Catholic church leaders are taking a new approach to passing on the faith, saying they recognize a pressing need to do this in a way that adapts to the modern world.
This new outreach, called the Institute on the Catechism, is not a place but instead a new springboard for faith formation developed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Subcommittee on the Catechism.
It will involve catechetical publishers working directly with the USCCB subcommittee on new ways to pass on the faith using digital tools and aiming to reach a more diverse church. It will also provide resources to dioceses and yearly, in-person training conferences and retreats for diocesan catechetical leaders.
As Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, chairman of the bishops' Subcommittee on the Catechism, sees it: Catholic parishes need to re-create a "Catholic culture that recognizes we're in the 21st century. We can't go back to 1950; it's gone."
Re-creating what he describes as a "radically different model" for teaching the faith is something he has been working on with this subcommittee for the past several years.
The bishop announced the proposal to create the institute at the bishops' spring meeting last June. It will officially launch Nov. 10-12 just ahead of the bishops' annual fall meeting in Baltimore.
This new approach, starting on the 30th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, draws inspiration from Pope Francis' 2021 document "Antiquum Ministerium" ("Ancient Ministry") that described catechesis as an official church ministry. It also builds on the Vatican's Directory for Catechesis, issued in 2020, that gives guidelines for catechists and pastors particularly in the role of evangelization.
The most frequently used description for the Institute on the Catechism is evangelizing catechesis.
In explaining this to Catholic News Service Oct. 19, Bishop Caggiano said this new method will emphasize truth, beauty and goodness and it "recognizes that the passing on of the faith is no longer in a Catholic culture but in a secular and hostile culture toward Christian faith."
He said the institute's mandate is to "create multiple opportunities where a young person can encounter Christ in an ongoing way" and have the "leadership of the church and their parents accompany them."
In other words, it's not just religious education through textbook learning or even service projects but a more concentrated effort to engage young people with the church and provide role models for them with diocesan and parish resources to facilitate this. One of the hopes is that these youths will in turn reinvigorate the church.
In a previous interview with CNS about this project, catechetical consultants said the institute has the potential to change the fundamental relationship between publishers and bishops into something that's less reactive to a finished product and more collaborative.
Mike Raffio, vice president director of sales for Pflaum Publishing Group and the president of the Association of Catholic Publishers, said leading people to a meaningful encounter with Christ through catechesis and an understanding of their role in the mission of the church is something many catechetical materials attempt. "But we must admit our own limitations," he added.
"Any person's faith development is a lifelong journey. That journey, even for young people, includes so many more variables than catechetical texts can be expected to provide," he said.
Similarly, Sabrina Magnuson, a catechetical consultant for Loyola Press, said the institute's aim of forming leaders who will in turn inspire and form parents, teachers and catechists in their home diocese is a daunting prospect.
"At the end of the day, the textbook is a resource, a tool," she said. "Encounter is so much more than that."
Bishop Caggiano said about 17 bishops plan to attend the institute's launch, committing to using this new model in their dioceses, and he hopes more dioceses will join next year.
In the meantime, he said, participating dioceses will get the support they need to get this work started. It will also be a learning experience for all participating dioceses and a time to come to a deeper understanding of what parishes really need to make this work.
"It has to be the work of the Holy Spirit," he added, and he also said it will need financial support that he hopes to get from those who want to be partners in this effort.