JOINT LETTER OF THE EASTERN CATHOLIC BISHOPS OF THE USA ON CATECHESIS
Dear Clergy, Religious and Faithful of our Churches,
Mindful of our role as chief catechists, we write to you not as individual bishops but collectively as the Eastern Catholic Bishops of the United States. This is the first time we are writing a common letter to our faithful of the Armenian, Byzantine and Syriac traditions, a first, but hopefully not the last. It is in the field of Catechesis that we have worked in common for almost thirty-five years. So we thought it appropriate to address this subject in unison. We look to more and more collaboration in all areas of Church life as Eastern Catholics.
In the year 2000 all Catholic bishops of the United States issued a short pastoral letter, In Support of Catechetical Ministry. We speak in unison with them, –We write on this occasion, not only to remember what has been accomplished through this essential ministry of the Church and to celebrate the present, but also to look with firm faith to the future. In our roles as chief catechists, we affirm all that is good in catechetical ministry, commit ourselves to strengthening that which is weak, and look forward to developing effective ways to reach all those who are in need of God’s saving Word.
The beginning of the calendar year is generally a time to reflect on past events and affirm goals for the future. The same is appropriate as we begin another season of activity in our Churches, especially as it coincides with the beginning of the school year. It is particularly timely to reflect on the state of Christian education in our Churches as most parishes renew their catechetical programs at this time.
It is our firm belief that formation, particularly catechesis, is one of the most important priorities of the parish along with worship, which is truly possible only when the parish is well instructed. Christ’s commission to His disciples is clear. They were instructed, – “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19). The Lord did not give them an option; they were told both to baptize and to teach. He does not give us an option either.
Thirty-five years have passed since members of the several Eastern Catholic jurisdictions began meeting to reflect on the status of religious education in our eparchies. Out of these informal gatherings came a movement to establish formal catechetical programs and eventually religious education departments in a number of our eparchies. This movement was marked by the commitment of several Churches to work together in the production of common catechetical materials, the first of which was the original God With Us Series for the Byzantine Churches.
As the number of Churches with eparchial catechetical ministries grew, a common organization – now called the – Eastern Catholic Diocesan Directors of Religious Education (ECDD) – was established to produce additional material such as the three volume adult catechism for the Byzantine Churches, Light for Life, and an ongoing series of adult enrichment courses, numbering ten volumes to date. ECDD also serves as a vehicle for sharing ideas and programs among the participating eparchies, as well as providing a common voice for Eastern Catholics in relationship to the catechetical bodies of other churches such as the –National Conference for Catechetical Leadership (Roman Catholic) and the – Orthodox Christian Education Commission.
The same period saw the spread of educational programs for children, youth and adults in several eparchies as well as the development of additional catechetical materials designed to meet the particular needs of individual jurisdictions. Several eparchial education offices developed programs to prepare for the mysteries of Christian Initiation and the mystery of Crowning. The Maronites developed a catechetical series, Faith of the Mountain, reflective of their particular tradition. The Melkite Eparchy developed the Theosis Program for parish renewal.
Some of our catechetical personnel have also been able to contribute to the ministry of religious education in our Mother Churches and other eparchies throughout the world. The Ukrainian Eparchies played an important role in the production of the first Catechetical Directory for the worldwide Ukrainian Catholic Church. A number of our programs have been translated or adapted for use in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and South America, contributing to the shared experience of Eastern Catholics everywhere.
We extol the work of all those – clergy, religious and laity – who have contributed to the development and enrichment of these programs on national, eparchial or parish levels. Like Saint Paul, “we give thanks –at every remembrance of you and – pray always with joy, because of your partnership for the Gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:3-5). The abundance of programs developed by one or another of the Eastern Churches in America has made it unnecessary to go beyond these resources to find spiritual nourishment for our people. We commend the use of this material and encourage the continued collaboration of those working in this field in our Churches.
At the same time we recognize that formation in our parishes in not primarily a matter of the classroom or even of specific catechetical programs. The way the parish lives out is life is its most compelling –catechetical program. The way parishioners treat one another and look at the world, the value that the parish places on the liturgical life, its sense of ministry to the wider community, the way it gives young people a sense that this is their parish – all these – teachîng members and observers more about the Church than we often imagine. Parish leaders must continually evaluate what the lifestyle of their community is actually teaching.
In this, the ministry of the pastor is crucial. There will be no vibrant, coherent Christian formation in a parish without the presence, support and affirmation of the pastor. It is vital that the pastor develops and communicates a vision of the parish in which Christian formation is central and informs the entire life of the community.
Saint Paul was –confident of this, that the One who began a good work in you will continue to complete it (Philippians 1:6). We recognize that, to further the continuance of our Churches’ formation work, we, as bishops, need to identify the clergy, religious and laity in our communities who are gifted to work in this field on the eparchial level. We must commit the time and necessary resources to see that they are trained both in catechetics and in the Eastern Tradition and that they are given the assistance needed to facilitate their ministry.
We affirm the need of every parish to support catechetical programs for all ages, including adults, and to cooperate with the eparchial offices in the training of parish catechists. Several Eastern Catholic eparchies have developed catechist certification programs and pastors should encourage their members to participate in such programs. In areas with several Eastern Catholic Churches, similar programs may be available in the neighboring communities and we urge our faithful to participate in these programs. We encourage each eparchy to provide for the training of master catechists who will be able to assist the eparchial offices in this work to facilitate the formation of catechists in parishes.
Some parishes or eparchies, either because of their size or their status as new communities may not feel that they are able to organize a catechetical program at this time. Whenever possible, they should cooperate with neighboring communities of the same or similar tradition to assure effective religious education for their members. Where geographical isolation does not permit this, the parish should look to the eparchial office to implement programs. As parents do not wait until they have three children before they feed their firstborn, parishes cannot use their small numbers to excuse the absence of spiritual enrichment for those in their care.
In each of our eparchies there are parishes that have developed strong formation programs. The results of such a commitment include increased participation in worship, in ministry, and even in financial support. These are the parishes that nurture vocations to the priesthood, deaconate and monastic or religious life. It is not unusual to find people in these communities who seek personal spiritual direction or who bring others to the faith by word or example. We pray that the number of such communities increase in all our eparchies that the –like living stones, be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ
(1 Peter 2:5).
For thirty-five years we have drawn enormous support from one another in our common catechetical efforts. We believe –that God continues to grace the Church with challenges that urge us to reach deep within our lived experience of Jesus to find the practical means to introduce a whole new generation into the knowledge of an encounter with the living Jesus Christ (US Catholic Bishops, 2000). This is our hope! This is our prayer! Together we can accomplish this as long as each person in the pew, each catechist, each pastor, each bishop holds catechesis in primary importance. We thank you for your support and urge you to continue to be the eyes, ears, heart and hands of Christ in our world that needs to be transformed to the holy dwelling place of the Lord.
With our prayers and blessings, we remain
Sincerely yours in Christ God,
Archbishop Basil Schott
Metroplitan Archbishop of Pittsburgh (Byzantine Ruthenian)
Archbishop Cyril S. Bustros
Bishop of Newton (Byzantine Melkite)
Bishop Manuel Batakian
Bishop of Armenian Exarchate (Armenian)
Bishop Ibrahim Ibrahim
Bishop of St. Thomas the Apostle (Chaldean)
Bishop John Kudrick
Bishop of Parma (Byzantine Ruthenian)
Bishop Gregory Mansour
Bishop of St. Maron in Brooklyn (Maronite)
Bishop Andrew Pataki
Bishop of Passaic (Byzantine Ruthenian)
Bishop Richard Seminack
Bishop of St. Nicholas in Chicago (Byzantine Ukrainian)
Bishop William Skurla
Bishop of Van Nuys (Byzantine Ruthenian)
Archbishop Stefan Soroka
Metropolitan-Archbishop of Philadelphia (Byzantne Ukrainian)
Bishop Jacob Angadiath
Bishop of St. Thomas in Chicago (Syro-Malabar)
Bishop John Botean
Bishop of St. George in Canton (Byzantine Romanian)
Bishop Sarhad Jammo
Bishop of St. Peter the Apostle (Chaldean)
Bishop Basil Losten
Bishop of Stamford (Byzantine Ukrainian)
Bishop Robert M. Moskal
Bishop of St. Josaphat in Parma (Byzantine Ukrainian)
Bishop Nicholas Samra
Titular Bishop of Gerasa (Byzantine Melkite)
Bishop Robert Shaheen
Bishop of Our Lady of Lebanon (Maronite)
Bishop Joseph Younan
Bishop of Our Lady of Deliverance (Syriac)