“Called to be a Catechist,” a book recently released by the Indian Catechetical Association, discusses the role of the laity in faith education in the country. The book collects the talks delivered at the association’s 17th annual conference, held last year in Patna, and is edited by Fr. Gilbert Choondal, a Salesian priest. “The papers explore the dimensions of a catechist, including historical, religious, pedagogical, and Oriental models, as well as discussing the challenges of being a catechists today,” Fr. Choondal told CNA March 7. He said the book’s title indicates that “to be a catechist” is a “basic Christian vocation,” and the mission of all the baptized. “The papers provide a new emphasis on the identity, role, and formation of catechists,” he explained. Fr. Choondal described how the Church has placed a renewed emphasis on lay catechists since the Second Vatican Council, with numerous magisterial documents underlining the importance and training of catechists. He lamented that “in recent years, the formation and role of catechists, especially of laypersons, has taken a backseat.” Fr. Choondal made reference to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” in which he wrote, “many lay people fear that they may be asked to undertake some apostolic work and they seek to avoid any responsibility that may take away from their free time. For example, it has become very difficult today to find trained parish catechists willing to persevere in this work for some years.” Fr. Choondal recounted that the Church in India is “both blessed and cursed by parishes dominated by clergy and religious … they have also hijacked the role of laity, making the laity withdraw from active involvement in the mission.” “The Church in India has failed to train our laity or to equip them to be skilled catechism teachers,” he observed. “When I see Sunday catechesis dominated by catechists who are religious or seminarians, I feel that the Church has yet to grow.” He added that while there are in some places numerous lay catechists, they often remain “faceless ministers of the Church” and are not sufficiently recognized or promoted in many parts of India. Among the challenges facing Indian catechists, he noted first that of coordinating their training, at both regional and local levels. “Another serious problem facing Indian catechesis is isolated catechetical content,” Fr. Choondal reflected. “In this present times, especially in all the major towns and cities, we face all three ritual churches living side by side.” There are three major ritual churches which exist in India: the Latin Church; the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church; and the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. Fr. Choondal stressed that catechists in India do not have enough knowledge of the rites which are not their own, even though the three Churches are all Catholic and in communion with one another and are ultimately under the Pope. “We need to have inter-ritual training of catechists and inter-ritual catechism textbooks so that we don’t live with ignorance about the Catholic faith,” he said. “Called to be a Catechist” will serve as a guide to the modern challenges faced by catechists in India, and is published by Kristu Jyoti Publications in Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka state. It is priced at 150 rupees, or about $2.50. Fr. Choondal is chief editor of the Word and Worship Commission of the National Biblical and Catechetical Liturgical Center, an official organ of the Indian bishops’ conference.
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