14 January 2011
|Catechists are translating the children's bible into one of the local languages, Kajo Keji, Southern Sudan. (Angelika Mendes/JRS)|
|"I am convinced that it was God who chose for me to be a catechist, that is why I like it."|
Yei, 14 December 2010 – In countries where laity far exceeds the clergy, catechists, rather than priests often lead the Catholic Church.
“Catechists are extremely important in Sudan. They work under very difficult conditions, they are very generous and dedicated, but they are asking for our help in further training and resources,” says Kevin White SJ who coordinates JRS’s pastoral programme in Yei.
JRS works with catechists in two projects in Southern Sudan, holding training sessions on all aspects of faith including church doctrine, sacraments, history, scripture, ethics, the liturgy, the role of the catechist and basic counselling skills. In 2010, JRS carried out three five-day workshops for catechists in Yei, Southern Sudan.
“Catechists are really the face of the church for most of the people here. Since there is such a shortage of priests and religious, the church relies on these good lay people to spread the faith,” says Fr. White.
The role of a catechist in the church is to lead prayer on Sundays during the liturgy of the word, which is the first part of the catholic mass, focused on texts from the bible. Catechists also lead funerals and other ceremonies but are not allowed to administer sacraments, such as the Eucharist.
Often, a priest can only visit a village every six months or so. This means people there can only receive the sacraments once or twice a year.
Both men and women can be catechists. “Some were seminarians whose studies were interrupted by war, others are just good people who love the lord and want to help,” says Fr. White.
The pastoral work in Yei is funded by the German Catholic mission charity Missio.
Leading the spirit
Peter Taban is a catechist who has worked with JRS for several years. He gives a personal account of his work:
“I fled Sudan with my family in 1994. In Arua [western Uganda] I began working as a catechist while living in the refugee camp. When I came back to Sudan in 2007 I continued my work as a catechist and JRS supported me.
Originally, I didn’t have any training. We [catechists] were blind to many aspects of the catholic faith but now that JRS has trained us we have extended our knowledge.
On Sundays, we have a prayer session, and we also recently opened a Sunday school. We teach people about the word of God. In the JRS workshops we also learn how to be peace-makers in our communities.
I am convinced that it was God who chose for me to be a catechist, that is why I like it. But we need some more education. Many of our catechists are not literate, and we need to extend our knowledge on the bible.
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