Msgr. John Kozar visits a seminary of the Order of Discalced Carmelites at Cotton Hill, Trivandrum, in Kerala. (photo: John E. Kozar/CNEWA)
CNEWA Regional Director Argaw Fantu, left, meets with Bishop Lisane-Christos Matheos Semahun of Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. (photo: John E. Kozar/CNEWA)
A local catechist visits an Adivasi village in rural India. (photo: John E. Kozar/CNEWA)
When I was growing up in the 1950’s, almost all of the religious education, formation and faith development efforts of the church, especially at the parish level, were assumed by priests and religious sisters. In addition, at a diocesan level, almost all of the administration, financial oversight, management and operational details were in the hands of bishops and clergy. In those days, vocations to the religious life and the priesthood were much different than today.
But with the infusion of the Holy Spirit, following the Second Vatican Council, the critical importance of the role of the laity became front and center in the church, as did the shared ministry of the entire family that makes up the church. Little by little, the church in the United States became more and more a community of faith.
More than ever, each baptized Catholic is called to give public witness and service by assuming a greater responsibility in the abiding need for personal sanctification and the evangelization of others.
Although the response to Vatican II may have been slower in some countries, due to remote conditions and cultural limitations, the need to more fully integrate all members of the church in the continuing challenge to evangelize is as strong as ever. And CNEWA is committed in our role of accompaniment to support a variety of programs that invite more and more of the laity to be trained and available for service within the local church and to continue in the education and formation of men and women in religious life. That includes everything from teaching and preaching to simply witnessing the Gospel with lives of generosity and love.
In CNEWA’s world, there are some overriding challenges: Men and women religious who originally came from Europe are not as present; some areas are so remote that they have never been visited by a Christian; and many areas which came to know of Jesus a long time ago were not properly evangelized and thus their faith has diminished greatly.
Thus, much emphasis is placed on preparing catechists and supporting them, sometimes going to tribal areas which have never heard the name of Jesus or to areas where the faith needs to be reintroduced. CNEWA proudly offers support in this entire process of evangelization and religious education.
Even in Jerusalem, there is a great need to evangelize people who have grown up in the cradle of Christianity, and some baptized as Catholics have never really known him. Evangelization is more needed than ever before; priests, sisters and lay people are being trained for this apostolate.
I have personally met catechists that I consider heroic in their commitment to bring Jesus to those waiting to meet him. They have to travel far away to learn another language that has written religious education materials; then need to travel village to village introducing catechumens to a knowledge of God and his love for all. Usually as lay people themselves, they are the first contact point of faith for those who have never known about the cross and the resurrection of Jesus.
More and more lay people serve in many roles of administration and management, financial oversight, planning and even in the formation of clergy and religious men and women. In all of these instances, they need to be well trained and supported. CNEWA is there to accompany them.
And priests and sisters, also need to be well educated and updated in their spiritual formation, their academic pursuits and professional training. CNEWA, with your prayers and financial assistance, supports almost all of the seminaries of the local churches, the formation of religious men and women especially as novices, graduate studies and special training programs to better catechize and evangelize the faithful.
At the CNEWA-sponsored Pastoral Center in Amman, Jordan, the Teresians serve the church in so many ways: as evangelizers, as community development specialists, as language instructors for refugees, as cultural enhancement professionals and counselors to those in need.
There is a role for every Christian to give service within the church. But the overriding responsibility of each baptized Christian is to live a holy life and to invite others to do the same. Another way to say this is to invite all to evangelize in the name of our Lord. This is the mandate that is given us in our baptism and is renewed every time we celebrate the Eucharist.
As I reflect on my many pastoral visits throughout the world, I am inspired by the dynamism, the enthusiasm, and the commitment of so many humble catechists and servants.
I think of tribal catechists working with the Gumuz people in Ethiopia, or those working in remote tribal villages in India. I also recall meeting Catholic childcare workers in Christian villages in Egypt. In every instance, these faith-filled people represent so well the love of Jesus and the hope he brings to all those who come to know him and put their faith in him.
It also reminds me, as I hope it does for you, that the church is not administered or serviced by a “few,” but is a family in which everyone contributes.
Thank you, as always, for your prayerful and financial support — and for being a part of our family.