A Message from the Bishop – A ministry to teach as Jesus did

Catechists pray at the Diocesan Religious Education Convocation at Paul VI High School, Haddon Township, on Sept. 17. Photo by James A. McBride
Catechists pray at the Diocesan Religious Education Convocation at Paul VI High School, Haddon Township, on Sept. 17.
Photo by James A. McBride

Last Sunday the Church in the United States observed Catechetical Sunday. Each year those involved in catechetical ministry are commissioned or officially designated by their parish as catechists, Teachers of the Faith. These women and men give of themselves so that their students, who include children, teenagers, young adults and adults, can know Jesus Christ and His Church. This faith-filled enterprise happens in parish religious education programs, small faith sharing groups, the RCIA, Catholic schools, summer religion programs and sacramental preparation. The work or ministry of a catechist is critical for the present and future life of the church. It is a ministry to teach as Jesus did and to lead students to know, love and serve God in the Catholic Church.

In my name and in the name of all the faithful in the Diocese of Camden, I thank our catechists and assure them of our prayers. Your ministry is of utmost importance to the church.

Last Saturday, hundreds of catechists came together for a day of reflection, learning and training. Doctor Saundra Kennedy, herself a catechist, delivered an inspirational talk and encouraged the audience in the challenges that are faced in the ministry of catechetics. A variety of workshops on practical topics were presented to assist those who instruct in the faith with ideas and skills needed for the work. The program was received with great enthusiasm by the catechists.

The first teachers of faith are parents. The role of the catechist is to expand what the child learns at home. A challenge is that it cannot be assumed that parents are providing for the religious formation of their child. I find it shocking that some catechists tell me that there are children who arrive in first grade religion class who do not know how to make the Sign of the Cross. It is a sacred duty of the parents to teach their child how to pray, what to pray and when to pray.

The theme for Catechetical Sunday this year was Prayer: the Faith Prayed. Prayer reminds us that we are connected to God who loves us and with whom we can have a relationship. This is what a child learns from observing his or her parent praying, especially, by regular family participation at Sunday Mass. The parent also teaches their child the traditional prayers, such as The Sign of the Cross, The Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary. The catechist can build on the faith foundation that the parents create. However, if the parents are not attending to what they promised at Baptism, to raise the child in the faith of the church, then the work of the catechist suffers.

Last Saturday I attended the annual parish festival at Saint Charles Borromeo in Sicklerville. There were about a thousand parishioners present for the Sunday Vigil Mass which was celebrated in the outdoor prayer garden. The numbers of families who were present was impressive. It is impressive to see families praying the greatest prayer, the Holy Mass, which was then followed by a parish picnic, games for the children, sharing potluck suppers, food trucks, and all sorts of festivities. At that Mass I installed parish catechists in my role as the chief catechist in the diocese, and the Faith was prayed by all who were present.