Each year, hundreds of catechists go into public schools in Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains to share their faith in God with thousands of students.
The first step is not the curriculum, but the greeting and the smile as catechists connect with the office staff, the classroom teacher and the students in the classroom.
There is an old saying that goes: “Make a friend, be a friend and take that friend to Christ.” It’s great guidance for anyone wishing to spread the Good News of the Gospel.
The order outlined in that saying is important. Catechists need to build trust before they are listened to, and their lessons taken seriously. Years later individual students recall their ‘scripture’ teacher and what they had said in Special Religious Education (SRE) lessons because of the friendship and care extended to them.
Fiona, a catechist at the small school Warragamba Public, has now taught several members of one family and they happily greet her at the local shops. Fiona has even come to know the mum who acknowledges the value SRE is providing her children.
Students who volunteer to be catechists in their later years of high school often recall with joy their own experiences in Primary SRE. Annie, an SRE catechist in Windsor, was delighted when she caught up with a former student who said: “Hi Miss, do you remember me? You were my SRE teacher several years ago.” Annie was training this student now at Bede Polding College to be a catechist herself!
Friendships have blossomed between catechists too. In some cases, the friendship has lasted for decades. Many of these catechists meet socially outside of their ministry, sharing stories of their families and celebrating special events together. Leonie from Quakers Hill gives thanks for how being a catechist has enriched her spiritual life and her faith. She now enjoys sharing her newfound knowledge and commitment with other members of the parish catechist team.
There are those stories too of where being a catechist can be intergenerational. It’s not uncommon for a catechist who has taught SRE for more than 40 years, to have a child and even grandchild involved in the ministry. In the Cassar family, husband Sam and wife Connie have taught SRE for three decades, their daughters Stephanie Zammit and Katherine Velasco are catechists as well. Now, Katherine’s son Nicholas in Year 10 at Patrician Brothers College, Blacktown, is a trained catechist in the local Blacktown public school.
For some years now, Pope Francis has asked that “going to the peripheries” to share God’s Word is a priority for all of us. This is what catechists do each week when they go into public schools and witness to their faith those who often are not part of the church community.
They are not waiting to greet these community members at the church door but are actively reaching out via the public school to students and families and taking Christ to them where they are.
CCD welcomes new volunteers to this ministry. Please contact your parish office or Maree Collis on (02) 8838 3486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cecilia Zammit is the Director of Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) in the Diocese of Parramatta.
This article was originally featured in the Ordinary Time/Winter 2021 Edition of the Catholic Outlook Magazine.