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His Em. Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos

Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy



Catechists, teachers of religion

and of the mystery of the church



Jubilee for Catechists and Religion Teachers

Rome, December 9th 2000



"... Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. But how are men to call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!" (Rom 10:13-15).


1)         Dearest catechists and religion teachers, these words spoken by the Apostle Paul to the Church of Rome – which these days welcomes you for the occasion of the celebrations of the Jubilee – are addressed to you in a particular way; inasmuch as, by the mandate received, you are the ones who communicate in a closer and more intense way the evangelizing mission of the Church.

As you well know, the last directives given by Jesus to His disciples, before the Ascension, make up a clear and unequivocal missionary mandate; in the Gospel according to Mark we read: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned...- and immediately after, the Evangelist says – And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it" (Mk. 16:15-16:20).

To begin with, I would like to stop upon the tie that unites the resurrected Christ to the Church; we have just heard: "...the Lord worked with them,"; only by using this reality as a starting point can one fully comprehend the mystery of the Church and take upon oneself the style able to express this truth; for you catechists, being in harmony with the profound mystery of the Church – its being in Christ -, is an essential characteristic, because this involves significant and multiple falls for your mission. Even Vatican Council II, at the beginning of the dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium, asserts in an eloquent way " … the Church is in Christ like a sacrament" (LG no.1: EV 1/284).


2)         Therefore, the Church does not only live in the memory and by the historical memory of Jesus, that is to say, what He said and what He did. In other terms, the disciples of the Lord, and in a particular way the catechists and those having the burden and the honor of teaching religion, do not only look at Jesus alone – and here the accent falls on the adverb only – with the intent of reconstructing the lines from a critical and historical point of view, as if dealing with one of the many personalities in history, even if surprising.

The Church, while facing the One she recognizes and professes as her Lord – He is the Domnus Iesus! -, cannot limit herself to this. If she should do this, she would be unnatural, she would give a diminished or rather an image that leads astray; on the contrary, the Church is the new people of God on the path towards the day of the Lord, she is the faithful spouse, she is the living body of Christ; therefore, a living and beating reality, and more accurately, the living organism of the Holy Spirit who is, par excellence, the Paschal gift from the crucified and resurrected Christ.

The fourth Gospel narrates how Jesus on the cross, at the moment of His death, bowing His head, breathed forth the Spirit and, again, just like the evening of the same Easter Day, once again presenting Himself alive to His disciples, at dinner, breathed the Holy Spirit upon them, ordering them to perpetuate His salvific work: "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (Jn 20:22-23).

Therefore, on Easter Day, the promise made by Jesus during the Last Supper is achieved, when He announced: "...the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (Jn 14:26).


3)         From the Church, considered as the living organism of the Holy Spirit, derive the important consequences on the way you, catechists, and you, religion teachers, must do your precious mission, the one entrusted to you. First of all, your are called upon to live and to express the greatness of the ecclesial mystery; this means growing in the theological and experienced knowledge of the Church, which is the mystery of communion originating from the Holy Spirit and, at the same time, the company of those who believe in the Resurrected Lord: the way, the truth and life.

Thus, the Church, in primis, is not an institution created by men and left to its free development; on the contrary, she is born from an event which is at the same time divine and human: Pentecost, and is the family of those who, in the mystery, but truly, are saved, through grace, from the Resurrected Lord; thus in the truest sense, she gives us the contemporaneousness with Christ who unceasingly acts in history, through the Holy Spirit: "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth... He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you" (Jn 16:13-14).


4)         The catechist, the teacher – as mentioned – is he who possesses this conscience of faith, lives it and communicates it in his mission as announcer and educator of the faith in the different specificity of the duty you have as catechists and religion teachers. Just as different as the areas you work in are: the school for teachers, who are entrusted with the job of continuing, through education and culture, the teachings begun in the family. But "what matters is to evangelize man’s culture and cultures… always taking the person as one’s starting-point and always coming back to the relationships of people among themselves and with God" (Evangelii Nuntiandi, no.20). Religion classes in schools emphasize the relationship between personal conscience and freedom with the ultimate goals, with God.  Therefore, the hour of religion in schools is the scholastic time expressly dedicated to the answer to crucial, ultimate questions, which have always resided in the heart of man, the motor of his existence: "What must I do to give worth and full meaning to my life?" (John Paul II, Letter to the youths for the Year of Youth del 1985, no.3).

You, the catechists and teachers, are those who have received the mandate and who, in the name of the Church, accomplish the duty of catechizing; that is to say – while staying close to the etymological meaning of the verb katechein -, through your lively voices, echo strongly and comprehensively the good news of Jesus Christ, the only Savior of the world, He who is the meaning and the end of all, He who is the realization and the happiness of man, to the generations of the Third Millennium of the Christian era.

And, as recalled in the Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi tradendae: "... very soon the name of catechesis was given to the whole of the efforts within the Church to make disciples, to help people to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, so that believing they might have life in His name, and to educate and instruct them in this life and thus build up the Body of Christ. The Church has not ceased to devote her energy to this task" (Catechesi tradendae, no.1: EV 6/1765).

In the light of the ecclesiological reality recalled above, and by the passage quoted from the Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi tradendae, precious indications can be drawn; in particular, we are alluding to the tight link between the Holy Scriptures, Tradition and the Magisterium, which the catechist must bear in mind when faith and his communication are in play.

In other words, catechesis cannot be reduced to a sort of Biblical exegesis for specialists, who operate apart from the Church, the only one able to guarantee, with certitude, to every man, the encounter with Christ the Savior, by overcoming all partial and subjective views of the Christian mystery.


5)         When, instead, we place ourselves outside of the ecclesial interpretation, on every page of the Bible – the Old and the New Testament - we only find ourselves, one’s culture or, more generically, the dominating thinking of one’s era. Then, the facts and persons of sacred history are no longer perceived as so many “signs”, through which the salvific plan of God evolves in history, until the day of the Lord Jesus.

Thus, the bond that unites Scriptures and Tradition should not be overlooked in any way, since it is in Scriptures and in Tradition that one finds the source of catechesis. Let us listen once more to the words of the Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi tradendae that guide our Jubilee reflection: "catechesis must be impregnated and penetrated by the thought, the spirit and the outlook of the Bible and the Gospels through assiduous contact with the texts themselves; but it is also a reminder that catechesis will be all the richer and more effective for reading the texts with the intelligence and the heart of the Church and for drawing inspiration from the 2,000 years of the Church’s reflection and life" (Catechesi Tradendae, no.27: EV 6/1826).


6)         Following this, I would like to recall what the General Catechetical Directory says with regards to the fundamental functions of catechesis, that they may be the objects of reflection during our Roman Jubilee days:

"More decisively one must go back to faith. The relationship with God, in fact, begins with faith; which on one hand is trusting adherence (fides qua), on the other, it has context (fides quae)".

Thus, even for faith – in other words, our relationship with God – what can be found on the human level has value; when one is tied by friendship to a person and has a relationship based on trust, one wishes to know more about that person; thus, without tiring, one dialogues, raising new questions on everything concerning that person, his history. The same must happen with Jesus and His Gospel.  When one reaches a deeper knowledge of faith, all of Christian life is illumined; then, one feels how essential it is to answer the questions faith raises (Cf. 1 Pet 3:15); this is the delicate question that concerns the reason-faith relationship and which catechesis must illustrate as a priority in the light of the recent Encyclical Fides et ratio.

Finally, I wish to mention the gesture with which, during the path of education to faith, one receives the symbol: while the symbol contains Scripture and the faith of the Church, the gesture of receiving expresses the commitment to new responsibilities by the catechumen with regards to his own life of faith. You, the catechists, must give this important sign its due, rich content. 


7)         A second point concerns liturgical instruction. As to this, we must not be content with only explaining the meaning of the celebrations, the sacraments or liturgy itself. We must aim at something else, that is to say, to the authentic and profound liturgical formation, without falling into arbitrariness, into personal expressions, into passing modes tied to the passing times and last ever less, into exasperated particularities since the world has become so small. Substantially, and without prejudices towards age, towards culture – while bearing in mind the possibilities and limitations of each and every one – all must be formed “for prayer, for thanksgiving, for repentance, for praying with confidence, for a community spirit and for the symbolic language..." (General Catechetical Directory, 1997, pg. 88). The catechist should not, must not give up when facing the inevitable difficulties of this job.

The third indication concerns the moral formation. In fact, the Christian Gospel has a very clear moral announcement: catechesis simply consists in transmitting the attitudes of the Master to the disciple. These attitudes: thoughts, words and behavior mark the passage from the old man to the new man, inserted in Christ. Finally, in the moral proposal, the words pronounced by Jesus will be of special importance: "I have come not to abolish them, but to fulfill them" (Mt 5:17); thus, one must clearly emphasize that the speech on the mount is not an alternative to the Decalogue; Jesus, in fact, recalls the Decalogue, impressing the great novelty of the spirit of the beatitudes.

Finally, the catechist will take great care in teaching Christian prayer, focusing on the specific, helping to discern among the many ways of meditation or of elevation of the psyche that have little or nothing in common with Christian prayer, because they do not bring to the encounter with God in Christ but, perhaps, to the encounter with one’s “ego”.

The Our Father, which reflects the filial feelings of adoration, praise, thanks, piety, request, admiration will be the starting-point for all teaching on prayer.

Finally, the gesture of the consignment of the Our Father – that is, the prayer that contains all of the Gospel within it – symbolizes the path towards the invisible but real world of prayer that, along with being a gift and a commitment, is also the best help when one finds oneself facing the most arduous pages of the Gospel or the ineffable gifts of the Grace of God.


8)         I end my reflection, on the occasion of your world Jubilee, dearest catechists and religion teachers, asking you to commit yourselves – with a renewed spirit of communion – in the new evangelization, lead so to speak throughout the three-hundred-sixty degrees, that is to say wherever man is present with his suffering and his joys, with his fears and his hopes. 

You who are called upon to be the free and courageous instruments of the new evangelization must, ever more, rediscover and live a strong bond of faithfulness and of love for the Church, mother and teacher, in yourselves and among yourselves.

My wish is that during these Roman days, where you have had the great joy of “seeing Peter”, the rock upon which Jesus Christ founded His Church, you may – purified by the grace of the Jubilee – grow in faithfulness and in love for the Church and that the love and the faithfulness to the Church may be the distinctive signs of your identity and mission as catechists and religion teachers.

Once again I wish you and all the receivers of your fundamental mission to constantly have three reference points, three illuminating lights, three regenerating loves: sacramental Jesus, the Immaculate Virgin, the Holy Father!