No. 17 of Ad gentes is all about catechists in the missions, i.e. Athat army of both
men and women who with apostolic spirit make an outstanding and absolutely necessary
contribution to the spread of the faith and the Church by their work (ibid.).
St. Paul already had lay helpers in the married couple Priscilla (Prisca) and Aquila
(Acts 18:1-3, 26; Rm 16:3). But mission catechists, as we know them today, really came into
their own with the great missionary movement of our Church, which began with the Spanish
and Portuguese missions of the sixteenth century. In 1523 Spanish Franciscans in Mexico
asked for permission to use local Indian lay persons as helpers. In 1543 St. Francis Xavier
put catechists in charge of scattered Christian communities. The missions in China and
Vietnam soon followed suit in the use of catechists.
Catechists are lay persons, men or women, who teach the faith. In the missions they
often have other responsibilities as well. Some are 1) itinerant catechists, who go ahead of
the missionary to prepare people for his coming; some are 2) catechists in charge of
outstations; and others are 3) catechists at central missions stations where, besides
teaching religion, they carry out other parish activities.
In Africa catechists became very numerous under great missionaries like Venerable
Fr. Francis Marie Paul Libermann (1802-1852), Superior General of the Spiritans (AHoly
Ghost Fathers), and Cardinal Charles Martial Allemand Lavigerie (1825-1892), founder of
the White Fathers. Our founder Abbot Francis Pfanner (1825-1909) did not make use of
catechists to a large extent in his missionary work. Later on catechists were employed
sometimes, usually to help the lone missionary in his task of teaching his people the Faith,
especially in remote areas.
No. 17 of Ad gentes says, In our days the role of catechists [as helpers of the]
clerics to evangelize such great multitudes and to carry out the pastoral ministry is of the
highest importance. Therefore it says schools should be set up in the missions to prepare
the catechists intellectually and spiritually for their future work Awhere, while studying
Catholic doctrine with special reference to the Bible and the liturgy, and also catechetical
method and pastoral practice, [they will] tirelessly strive for piety and holiness of life.
Conventions and courses should be held for their benefit. AIn addition those who give
themselves fully to this work should be assured, by being paid a just wage, of a decent
standard of living and social security (ibid.).
The last paragraph of no. 17 deals with part-time catechists in the missions, i.e.
those who donate some of their time Ato preside at prayers in their communities and also
teach sacred doctrine. AProper care, it says, Ashould be taken regarding their doctrinal
and spiritual formation. In addition, whenever fitting, they should be installed officially
Ain the course of a public liturgical celebration, so that in the eyes of the people they
might serve the cause of the faith with greater authority.