Address by Bishop Bill Murphy at launch of Share the Good News – the first National Directory for Catechesis in Ireland

05 Jan 2011

5 January 2011

Address by Bishop Bill Murphy at launch of Share the Good News – the first National Directory for Catechesis in Ireland

The Second Vatican Council, in the decree Christus Dominus on the pastoral office of Bishops, proposed that a “Directory on the Catechetical Teaching of the Christian People” should be composed.  This request was repeated in the First Synod of Bishops in Rome in October 1967.  The General Catechetical Directory was issued in April 1971 by the Congregation of the Clergy which has responsibility for catechetical matters.  In the meantime National Catechetical Directories had been issued in France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria and Italy – some of them even before the end of the Council.

In the early 70s the need for catechetical texts in Ireland at primary and post primary level was so urgent that it was felt that the preparation of a National Catechetical directory was a luxury that we could not afford to wait for.  Therefore the Syllabi and texts produced in Ireland in the intervening 40 years drew inspiration from the General Catechetical Directory of 1971, Catechesi Tradendae of 1979 and the General Directory for Catechesis of 1997.

Share the Good News deals very comprehensively with all aspects of catechesis at primary and post primary level: e.g. content of catechesis, catechetical programmes, religion as a subject in State examinations, training and qualifications of religion teachers, supports for teachers at school and diocesan level, etc. This Directory will be an invaluable resource for teachers, religion coordinators, and Diocesan Advisers as well as for writers of future catechetical programmes.

The Directory is timely in that it responds to a felt and expressed need for renewal in the Church in Ireland.  In spite of all the very serious difficulties the Church in Ireland is experiencing at the present time, renewal is happening and very many groups and individuals involved in renewal are seeking guidance.  They will find guidance and inspiration in this Directory because its scope extends far beyond the narrow understanding of catechesis as something that happens in schools to the many and diverse activities in the Church’s one mission to evangelise: e.g. faith development for young adults, adults and adults of mature years; RCIA; Sunday liturgies; marriage preparation and support; parenthood and family ministry; the education and training of lay persons for active participation in the mission of their parish and diocese, ecclesial movements, groups and organisations.  Every possible form of catechesis or evangelisation – using those words in the widest sense and interchangeably – is included and no possible target group is omitted.

The Directory is also timely in as much as it responds to the call for the New Evangelisation.  Almost from the beginning of his pontificate John Paul II called for a New Evangelisation which would be directed not just to those who have never heard the gospel but to individuals and whole peoples, especially in the ‘old world’, who have abandoned faith or the practice of faith.  That call was taken up by Pope Benedict and last summer on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul he set up the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation.  This too is addressed in the Directory.

What is particularly timely about the Directory is the emphasis it places on the role of the laity in the Church.  We all know that in every parish there is huge involvement of laity.  No parish could function without that involvement.  However, all too often involvement of the laity is seen by clergy and the laity themselves as ‘helping Father’.  That is not what is envisaged in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, in Christifideles Laici, the Code of Canon Law and other authoritative documents and statements.  The laity by virtue of their baptism and confirmation have a right and a duty to participate in the mission of the Church. That is clearly the understanding of the role of the laity underlying Share the Good News, where we find expression such as co-responsibility, cooperation, collaborative teamwork and a quotation from Pope Benedict’s address at the Pastoral Convention of the Diocese of Rome in May 2009: “Consecrated and lay people … must no longer be viewed as ‘collaborators’ of the clergy but truly recognised as ‘co-responsible’ for the Church’s being and action, thereby fostering the consolidation of a mature and committed laity”.

I would like to highlight a few emphases that seem to me particularly relevant:
In view of the tendency at the present time – frequently referred to by Pope Benedict X1 – to exclude religion from the public realm and confine it to the private sphere, I like the emphasis on page 23 on the double focus of Evangelisation: the evangelisation of the individual, and the evangelisation of cultures.  Lay Christians have a special, but not exclusive, role and competence in the evangelisation of culture.

Chapter 2 describes the aim of Catholic education as “the growth of the whole person in the context of relationship with God in Jesus Christ”.  Following on this I like the suggestions it gives on page 45 for allowing the person “space within which to hear the voice of God and come to know God more fully”.  These suggestions could be used by individuals or a parish as a reflection on opportunities for deepening people’s faith.

The Directory states on page 102 that the chief form of catechesis is that of adults.  Earlier on this page it speaks of pastoral leaders constantly engaging in personal conversion and renewal and on page 124 speaks of the need for the renewal of religious and priests and presumably bishops.  This is an important emphasis in regard to pastoral ministry.  It is not as if one person or group has a blueprint of how to proceed in the ever-changing world in which we find ourselves.  The emphasis on ongoing conversion and renewal acknowledges that we are undertaking formative experiences and reflecting upon these experiences.  We are learning together. The work of pastoral ministry is the undertaking of pastoral initiatives that enable us to deepen and embody our faith in these times and in our cultural reality.
On page 111 the Directory speaks of evangelisation being at the heart of any pastoral ministry that reaches out to young adults.  This clearly puts the emphasis on the encounter and message of Jesus Christ.  This is important as often people feel that it is about getting more people into church.  The two are not mutually inclusive or mutually exclusive.  But it is important to put the emphasis on the person of Jesus Christ in the first instance.  The other is important but secondary.

In view of recent discussion about Catholic schools, I like the sections on Catholic schools and recommend them to anyone anxious to engage in that discussion.
Share the Good News is a pastoral plan for renewal of the Church in Ireland.  It must not be left to gather dust on shelves as so many other plans and blueprints have been left to do.  Someone remarked that we are long in documents but short in strategies for implementing them.  The success of this Directory in promoting evangelisation or catechesis – and again I am using these terms in the wide sense and interchangeably – and bringing about renewal of the Church in Ireland will depend on a number of considerations.  I mention two.

Firstly, there is need for an implementation committee with a clear brief that will devise strategies for implementing its recommendations at every level of the Church’s activity in Ireland.  This team is already being put in place and it is essential that it receive whatever resources are necessary for it to carry out its brief.

Secondly, the Directory seems to assume that certain structures and qualified personnel are in place or will be in place in dioceses or parishes e.g. Diocesan Catechetical Advisers and Catechetical Offices, Diocesan and Parish Pastoral councils, Liturgy and Music Teams, Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation Teams, Faith Development Coordinators and Advisers at all levels, Lay Pastoral Workers, Justice Groups, Bereavement Teams etc.  Where these do not exist they will have to be set up and resourced.  Finding the money to finance these adequately will not be easy and will require a whole change of outlook whereby the education and training of people will be seen by clergy and laity as a priority.

In launching this Directory we are setting ourselves an agenda and it is a very daunting agenda.  We are committing ourselves to a programme of evangelisation and renewal.  We can only begin to hope to implement this ambitious programme if it is enthusiastically welcomed, read and studied by Bishops, Priests, Pastoral Councils, Boards of Management and Principals of our Catholic schools and all who are engaged in catechetical and pastoral work in the Church in Ireland. Moreover, every effort must be made to involve every baptised and confirmed member in the work and mission of our Church, for as John Paul II pointed out all have a responsibility for promoting Evangelisation.

I want to congratulate and thank Dr Gareth Byrne, writer and editor of this Directory and his advisory Group whose names are listed in the Preface.  It is difficult to find words to praise it adequately.  The amount of research that went into it is staggering.  The style is clear and straightforward. No ambiguities.  It is just right for our country at this time.  You can be very proud of your achievement.  The Church in Ireland owes you a great dept of gratitude.

I congratulate Veritas, the publisher, for a very attractive and really excellent production.

It is a pleasure and a privilege for me to launch Share the Good News – the first National directory for Catechesis in Ireland.  I sincerely hope it will achieve a wide readership and study, deepen our awareness of evangelisation or catechesis, and bring about that personal conversion and renewal in our Church which we all feel is necessary at this time.

We have waited many years for a National Catechetical Directory. It was worth waiting for.

Further information:
Martin Long, Director of Communications 00353 (0) 86 172 7678
Brenda Drumm, Communications Officer 00353 (0) 87 310 4444