A new formation programme for Volunteer Diocesan Catechists officially began in the Diocese of Elphin on Saturday 12 November last. Over thirty participants gathered at Summerhill College in Sligo for the first weekend of a propaedeutic or preliminary year which will lead into the three year formation programme.
The opening day began with an introduction from the Director of the Programme, Father Michael Duignan, followed by input from Bishop Kevin Doran, Bishop of Elphin. An afternoon session introducing catechesis and the work of a catechist was given by Ms Colette Furlong, who works as a full-time Catechist to the Sligo Parish Cluster. The day concluded with a celebration of the Eucharist led by Bishop Doran.
The initiative, called ‘Partners in the Gospel’, was launched by Bishop Doran in February. The programme will involve lay people being formally commissioned as official leaders of faith-based education programmes in partnership with priests and parish communities. It is the first systematic introduction of the ministry in the Diocese of Elphin.
In an information booklet on the new initiative, Bishop Doran said, “Even for people who believe in Jesus Christ, Faith is not thought of as ‘good news’. This may have something to do with the fact that, while much good work is going on in our parishes, our focus tends to be more on religious practice than on a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. If we want something to change, then we have to do something different … It seems that the time has now come to establish the ministry of catechist as part of the life of every parish community in our diocese. It would be intended to nourish the faith of those who are already active in their local Christian Community; to fan the flame of faith in those who are baptised but have drifted away from the practice of their faith and to proclaim the good news to those living among us for whom Christ and the Church remain unknown or unfamiliar.”
The training programme is part-time and spread over four years. The first year is a preliminary year where the candidates participate in a number of exploratory weekends. Over the next three years, the candidates will be offered an integrated programme of spiritual formation, personal development and formal studies leading to an accredited Diploma in Lifelong Religious Education (NQF Level 8). Alongside this, they will participate in relevant placements.
Normally, the role is a voluntary one where the person commits initially for five years to giving two to four hours of their time per week to organising and delivering various faith related programmes and opportunities.
In welcoming the initiative, Colette Furlong, Catechist in the Sligo Cluster Parishes, said, “This is such a great initiative. It provides that missing link between the ideal of lay involvement in pastoral and catechetical outreach in the diocese and the theological grounding needed to do so effectively. The thought that we might have a number of lay adults not just willing to be involved in an initiative like outreach to parents of Confirmation children, or parents preparing to have a child baptised for example, but pastorally and theologically equipped for the ministry, revives that vision. This is so welcome and so broadens our pastoral and catechetical options for the future.”
The Programme Director, Father Michael Duignan, commented, “Similar to the introduction of permanent deacons some years ago, this new venture in lay ministry is another very welcome and exciting development in our diocese. It will offer people who wish to grow in knowledge of their own faith and share that knowledge in a dynamic way with others a real and recognised opportunity to do so in partnership with the Bishop, priests and parishioners.”
For further information see www.elphindiocese.ie.