Once again, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels was filled to capacity as more than 2,000 catechists received their official certification marking the completion of leadership courses in religious education at the Sept. 14 Service of Prayer & Commissioning.
Catechists young and old, from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, stepped before Archbishop José Gomez to be presented with the certificate that represented years of study, dedication and enlightenment. Many — smiling and with tears in their eyes — then waved to family and friends in the pews.
For Mary Rose Toll, it was a journey of more than 10 years to this climatic moment. A parishioner at St. Mary Church in Palmdale, Toll started the Master Catechist program a decade ago, but she missed too many classes and had to start all over again. “But it’s O.K.,” she said. “I wasn’t ready for it then, but I am now!”
In the formation process, coordinated by the Office of Religious Education, Toll learned so many things about her faith that she didn’t know, even being raised in a traditional Catholic family. “The program is like a deconstruction and then reconstruction of the faith,” she said. “It helped me to open my mind, especially the theology classes and the writing.”
Some callings take catechists outside of their local parish. Paula Van Houten, from Holy Family in South Pasadena, has worshipped weekly for five years with the Central Juvenile Hall Catholic Ministry in East Los Angeles. Enrolled in the Catholic Bible Institute for three years, Van Houten was eager to learn how to facilitate Bible studies in a bilingual setting.
“I hope to continue to do Bible studies with the other volunteers at Juvenile Hall,” she said, adding that the program has inspired her to enroll in a master’s degree at Mount St. Mary’s College.
After Mass at Juvenile Hall, Van Houten and her fellow volunteers gather together for Bible study. She also organizes two choirs there (boys and girls) for Sunday Masses. “Their hearts are really open, they love to sing about Jesus,” says Van Houten of the detainees. “But many are hurting so much. They are really hungry for peace and for the Lord.”
Some made the formation journey with spouses. Daniel Nunez of Epiphany Church in South El Monte studied at the Institute Biblico for his two-year certificate alongside his wife, Raquel Marisol Mendez.
“I want to continue to study and take theology classes in college,” said Nunez, who credits his wife for encouraging him to join the program. The experience, he said, was wonderful for his marriage, with the couple engaging in many after-class discussions on the topic of the day.
“We talked a lot about the Old Testament because really we know so little about it, and a lot about other religions, and how similar they are to ours.”
In his homily, Archbishop Gomez expressed his gratitude for the new catechists and stressed the importance of their work.
“In the Gospel we heard, Jesus sends us out on our mission, the new evangelization, to make disciples of all nations, to teach all what Jesus commanded and to bring men and women to new life as children in the family of God,” he said. “These words are addressed to you and to everyone of course in the Church.”
Everyone is called to be missionary disciples, said the archbishop, and that zeal must come from a “passion for the Gospel and a passion to share the good news and teachings with others.
“The best sermon is the sermon we preach with our lives,” he continued. “Yes, we need the kind words to get the message across, but we need the right actions. We must be that testimony to others about the beauty of the Gospel.”