Brazilians installed as catechists say recognition strengthens their work
SÃO PAULO (CNS) – The formal installation of catechists and readers in their roles as lay leaders in the church is particularly important as recognition for women and men in places like the Amazon region, where many are from facto religious leaders in remote communities that suffer from a severe shortage of priests, said a Brazilian recently installed as a catechist by Pope Francis.
“The (2019 Pan-Amazonian) synod and now this designation will help us even more to ‘pursue those who have left the church and listen to them.’ This is what the pope wanted – to show, through the laity, that the Church is welcoming, that she can hear her faithful,” Regina de Sousa Silva told Catholic News Service.
She and Wanderson Saavedra Correia, both catechists for 11 years in the diocese of Luziânia, were among those whom Pope Francis officially installed in their roles during a mass at the Vatican on January 23, marking the Sunday of the Word of God.
In Brazil, women and men have long served as lectors and catechists, but now those who are officially installed in ministries are recognized as having a specific calling for leadership in their communities and will serve in what the church defines as a way “stable”.
For Silva, being a catechist is “an essential service for the life of the Church,” but she said the Vatican ceremony gave her a boost.
She said one of the highlights of meeting Pope Francis was when he told new catechists, “I need you all.”
“I was a little demotivated last year, I had difficulty carrying the word of God in the communities. With this recognition and the affection shown by the pope, I acquired greater strength, greater motivation. This realization was not just mine; it was up to everyone,” Silva said.
“This designation shows the importance of the laity in the Catholic community,” Correia told Catholic News Service. “The pope has shown with this decision that the laity have the power to teach the faith to the community.”
Silva said that in places like the Amazon, formalizing the role of catechist “shows that lay people have an important participation in bringing the word of God to those places where priests are scarce,” Silva told CNS.
Father Edilberto Sena is a retired priest from the Archdiocese of Santarem, one of the largest cities in the Amazon region of Brazil. He says the Amazon region has always had a problem with the low number of available priests.
“Close to here is the Arapiuns River. The river has 54 Catholic communities along its bed and a single priest to serve all these communities. Imagine if we didn’t have the help of married women and men. They are the ones who support the faith of these communities when the priest cannot be present,” he told CNS.
Father Sena said there are around 450,000 people living in the vast area that makes up the archdiocese, but only 48 priests to serve more than 900 Catholic communities. He hopes formal recognition of the work of lay men and women in some of the church’s operations will also help “increase the number of servants of God” in the region.
For Josep Iborra Plans, a former priest who now works with the Church’s Pastoral Land Commission in the state of Rondônia, also in Brazil’s Amazon region, the move strengthens the mission of lay Catholics within the Church. .
“Lay people were already doing the work under the authorization and mandate of the priest and the bishop of the region. The fact that they are now recognized by the Church of Rome brings more stability, more consistency to their work,” Plans said.