Bishops launch Share the Good News – the first National Directory for Catechesis in Ireland

05 Jan 2011

5 January 2011

Bishops launch Share the Good News – the first National Directory for Catechesis in Ireland

Share the Good News – the first National Directory for Catechesis in Ireland was launched earlier today in the Mater Dei Institute of Education in Dublin. Cardinal Sean Brady, Archbishop of Armagh, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, and Bishop Bill Murphy, Bishop of Kerry, Chairman of the Episcopal Council for Catechetics participated in today’s seminar to launch Share the Good News along with writer and editor Rev Dr Gareth Byrne.
Share the Good News is a ten year plan for evangelisation, for catechesis and for religious education in the Catholic Church in Ireland.  It is available in Veritas shops throughout Ireland and on line at
Commenting at the launch Cardinal Brady said: “Share the Good News is a most significant document. It addresses in a unified, coherent and co-ordinated manner many of the issues that are very pressing for the Church in Ireland today.  One of these is Catechesis – the process by which people are introduced to faith.
“My hope is that as many adults as possible will engage with this beautifully produced document and make it their own – so that what we are launching today will really be a decade of renewed evangelisation and catechesis in Ireland.”
Archbishop Martin said at the launch, “I welcome the Directory wholeheartedly.  I wish to point out that it is not a magic formula or a programme which can be launched in the way one would launch a sales push or a political platform.  Faith is a deeper matter; it is a matter of a deep encounter between the individual and God.
“The National Directory is directed to and must involve the entire Church in Ireland.  It is not a document entrusted to the catechetical establishment.  It is a time bomb thrown into the catechetical establishment and indeed into the religious education establishment.  It is an invitation to break away from our current situation which is overly school-oriented and bring back into the picture in a more focussed way the central role of the parish and the family.  It is a reminder that catechesis does not end with the Leaving Certificate”.
See below the addresses by Cardinal Brady, Archbishop Martin and Bishop Bill Murphy
Introduction by Cardinal Seán Brady
This morning the Bishops’ Conference have great pleasure indeed in presenting Share the Good News, the first ever National Directory for Catechesis in Ireland. I thank and congratulate Dr Gareth Byrne, writer and editor of this important text.  We have all been looking forward very much to this day. This is a most significant document. It addresses in a unified, coherent and co-ordinated manner many of the issues that are very pressing for the Church in Ireland today.  One of these is Catechesis – the process by which people are introduced to faith.
This is an ideal moment, amidst all the reflection that is going on in our society at this time, for us to reflect together on the great gift of faith we have been given.  I believe that there are many people who know they have a part to play in handing on that faith to the new generations.  They know that religious education can make a big contribution to help to enrich people’s lives and enable them to see each other as brothers and sisters.  What an achievement that would be in the area of peace alone.  But some people feel ill-prepared and inadequate for such a task.  This directory will help to remedy that situation.
What is really important is that we have confidence in Jesus Christ, in his message and its meaning in our lives. Then and only then we can become authentic witnesses, handing on this gift to others and especially to our young people. My hope is that as many adults as possible will engage with this beautifully produced document and make it their own – so that what we are launching today will really be a decade of renewed evangelisation and catechesis in Ireland.
I would like to call then on Bishop Murphy, who is Chairman of the Episcopal Council for Catechetics, to formally launch Share the Good News. In so doing I would like to thank him personally and sincerely for all his efforts in Catechetics over the years.
Address by Archbishop Martin
The new National Directory for Catechesis in Ireland is published at a very significant moment in the life of the Church in Ireland.   We are living in a time of great change in Irish religious culture and I believe that we have not yet faced the challenge of that change as fully as we should.
The place of faith education in schools is under scrutiny in a changing Ireland.  There are various contending voices and interest-groups, speaking often in a polarised way, and there is very little common reflection on what the right way forward should be.  I still believe that a broad National Forum on the future of education provision and the place of faith education in the Irish educational system would be of value.
This is the overall context within which the New National Directory will have to be put into practice.  The Directory has of course a much wider mandate than simply religious education in schools.
I was recently criticised for saying that we have a situation in Ireland in which many young people leave Catholic schools after years of catechesis “theologically illiterate”.  In their reactions to my comments, some showed that they had misread what I said and felt that I was saying that the Irish were a race of theological illiterates. Others showed their own theological illiteracy in saying that Christianity was not about theology in any vase, but simply about being good.    Certainly, being good is an essential fruit of being a true Christian and equally being a theologian does not necessarily make someone good.  But Christianity is not just about vague goodness but about how our goodness is shaped and sustained by the extraordinary reality of God who became man in Jesus Christ.
One way or other we have to recognise that our system of school catechesis is not drawing young people in sufficient numbers into the life of our sacramental communities.
If the new National Directory is to be effective for evangelisation and renewal in the Church then it must address the actual situation directly.  My worry for the new Directory is that it could face what I call a (Specsavers) reaction.  The directory is not a second pair of glasses, in a slightly more elegant frame, but with identical lenses as what we already have. The Directory is not just a new framework; it is a call to look at the challenge of evangelisation with totally different lenses.  The change in religious culture in Ireland requires a real culture change in the way we evangelise.
Can we look briefly at some areas where I believe this lens-change must take place?  The first change of lens we need requires us to look at the way revelation takes place.
God communicates.  The God who is Trinity is not enclosed in self-power.  God has spoken in various ways throughout history.  He spoke firstly in creation and indeed continues to speak today through creation.  He spoke through the law and the prophets throughout the history of salvation and through his care for his people.  However with the mystery of the incarnation God communicates in a totally new way:  God reveals himself in Jesus who becomes one of us, a human bring.  God reveals himself as love.
In the Mystery of the Incarnation God communicates with us in a totally new way.  In Pope Benedict’s recent document – Verbum Domini – on the “Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church”, he recalls that the revelation of the Word at the incarnation is no longer primarily a revelation in “discourse, concepts or rules” (#11).  The Pope writes: “Here we are set before the very person of Jesus himself; Jesus himself is the definitive Word which God speaks to humanity”.
The Pope had stressed the same theme, in a slightly different way, in Deus Caritas Est:  “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with…a person [Jesus Christ] which gives life a new horizon and a definitive direction” (#1).
If the Christian faith is about an encounter with the person of Jesus, then our catechesis has to move beyond the ”discourse, concepts and rules”, of which the Pope spoke and which for so often dominated our catechesis, into a catechesis which introduces us  more directly into  knowledge of Jesus the person.
Renewal in the Church must focus on a renewed relationship with Jesus within a believing, sacramental faith community.  We all recognise the need for renewal especially at this time. Renewal in the Church is not just of a necessary need to repent the criminal and sinful events which have emerged in these years concerning the abuse of children by priests and religious and the response of Church authorities.  Renewal is not just a question of renewing structures and developing new structures.  It is not just about improving the image of the Church.
Renewal of the Church will only come through a radical reawakening of what the Church is really about.  The Church is the place where the unprecedented and humanly inconceivable newness of the Word becoming flesh is proclaimed and celebrated as reality.  The Church is the place where the Word of God made flesh is proclaimed and celebrated.
This brings me to a second lens change.  It concerns precisely the place of the scriptures in catechesis.  In his Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini Pope Benedict talks about a biblically inspired catechesis.  He quotes the General Catechetical Directory which talks of a Catechesis “permeated by the mindset of the Gospel through assiduous contact with the texts themselves”.
I have already spoken about the need to move from a catechesis of mere discourse, concepts and rules to a catechesis focused on a personal relationship with Jesus.  There is however a possible danger here.   Our relationship with Jesus cannot just be any kind of vague relationship in which I decide what Jesus would have done or would do in my circumstance.
Where will our people, younger and older, come to their knowledge of Jesus and where will they find the nourishment needed to enable their relationship with Jesus to develop and mature as their lives evolve and encounter ever new challenges?  A developed and mature Christian faith requires knowledge of the scriptures.
This again is something revolutionary in Irish Catholicism where most families may not even possess a bible and probably not even copy of the Gospels, and where reading the scriptures is far from being the order of the day in the home or the classroom.
Last year I had a quarter of a million copies a very elegant and well prepared edition of the Gospel of Saint Luke distributed to parishes in the Archdiocese of Dublin.  The initiative went very well.  However, some parishes did not feel any need to receive copies of the Gospel.  For others distributing the text was such a problem that it was even suggested that I should engage An Post or DHL to deliver it. I still encounter only mild embarrassment when I am led into a sacristy with hundreds of copies of the Gospel still unpacked.
When we speak, as the Pope does, of a catechesis “permeated by the mindset of the Gospel through assiduous contact with the texts themselves” then we are speaking of much more than adding a new chapter to our catechesis, but of letting the Word of God inspire every dimension of Church life.  The Word of God is the soul of all theology and the driving force of pastoral activity.  The reform that is called for is truly radical and we are only at the very beginning. Each of us has to begin to place the word of God at the centre of our own spirituality and of our Christian life. We have to know the scriptures, to love the scriptures, to understand the scriptures, to prayerfully read the scriptures.  All of us have to learn to take up the scriptures every day.
Those parishes which took part in the distribution of the Gospel of Saint Luke – and they are the majority – have made a leap forward in the right direction and they are aware of this.  They have recognised the centrality of formation, prayer and knowledge of the scriptures in all their pastoral activity.  But they know that there a huge path still ahead.  Pope Benedict stresses this need – which is more than urgent – for “provision to be made for the suitable preparation of priests and lay persons who can instruct the People of God in the genuine approach to scripture” (#73).
Let me look at another lens change.  The new Directory proposes various new structures regarding catechesis in the life of the Church.  Once again, it is not a question of adding some new structures but of revolutionising all our structures.
The National Directory is directed to and must involve the entire Church in Ireland.  It is not a document entrusted to the catechetical establishment.  It is a time bomb thrown into the catechetical establishment and indeed into the religious education establishment.  It is an invitation to break away from our current situation which is overly school-oriented and bring back into the picture in a more focussed way the central role of the parish and the family.  It is a reminder that catechesis does not end with the Leaving Certificate.
History has left Ireland with a unique system of school-based religious education, which it would be wrong to say has not served us well.  Our teachers have contributed and continue to contribute so much to passing on of the faith in difficult times.
But times have changed.  What has changed is the wider Irish religious culture.  Indeed the strongest critique of the current situation that I hear comes precisely from committed teachers of religion themselves who are more aware than anyone of the fact that children arrive in their schools without almost any of the presuppositions for the development of their faith. These teachers feel left on their own.  Parish and family have not been playing their part.  There are many parishes – not all – where an invader from Mars if asked what went on there, would be very surprised to be told that parishes were vibrant focal points abuzz with people of all ages being constantly educated and updated about their faith.
If the new Directory is to be successful, we have to understand that it aims at much more than tweaking at the current system. The current system has been very comfortable for parishes.  The principle work has been done by the teachers.  Efforts are being made to invite greater participation by families and they have had a certain success, especially where there is geographical contiguity between parish and school community.  This is of course much less the case in urban areas.  It is not the case with secondary schools.
What is being proposed here in the Directory is revolutionary for our parishes.  There is need to provide a new generation of catechists in our parishes, both full-time professional catechists but above all as a new group of committed lay people who will take on a period of formation to be voluntary catechists in their parishes.  Again I am not saying that what teachers are doing is ineffective.  But the locus of faith formation is primarily within the worshipping faith community.
I know that what I am saying may upset some and that it might also delight those who would like to see all forms of faith formation removed from schools that receive State funding.   The right of parents to choose the type of education they wish for children is a fundamental right.   This right is not an invention of the Catholic Church in Ireland or of an out-of-date Irish Constitution.  It is clearly present in all the major international human rights instruments.  The validity of this right is upheld on both sides of the debate.  An appeal to the same right of parents is used by parents who wish their children to attend religious education and by those parents who do not wish their children to attend religious instruction.
One of the problems is that the Church as an institution for many years under-appreciated the essential role of parents and did not involve them adequately   The overwhelming dominance still today of the Roman Catholic Church in the provision of primary education does not facilitate the provision of alternatives and indeed can damage the principle of parental right and damage the very idea of the Catholic school.
Reducing the role of parents in educational choice is not just a challenge for religious education but also for freedom and pluralism in education overall.   Our current system favours parental choice and community rootedness in education, thus reducing the danger of leaving decisions exclusively to an educational burocracy and even the politicization of the provision of education, which has inevitably had negative effects wherever that happened.
The final lens change that I would propose is deeper cultural one.   We can no longer assume faith on the part of young people who have attended catholic schools nor indeed young people who come from Catholic families.   This is not to say that there is a lack of goodness and generosity and idealism among young people.  This is not to say that in many there is not a search for deeper values and meaning in their lives.
The problem is that there is a growing undermining of religious sense in our culture.  This religious sense will not arise automatically from within contemporary culture as was to a great extent the case in the past.  There are aspects of our contemporary culture which can lead us all to deviate from a true religious sense. Even our liturgies can lose the sense of a transcendent God.
A positivistic current in our culture alters our understanding of our relationship with reality.  This is especially so in parts of an Anglo-Saxon culture in which language can be formed and transformed in different ways, leaving the impression that in the same way meaning and reality are being changed.  A strong individualism in contemporary culture can make it more and more difficult to encapsulate the relational dimension of being.  This has catastrophic consequences when the relational dimension of sexuality is undermined or not adequately appreciated.  A radical individualist understanding of faith can undermine the sense of the Church.
A positivistic understanding of reality makes it difficult to appreciate the fundamental categories of religious language and sense such as given-ness and dependence which are fundamental to the reality of being created.  Dependence is looked on as failure in human realisation.
Our catechesis must assist people to enter into the religious sense in a culture in which it is increasingly absent.  Without this, catechesis would only become indoctrination, and a catechesis of indoctrination does lead not to freedom but to fundamentalism.  This is not just pre-catechesis; it is a much more necessary and fundamental pre-condition for the ability to understand the Gospel and it is something that was not necessary in the Ireland of the past.
I may have drifted a long way away from what I was expected to say this morning.    I may have given the impression that I am less than enthusiastic about the new Directory and about the point where we are in catechesis in Ireland.  That was not my intention.  I welcome the Directory wholeheartedly but I simply wish to point out that it is not a magic formula or a programme which can be launched in the way one would launch a sales push or a political platform.
Faith is a deeper matter; it is a matter of a deep encounter between the individual and God. Such an encounter cannot be forced on someone or pushed through like a hard sell.  Evangelisation is always counter cultural but not a-cultural. Culture must be evangelised by men and women who live within that culture and who are contaminated by some negative aspects of that culture.   Evangelisation is about an encounter with the God who is totally other, but who became incarnate as one of us to enable us to know ourselves more fully and thus to find our true identity.

That faith finds it roots and nourishment in the faith community which is the Body of Christ, where Christ is active in our midst calling each of us to holiness, renewing his people as he did throughout human history through his faithful love.

Address by Bishop Murphy
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.


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