In August 2020, Archbishop Julian Porteous established the ‘Order of Catechist’ for the Archdiocese of Hobart. Soon afterwards, in May 2021, Pope Francis established the ministry of lay catechist in his Motu Proprio, entitled Antiquum Ministerium, giving further confirmation and direction to Archbishop Porteous’ ‘Order of Catechist’.
Prior to Antiquum Ministerium, the role of catechist was ordinarily assigned to clergy and religious, with lay people participating temporarily in mission territories. The wonderful thing about Pope Francis’ newly-established lay ministry of catechist is that it is now a stable ministry for the laity, both men and women.
To establish this catechetical ministry, Archbishop Porteous called for interested adults to come forward with a letter of recommendation from their parish priests. Forty-five participants from across Tasmania began a two-year catechist formation program in February 2021. Over the formation period, participants were encouraged to prayerfully discern whether God was calling them to be catechists. At the completion of formation, 21 people had discerned they were called, and formally requested to be instituted as catechists.
Hobart’s catechists completed five to seven courses each, including ‘Overview of the Catholic Faith’, ‘Introduction to Scripture’, ‘RCIA and the Catechumenate’, ‘Christian Discipleship and Sacramental Preparation’ and ‘Catechetical Methodology’. Elective courses were ‘Biblical Foundations for Catechesis’ and ‘Moral Life in Christ and Catholic Social Teaching’.
The task of catechesis is, “to show who Jesus Christ is, his life and ministry, and to present the Christian faith as the following of his person” (General Directory for Catechesis, 41). As such, Hobart’s Verbum Domini Biblical and Catechetical Institute seeks to form adult members of the Christian faithful to be firmly committed disciples of Jesus Christ, who are confident and competent in transmitting the integrity of the Catholic faith and life to those enquiring about Christ, those in the process of full initiation into the life of the Church via the RCIA, and those members of the Christian faithful who seek a deeper understanding of the mystery of Christ and conversion to the person of Jesus Christ.
Catechist John Moore from the Huon Valley said: “The course addressed all those questions I had always wanted to ask and debunked many fallacies. Faith development for most Catholics tends to be piecemeal and slow – this course explores the faith systematically with the aim of equipping catechists with knowledge and confidence.”
Retirees are often interested in pursuing catechetical formation and are more available than others to commit their time to doing catechesis. Susanne Borg from Launceston said: “I had retired from a teaching career spanning 35 years and was looking for something in my life, feeling at a bit of a loss of direction. When I saw the brochure on the catechesis course, it caught my attention and after some prayer I decided to give it a go.”
When asked if the program helped her in her faith development, catechist Marie Aitken of Glenorchy said: “Undertaking this course helped me to plug the gaps I found I had in my faith knowledge which led to a deepening desire to strengthen my relationship with Christ and boosted my confidence in discussing the faith with others.”
In explaining how she discerned God’s call to become a lay catechist, Rachel Bradley responded: “I read the invitation in the parish newsletter to discern whether you were called to be a lay catechist and immediately felt excited and drawn to it. I was a little worried about the time commitment involved but when I took the decision to prayer, I just had a persistent excitement and interest about the idea. I’m keen to draw others into a relationship with Christ and this seemed like a concrete step that I could take that would help me do this. I didn’t find the time commitment too much and thoroughly enjoyed the whole process, learning lots and coming out the other end feeling much more confident.”
In his homily at the Mass of Institution, Archbishop Porteous encouraged the catechists, saying: “You stand in a line of illustrious men and women over the ages who have dedicated themselves to handing on the faith. I encourage you today to offer yourself afresh to the Lord. It is God who has called you. Pray that the Holy Spirit who has been at work in you may inspire your teaching and make it fruitful in effectively transmitting the beauty, truth and goodness of the Catholic faith.”
This was an historic moment in the life of the Church in Tasmania, and perhaps in Australia, as the first lay catechists were instituted in a stable ministry. It is such a blessing that so many have heard God’s call to participate in catechetical ministry.
Dr Christine Wood is the Director of the Office of Evangelisation and Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Hobart, as well as the Executive Chair of the Christian Initiation Australia Network, a national communication and support network for Australians who share the vision of RCIA. She has a heart for helping Catholics become more biblically literate and confident in sharing their faith in Jesus Christ with others. Christine received her theology degrees at Marquette University, Milwaukee, and Franciscan University of Steubenville, USA.
Images: Supplied, Archdiocese of Hobart
Words: Dr Christine Wood