Pope Francis installed women as well as men from all over the world as catechists and lectors on Sunday, marking a break with what had been church law reserving those ministries to men, even if women have performed those functions in many parts of the Catholic world for decades without the formal designation.

Francis conferred the ministries during a celebration in St. Peter’s Basilica of the Sunday of the Word of God, which he instituted in 2019, to encourage among all Catholics an interest in knowing the sacred Scriptures and their central role in the life of the church and the Christian faith.

The theme for this year’s celebration, which is marked globally, is, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God,” which comes from the Gospel of St. Luke.

Previously, the two ministries were reserved only to men because they were considered preparatory to receiving Holy Orders. While in most dioceses women already served as readers and altar servers at Mass, they were not formally instituted in those services on a stable basis.

In a statement earlier this week, the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization pointed out that the “well-established practice in the Church … has confirmed that lay ministries, founded on the sacrament of Baptism, can be entrusted to all the faithful who are suitable, whether male or female, according to what is already implicitly indicated by canon 230 of the Code of Canon Law, which the Pope has modified for the occasion.”

Pope Francis’ formally instituted the ministry of catechist in May 2021. It followed his decision in January to open

Victor Hidalgo Chungue (Credit: Courtesy Hidalgo.)

the ministries of lector and acolyte to women.

Victor Hidalgo Chungue hails from Peru’s Amazonian rain forest. He was in Rome this week in preparation for Sunday’s big event, as one of those who will receive the ministry of catechist from Pope Francis.

“I have been a catechist since I was 16,” he told Crux over the phone. “Until I turned 19, I was an accompanying catechist. From that moment, I’ve been leading the catechesis for the Sacraments of Christian initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist – and today, he also forms other catechists.

“The work is very good, and it’s the vocation I’ve been called to,” said Hidalgo, who lives in the Vicariate of Yurimaguas-Loreto. “For me, it is a privilege and I’m very happy at the fact that I will be receiving this ministry from the hands of our Holy Father Francis. I feel very committed to all my Church in Peru, the vicariate, and all those men and women who are catechist and dedicate themselves to evangelization.”

Candidates from Peru, Brazil, Ghana, Poland, and Spain will be made catechists by the Pope, and laypeople from South Korea, Pakistan, Ghana, and Italy will become lectors.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, celebrates the Eucharist with Pope Francis during a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican April 10. File. (Credit: Paul Haring/CNS.)

Speaking of the ceremony, Italian Archbishop Rino Fisichella, who leads the council for new evangelization, said 15 people in all will receive the ministries, most of them young people: “It’s above all the Church that once again receives the sign that the Word of God is a seed that must be brought into the world,” he said,

That’s the central dimension of the day, he said: “Make believers responsible for the process of living the transmission of the Word of God.” Individuals become responsible in the measure in which the Church succeeds in making people understand that the Word of God “touches our lives.”

Quoting St. Jerome, Fisichella argued that “the non-knowledge of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”

“The proclamation of the Word of God, the deepening, the formation of believers is as urgent as ever at this moment in history,” he said.

Hidalgo also believes that each member of the Catholic Church is called to “make an effort every day to be a little bit better.” This request, he said, comes from the fact that more often than not, lay people have “much biblical, liturgical and pastoral formation,” but nevertheless, “don’t live a life in accordance with our knowledge.”

“The role of the lay person is to announced Christ’s Good News with our lives,” he said. “Only then will come close and become a tiny bit similarly to Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Hidalgo believes that there are many catechists and lectors around the world who are “a little afraid,” or who “don’t feel encouraged to receive this ministry,” because it is a life-long commitment. He described it as “giving oneself completely to a life with God, and it is a vocation for life, not only for a few years or days.”

For this reason, he said, many catechists, lectors and acolytes are afraid. And he counts himself among those who have fears and reservations, especially with the added “pressure” of being among the first who will receive this ministry from the hands of the pope.

“However, I am going to give all that fear, that emotion, to the Lord,” he said, palpably emotional. “Because I want to look him in the eyes and tell him: Lord, here I am, do with me what you want, I am your son. Send me wherever I may be needed, wherever you might find me helpful.”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma