BALTIMORE — As teachers of the faith, Catholic bishops recognize that their role continues to expand in the modern world.
And to help them with this work, they have established an outreach called the Institute on the Catechism, introduced last year by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, chairman of the bishops’ Subcommittee on the Catechism.
Caggiano, the subcommittee’s outgoing chairman, who gave the bishops an update on this effort Nov. 16 during their annual fall general assembly, said the institute launched its first gathering Nov. 10-12 in Baltimore in a time of formation, listening and discernment.
The gathering, which he described as the “synodal nature of the church at its best,” involved 106 participants from 24 dioceses and included 15 bishops. He said he hopes that next year even more will join in this work inspired by the Holy Spirit.
The subcommittee, which was formed more than 28 years ago to review catechetical texts, is taking on a new role to review more quickly digital resources being used now to spread the faith and to also look at other ways to creatively pass on the faith in a world often against spirituality.
The aim is for catechetical publishers to work directly with the USCCB subcommittee in new ways to pass on the faith using digital tools and aiming to reach a more diverse church. The institute also will provide resources to dioceses and yearly, in-person training conferences and retreats for diocesan catechetical leaders.
Caggiano said the institute is not a place or an office but a “process of collaboration and discernment” that recognizes that religious education no longer just occurs in the classroom and that more people need to be involved in passing on the faith especially at a time when parents of many young people do not attend Sunday Mass.
The idea is to accompany young people in their faith journey, echoing a sentiment Pope Francis often emphasizes.
If there is one obstacle the institute faces, it is the need to raise money to do this, the bishop said.
In an interview with Catholic News Service a few weeks before the bishops meeting, Caggiano said 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.
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.
Caggiano said this new method “recognizes that the passing on of the faith is no longer (happening) in a Catholic culture” but in a secular culture that is hostile “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.”