A little late this week 3 members write from an international conference in Chile.
The International Forum on Adult Religious Education holds a consultation every two years. The theme of this year’s consultation is The Word of God: blessing and task for catechesis today and it is being held in Santiago, Chile over this last week. The invitation to attends goes to Bishops’ Conferences around the world and It is a privilege to be part of a small group from England and Wales.
The Forum is 20 years old this year and it began as an initiative from England and Wales. The first meeting was organised by Paddy Purnell, Anne McDowell and Margaret Foley and held at St Mary’s College, Strawberry Hill. Each meeting takes a similar format: reflection and discussion on a theme, generally inspired by a Church document or initiative, and country sharing. What can be fascinating is the interplay between the familiar and the unknown — the similarities and difficulties we hold in common and differences that can be beyond our experience.
Two highlights for me have hearing about the meeting of Latin American bishops – CELAM – at Aparaceido in Brazil last year. Their reflections on catechesis, the need for bishops and their agencies to have an examination of conscience as to where they have failed to be the Church and the importance of the catechumenal model for all catechesis.
On Sunday morning we visited local parishes to look at family catechesis. We met families from the parish who spoke to us about their involvement. What was moving was the sense that the parish and the catechesis was responsibility of the community and that the involvement in family catechesis had strengthened relationships.
It has been a real privilege to take part in this international consultation. Throughout the process there have been opportunities to hear from countries around the world about the joys and challenges of adult religious education and also our hopes for this ministry in the future.
For me the most striking experience was the visit to a local parish for Sunday Eucharist and sharing with parish catechists. The welcome and hospitality was overwhelming and humbling at the same time. We were welcomed into two local parishes and met those involved in family catechesis. The parish and community structures are very different to those in the UK and the numbers of catechists quite astonishing. Catechists undertake formation provided by the archdiocese, and this is a serious undertaking for the catechists and the whole family of the catechist. Married couples are catechists together and as one man commented, although this interfered with his football team it was important for him and his wife to undertake this ministry together. The ministry of catechesis is described with great enthusiasm and commitment as a lifelong ministry in the parish community, catechists are called to live their lives as witnesses to the Word of God that they share. This was not undertaken lightly, and in the people we met, it was clear that their lives, in mind heart and action was shot through with the Word of God.
A last thing that struck me was the role of the godparent. In family catechesis, all families need a father in those instances where a woman may be widowed or divorced and Godfather becomes the father in the family. In our own situation in the RCIA and RCIC in England and Wales, maybe there is something to be learned from this idea.
A key moving experience for the group was the visit to the Sanctuary of Fr Alberto Hurtado.
Fr Hurtado was canonized by Pope Benedict in 2005 and is the third saint for Chile. Born in 1901 he died of cancer at the age of 51 in 1952.
His ministry as a priest focussed much on the young and the poor. The dvd clip we saw showed a warm and ever-present smile.
The Sanctuary includes a museum reflecting his life and work, a beautiful garden including a wall where people’s prayer petitions and thanksgiving for prayer are placed and a chapel where the saint’s tomb forms the altar. It is a place of grate peace which celebrates the life Fr Hurtado and which offers the opportunity for reflection and prayer.