National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Catholic Education
Issue Date:  March 26, 2004

Model connects liturgy, catechesis

Parishes across the country are examining their models and systems and making profound changes in the way they do catechetical ministry. The “whole community catechesis” concept is catching fire from coast to coast. The enormous Los Angeles archdiocese, with 12,000 catechists, is beginning to implement this model, and it was also the theme of the recent East Coast Conference on Religious Education sponsored by the National Center for Pastoral Leadership held Feb. 6-8 in Washington.

In a nutshell, whole community catechesis aims to energize an entire community around the Gospel. Catechesis begins with the adults in the community and is fundamentally connected with liturgy.

“It is more a catechumenate model,” said Charity Sr. Edith Prendergast, director of the office of religious education for the Los Angeles archdiocese. “We are there to resource the parishes. The parishes are there to resource the household. The family is very important in this vision.”

Bill Huebsch

Proponents of whole community catechesis do not insist that the classroom model of age group-based catechesis be abandoned, but rather that it be complemented and enlivened by intergenerational, community-based gatherings that mirror the Sunday assembly. Catechesis should feel “more like Mass than class,” quipped Bill Huebsch, author of Whole Community Catechesis in Plain English. The goal is to build households of faith, where everyday life intersects with Catholic practice, belief and spirituality.

According to Huebsch, whole community catechesis emerged from the General Directory for Catechesis, an international document on evangelization within the church that evolved over 35 years following the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

Huebsch calls whole community catechesis the best thing that has happened to the church in years. “I see it as a phoenix rising from the ashes of the past two years in the Catholic church,” he said. “There is a resurgence of this desire for spirituality and faith. It is coming from the average folks” in ministry, not bishops or publishers, he noted. “It’s giving me more hope than I’d had from church in decades.”

In Los Angeles, interest has begun in parishes and flowed upward. Prendergast said she shared the whole community catechesis vision with Cardinal Roger Mahony and the bishops, who are supportive.

The model invites collaboration among various ministries with a unity of purpose. “We have involved the offices of worship and family life, synods, Catholic schools and ourselves [the office of religious education],” Prendergast said. “We are hoping that parishes would do that too.”

She said that intergenerational and multicultural community gatherings must feature “good hospitality, good music, discussion -- and all should be sent forth at the end of the evening to be something or do something. It is a very integrated kind of process. It is about bringing together head and hands and hearts and the whole person, really.”

-- Kris Berggren

National Catholic Reporter, March 26, 2004

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