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The ministry of the Word is a fundamental element of evangelization through all its stages, because it involves the proclamation of Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God.
“The word of God nourishes both evangelizers and those who are being evangelized so that each one may continue to grow in his or her Christian life”
(National Directory for Catechesis [NDC] [Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2005], no. 17).
This year, the Church will celebrate Catechetical Sunday on September 16, 2018. The 2018 theme will be "Enlisting Witnesses for Jesus Christ." Those who the Community has designated to serve as catechists will be called forth to be commissioned for their ministry. Catechetical Sunday is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the role that each person plays, by virtue of Baptism, in handing on the faith and being a witness to the Gospel. Catechetical Sunday is an opportunity for all to rededicate themselves to this mission as a community of faith.
We are living in a secularized society which continues to squeeze Christianity to the margins, or completely out of engagement with Jesus Christ and the Church.
We are losing baptized Catholics at an alarming rate. According to Pew Research, nearly one-in-four Hispanic adults (24%) are now former Catholics and most of them are “nones”, a term used for people with no religious affiliation.
Many parents are saddened to report that their children are leaving the Church after preparing for and celebrating initiation sacraments, and after years of Catholic School or parish religion classes. Figures for Baptisms, Church weddings and weekly Mass attendance are down. Those who self-identify as atheists or agnostics (“Nones”) now make up roughly 23% of the U.S. adult population.
Adults, especially young adults, are more likely to say they are not religiously affiliated than in past generations. (Michael Lipka. A closer look at America’s rapidly growing religious ‘nones’, pew research center; 5/5/2017). Also growing in numbers are those who are baptized, and in junior or senior high school, who are increasingly stopping to self-identify as Christians and grouping themselves among the “Nones”.
At the same time, we are blessed with an incredibly generous cohort of faithful who are sacramentally graced to give Gospel witness in their homes, schools and workplace, if only they were invited, trained and supported in their outreach as missionary disciples. It will take the whole Church’s witness and engagement of the “Nones”, inside and outside the walls of the church and across society, to reach out, accompany them, and share the joy of the gospel with them.
Our 2018 and 2019 Catechetical Sunday and Leadership Institute themes are designed to address the phenomena of the “Nones” in two parts. During 2018, we will be researching some of the causes eroding faith and moving people to step away from life in Christ and his body, the Church. We will also showcase some of the many groups of missionary disciples already enlisted and engaged as witnesses for Jesus Christ. Hopefully many more will be able to learn about and join in their efforts.
During 2019, we will focus particularly on the steps needed to enable the faithful to claim their true roles as witnesses to Jesus Christ. In imitation of Jesus’ encounter with two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), we will become more familiar with terms like “accompanying”, “evangelizing” and “catechizing”. We will learn how to assist folks in exploring the reasonableness of the Faith, having an “encounter” with Jesus, sharing in a deeper faith experience, and drawing out the meaning of those experiences for their lives. May the joy of our life in Christ be so remarkable that even the “Nones” are moved to ask what is the secret behind this joy and claim it for themselves.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Bishop Robert Barron, Chairman
Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
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