Congratulations to the newly certified Catholic Catechists of the Archdiocese of Chicago! They attended a graduation and certification ceremony last week at St. John Brebeuf Parish (located at 8307 N. Harlem Avenue in Niles, Illinois). The archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, was on hand to hand out certificates. Over 600 catechists also attended in person to shake hands with him and receive it in person. How did I know about this? I was one of the graduating class of 2014.
For those of you who might be lost right now, let me explain what a Catholic Catechist is. Simply put, catechists are people who teach and articulate the Catholic faith to others. They may help fellow Catholics get a deeper understanding of their faith, help children learn enough about the faith for a first communion or confirmation, or teach adults who either baptized Catholic and never never became full members of the church, or wish to convert from another Christian denomination, or even teach Catholicism to those from another religion who want to become Christian. Catechists can be men or women, young or old, married or single, and either lay parishioners or ordained clergy. In fact, the only requirement a person needs to become a catechist is to be a practicing Catholic and take an awareness course about sexual abuse.
Still, while most catechists are uncertified, it always helps to have someone who is an “officially” trained Catechist and has spent a long time studying and researching the topics they wish to teach. The Archdiocese of Chicago has many situations where there are no certified catechists available during an event where it is important to properly teach someone the Catholic faith. Many adult Catholics who say they attend Mass every Sunday fail to understand basic Catholic theology, and sometimes people who claim to have converted to Catholicism and accepted Catholic beliefs will nevertheless oppose the Church on a basic, non-negotiable point of faith. Properly teaching and understanding Catholicism is extremely important, hence the push for more certified catechists. I volunteered as a substitute CCD teacher for four years before I became officially certified.
This year's graduation and certification ceremony showed just how diverse the Archdiocese is. Catechists came from across Chicagoland in two different counties, and the prayer service was conducted in English, Spanish, and Polish. After Cardinal George gave a brief homily about what we could expect as Catechists, we were invited afterward to pick up our certificate in next building, and stay for some cake and refreshments. As Cardinal George has recently been through chemotherapy, people were allowed to take photos with him afterwards, but only group pictures. While I didn't have time to snap a photo with the Cardinal, I was very happy to shake his hand as he handed me a letter about my service and told me “Congratulations”.
If you've ever been concerned about the lack of quality Catholic teaching in your parish, maybe God is also calling you to be a catechist. There are many high levels of service in the church, like bishops, monks, and nuns, but there's also just your everyday catholic catechist that volunteers weekly at their local faith community. Stand up, be counted, be a catechist.