September 29, 2021 // Perspective

SOS for catechists in this pandemic

Nearly 11 million job opportunities remain unfilled in the United States of America. Take a stroll through downtown in your city or town; maybe walk by a small business or a factory. The ubiquitous “Help Wanted” sign is everywhere.

Where are the workers? Why are people not flocking to fill these job opportunities? Analysts say that some people are not ready to return to their jobs. Others are reinventing themselves to respond better to the demands of a new economy. Others have safety concerns associated with the pandemic.

A version of this larger phenomenon seems to be unfolding in our own Catholic catechetical world. We cannot ignore it. I first noticed this when the director of religious education in my multicultural parish shared that she was struggling to recruit catechists for this year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been ruthless on catechetical programs at all levels. I contacted friends who oversee catechetical programs in dioceses and parishes elsewhere to learn how they were doing. I heard similar stories from leaders in Texas, Florida, California, Illinois, Maryland, Ohio and Washington, among other states.

Catechetical leaders have been engaged in an exercise of managerial gymnastics to keep their programs running and thus offer faith formation to Catholics of all ages: in-person meetings with small groups, virtual sessions, self-guided programs, hybrid initiatives, no programs at all, act as if nothing is happening, etc. Name it.

The successes and struggles of catechetical programs seldom make the headlines compared to, say, those of Catholic schools. Remember that for every Catholic young person in a Catholic school, two are enrolled in parish catechetical programs.

Catechetical leaders often lack the resources and the infrastructure that could make their efforts yield better fruits. In fact, it is scandalous that in recent decades many dioceses and parishes have been dramatically reducing, even eliminating, budgets for catechetical offices and programs.

Catholic catechetical leaders largely run bare-bone operations. Nearly every catechetical program relies heavily on small armies of volunteers, mostly women, under the helm of one or two leaders. Lots of goodwill, for certain, but not enough resources and, sometimes, not enough support and appreciation.

The pandemic has scared thousands of catechists away. Thousands more remain apprehensive about safety measures and sometimes about being overwhelmed as their numbers dwindle.

Who can blame them? Many are older people; others take care of frail relatives at home; others are parents with children ineligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Vulnerability among our catechists is real.

The adverse effects of the pandemic upon our catechetical programs, their quality and the overall evangelizing efforts in our church may be irreversible if we don’t do something. We need catechesis to make the headlines, locally and nationally, during this time of pandemic.

Usually in September and October, church bulletins call for new catechists — all volunteers. The call does not seem to be attracting the desired response these days. Where are the catechists? They are there, ready to respond. However, they seem to want more than the usual.

Catechists need training to share their faith with new technologies and using fresher pedagogies. With this training, they will feel more comfortable serving in our programs while safeguarding their health and that of their loved ones. They want quality resources and learn new ways of passing on the faith effectively. They deserve support and affirmation.

We must invest amply in catechetical programs. Catechists may hold the key to keeping the faith among millions of Catholics at this historical moment. This is not the time to limit resources. If anything, it is a time to double, even triple, our investment in catechesis.

Hosffman Ospino is a professor of theology and religious education at Boston College.

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