Catechetical ministry in PH facing dire challenges

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ALMOST 500 years after the arrival of Christianity to the Philippines, the Catholic Church continues to face challenges in the evangelization and catechism of Filipinos.

UST professor Clarence Batan, who leads the National Catechetical Studies (NCS) research team, lamented how catechism in the Philippines has been understood only in terms of teaching children about basic doctrines and not as a “lifelong learning” of the faith.

“When one talks about catechetical ministry as a process of understanding our faith, we seem to always be in the grade one level…. [T]hat is not what catechesis is all about. The key to doing catechesis for us is adult catechesis,” Batan told the Varsitarian.

Batan said Filipinos were merely “sacramentalized” and acquainted with religious rituals, without deepening their understanding of religion or applying the teachings of the Church in their personal lives.

“Kailangan mong gawin ‘yung rituals, pero other than the rituals, tuloy ang pag-aaral ng pananampalataya para ma-translate mo sa pang-araw-araw na buhay,” he said.

The Philippines is the fifth largest Christian country in the world, with 81 percent of its population composed of Roman Catholics.

According to NCS, a joint research project of UST and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines Episcopal Commission on Catechesis, there are 40,000 to 50,000 catechists nationwide, majority of whom are women.

Batan explained that catechists are regarded as “second-class citizens” in the Church who are compelled to engage in other Church-related activities other than their ministry as catechists.

“This is a group of volunteers who are happy, committed, satisfied, kahit hindi sila binabayaran at kahit ang dami nilangsakripisyo. Catechists really seem to play a role at the frontiers of the Church… [T]hey are fascinatingly in love with God,” he said.

Batan emphasized that the Church should give more support to the catechetical ministry in the country, which is the “focal point” of the faith.

The catechetical ministry must also be given attention in seminaries to increase awareness and support from the Church hierarchy on the needs of catechists and catechetical centers.

“Seminary formation is critical. I really don’t think that there is emphasis on catechesis. Kailangan yung CCC man lang ay kabisado ng lahat ng pari at magpapari. Kung ‘yung mga pari, hindi nila alam yung CCC, paano pa ‘yung iba,” he added.

Batan also called for a more inclusive and innovative approach in the catechetical ministry, including family catechesis, as well as liturgical, parish and community-based catechesis, wherein male and youth catechists can participate.

In a pastoral statement last Jan. 28, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) talked about the current state of catechism in the country, calling for “better and more appropriate ways of communicating the faith.”

“When people do not understand our essential doctrines as Roman Catholic Christians, we have also ourselves to blame. It could also mean we have failed in our preaching. Perhaps we have not been effective enough in our catechesis about the faith,” said the CBCP president, Archbishop Romulo Valles.

Bishop Robert Mallari, chairman of the Episcopal Commission on Catechesis and Catholic Education, said the Church needs to reach out to the marginalized, which is part of the work of the Holy Spirit.

“This project would entail a lot from us, and it will demand a lot of things from a lot of people in the Church, especially bishops,” Mallari said during the Mass for the launching of the NCS:PARI for 2021 last Jan. 28.

Calling for discernment and openness among the faithful, Mallari emphasized the need to pause and listen to catechists to see and address their situation.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “Lay people also fulfill their prophetic mission by evangelization, ‘that is, the proclamation of Christ by word and the testimony of life… [Those] who are capable and trained may also collaborate in catechetical formation.”

The National Catechetical Study 2021 Pastoral Action Research and Intervention project aims to deepen the Church’s understanding of the “catechized, catechetical ministry and catechetical centers” in the country. Eugene Dominic V. Aboy, O.P. and Mariel Celine L. Serquina

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