the faithful in coordination with the priests and missionaries. 

With few resources, catechists in Africa carry the Gospel and the Kingdom of God forward with hope, faith, and love to far-flung regions. Without them, evangelization in Africa would not have been so successful and would not have had the impact it has had. In this sense, I agree that they are the ‘heroes’ of evangelization in Africa.   

Pope Francis’ latest reforming move represents what some commentators call a “shake-up of a too clericalized church,” or in other words, a cultural change within the Catholic Church opening up to lay ministries, such as lector and acolyte for women and now catechist. The role of catechist will be seen as a vocation at the centre of the life of the Church. 
 


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