The vital role of Catechists in the Church

Last May, Pope Francis established the ministry of catechists (Antiquum ministerium). Fr Walter Maccalli SMA, who has served as a missionary in the Ivory Coast, Liberia and now in Foya, Liberia, speaks for all missionaries when he says, “In Africa I would never have been able to carry out my missionary service without the help and support of so many catechists”. Fr Walter was praising this initiative of the Pope, in a letter he sent to FIDES, the News Agency for the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of the Faith.

Fr Walter explained what the catechist does in the African Church. “They are the point of reference for Christians in small communities, since they live in close contact with them and animate Sunday celebrations when the missionary is unable. For example, in Angola, during the long civil war, catechists always remained on the spot, even when priests and nuns had to abandon their missions for security reasons. They gave proof of their faith, despite the danger and persecution”, underlines Fr Walter. “They never stopped the work of evangelization, they continued to give Christian formation and assistance to the faithful, even in precarious conditions, in isolated villages in the forest, in the neighborhoods of the displaced people, or in refugee camps beyond the Angolan borders”.

As evidence of the irreplaceable role of catechists, Fr Walter remembers one, Estêvão Tomais, born in 1959, two years the Angolan liberation war began. “He was destined to die because he was mestizo. His father was Portuguese. He was saved by his Angolan mother, who fled to the forest. Catechist by vocation and responsible for the communities scattered in the large parish of Nambuangongo, he became the faithful collaborator of the missionaries. He is still today the formator of new community leaders, to whom he teaches liturgy and how to explain the Bible”.

Catechist reading at Mass in Bouca parish outstation, Benin Republic Copyright Isidro Munoz-Cobos.JPG

“The Angolan Catholic Church owes a lot to catechists for the incalculable contribution they have made to evangelization throughout the forty years of war. The impact of the words of an African catechist on the Christians of their communities is very strong, certainly greater than that of us European missionaries. As a connoisseur of local culture and traditions, his word is a stimulus and encouragement to live the Christian faith in those situations in which the Gospel comes into conflict with certain ancestral practices and mentalities. They know how to synthesize the many good things that exist in the African tradition and the novelty of the announcement of Jesus”.

“Here in the mission of Foya, in Liberia, where I am now”, concludes Fr Walter, “in our parish we can count on a catechist sent to us by the diocese. Among the various services offered, he prepares adult catechumens for Baptism, exercises an itinerant ministry in the villages, for catechesis and liturgy in the local Kissi language, as well as helping to restore peace in families and villages where conflicts have arisen”.

With thanks to FIDES (1/9/2021)

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