Peruvians first heard the Gospel in 1532; Haitians, around 1511. So why, after almost 500 years, does Family Missions Company have missionaries in Peru and Haiti? The answer is catechesis.
Mission is more than just the initial proclamation of the Gospel. While that first act has a primacy, a missionary must continue to accompany the people to whom he is sent. We don’t just tell people about Jesus and then leave; we live with the people and help them continue to walk with Christ. This continuation is catechesis.
The Vatican’s General Directory for Catechesis states that “[c]atechesis is nothing other than the process of transmitting the Gospel” as understood through the Tradition of the Church. In this sense, it is clear why the General Directory calls catechesis “a work of evangelization in the context of the mission of the Church,” and therefore clear why, as a Catholic lay organization focused on evangelization, Family Missions Company must catechize.
But missionary catechesis is likely quite different from what many of us think of when we say “catechesis” here in the United States. It may not start promptly after school. It may not take place in a classroom. But if it involves teaching others how to live the Christian life, or helping them to understand the sacraments through which God gives us the grace to live that life, or even just helping someone read the Bible, it is catechesis.
FMC missionaries Beaux and Alix Davis, along with their four children, live and serve among the poor in L’Asile, Haiti. As the activities Alix describes show, the Davis family clearly sees the inseparable nature of catechesis and the missionary vocation.
“On Saturdays, I help teach a catechism class at the parish for children,” says Alix. “We also started a kids youth group called Ti Misyone Yo (Little Missionaries).”
A group of children had been flocking to the Davis house every afternoon since the Davises arrived in L’Asile, so they felt God must be calling them to minister to these children.
“We do work projects with them, teaching them the value and dignity of work; take them on home visits, teaching them the corporal works of mercy; and have one day dedicated for catechism class, which right now is reading them a Bible story and discussing it and teaching them their prayers. I am also translating into Creole the Baltimore Catechism which we use during the class.”
Jefte, one of the Ti Misyone Yo kids, is six years old. His family has no religion.
“He has started coming to our youth group and he has learned a lot! He knows all his prayers now and likes to pray the rosary,” Alix explains. “He prays with us on home visits, he prays with us when a kid gets hurt, and he prays with us at meals. We have also been building bridges with his family, spending time getting to know them, and helping them buy medication they can’t afford.”
Catechesis, mission, and service intertwine.
“Our goal in working with the children this way and bringing in their families is to create a community of intentional disciples following after Jesus. We want to create a core group of disciples who will evangelize the rest of the town,” says Alix.
Another FMC family, Karen and Chris Carmody, and their four children, serve in San Hilarion, Peru. One of their recent ministry efforts there dovetails with the readings for Catechetical Sunday this year. We hear in the first reading from Sirach: “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.” The Gospel comes from Matthew, Chapter 18: Peter, betraying his inclination to hold on to hurts, asks Jesus about the extent of our duty to forgive. Jesus tells him to go further: not seven times, but 70.
This basic tenet of our faith, forgiving others and letting go of our hold on anger, is being taught by the Carmody family.
“We were hanging out in the plaza one night. Anna and Katelyn [Karen and Chris’s daughters] approached some of the kids congregating in the dark and invited them to walk around the plaza, hoping to take them away from the drugs being offered by their ‘friends,’” remembers Karen. “Several of them accepted the invitation. During their loops, our daughters broached the topic of baptism and briefly explained the importance of being Christians.”
Eventually, some of these kids from the plaza – the Carmodys have taken to calling them, lovingly, “the Lost Sheep” – agreed to hang out more often with the missionaries. They’ve been getting together for breakfasts and other meals.
At one of these gatherings, Karen recalls, “We said, ‘Let’s learn a little bit about this person Jesus,’ before reading two stories from the Bible: The Woman Caught in Adultery and The Prodigal Son. This was the first time any of them had heard either of these stories and they were amazed at how applicable they are to life here in San Hilarion. We talked about the reality of our sinfulness and Jesus’ unconditional, unending love. We spoke directly about their home lives and family situations, acknowledging the pain that they suffer when others make bad choices, but explaining the importance of forgiveness. We ended the day by reciting the Our Father and talking about the embedded truth: we can only approach the throne of God asking to be forgiven as we’ve forgiven others. Until we’ve completely forgiven others, we have no business asking God’s pardon for our own sinful choices.”
We have the joyful obligation of passing on these truths to others. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website reminds us, in its description of why we have Catechetical Sunday, that each person plays a role, “by virtue of Baptism, in handing on the faith and being a witness to the Gospel.” No matter how you label it – catechesis, missionary discipleship, evangelization – it is the job of every Catholic.
This was originally published in Acadiana Catholic, a monthly publication of the Diocese of Lafayette. You can see it here.
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