Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Cathedral introduces Whole Community Catechesis for faith formation

by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Dec. 1, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

Carol Pelo has been working in parish ministry, primarily as a religious educator, for 32 years. At the end of December Carol Pelo will retire after 26 years at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes, but she’s going out with a flourish: She takes with her the distinction of having coordinated the launch, this fall, of the first-ever-in-the-diocese, full-steam-ahead parish program in what’s called “Whole Community Catechesis.”

“Catechists, and religious education directors, and so forth, have been talking about this for several years now,” Pelo said. “Several of the parish religious education directors attended a national meeting about Whole Community Catechesis, and they came back and reported on what they had learned. At the same time, there have been all sorts of articles in the magazines that religious educators read.

“The idea is that faith formation is too important to be limited to children, and therefore we want to expand so formational and catechetical opportunities are available to the entire parish, of whatever age.”

This past Sept. 18, Catechetical Sunday, Father Steve Dublinski, rector of the Cathedral and Vicar General of the Diocese of Spokane, included in his homily these remarks: “Every household is a household of faith,” and “Each of us is responsible for the faith formation of all of us.”

That, in a nutshell, is the perspective from which Whole Community Catechesis takes its inspiration.

In a hand-out included in the parish’s Sunday bulletin, Pelo quoted material from Handbook for Success in Whole Community Catechesis by Bill Huebsch (Twenty-Third Publications): “Whole Community Catechesis is an approach to parish religious education through which youth and adults, as well as children, are invited to participate in faith formation programs throughout the year. The entire community thus becomes the focus of all we do in catechesis.”

This unique approach to catechesis takes the parish community’s experience of the Sunday Mass as the starting point for all the catechesis that happens in classes, meetings, assemblies and in the home. The key is the Liturgy of the Word from the previous Sunday’s Mass, and all the catechesis that happens flows from that Word. Each participant in parish classes, meetings, assemblies, and home life is invited to “break open the Word,” to speak with others from their faith experience and about what they believe. In this sense, Whole Community Catechesis is similar to what happens in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), which the Catholic Church takes as its model for all catechesis or education in the faith.

“One of the basic ways that this is done,” Pelo said, “is to have a ‘question of the week’ that arises out of the Gospel reading for that Sunday. This question is suggested for use at every parish meeting and class, and for gatherings right after Mass – even the coffee hour kind of thing – and people are encouraged to reflect on that question and do some faith sharing. Which is a scary idea for a lot of people.”

This was no overnight decision. The Cathedral’s pastoral staff went through a process to arrive at the decision to implement Whole Community Catechesis. That process began with the parish’s Evangelization/Education Committee studying and discussing the idea for a couple of years.

“One of the reasons we were interested,” Pelo says, “was that this parish doesn’t have a lot of children, and for several years now we have not had a children’s catechetical program. We do sacramental preparation and summer vacation Bible school, but those were our only programs for children. So rather than setting up classes, or whatever, for children, we really liked the idea of involving the entire community. When Whole Community Catechesis raised its head, that really sounded like it was right for a parish like this. Some parishes, in other parts of the country, that have fairly standard catechetical programs for children, add the Whole Community Catechesis approach and put it right alongside their children’s program, parallel with it. Then maybe four times a year they have an all-parish catechetical session, which includes an introductory presentation, a meal, and some activity, either all together – which is my preference – or in break-out groups by age. That would be a three- or four-hour gathering once every three or four months.”

Clearly, parents have a vitally important role in the experience of children in Whole Community Catechesis because, as official church documents on catechetics have taught for many years now, parents are the primary religious educators of their children. But the Whole Community Catechesis model takes for granted that catechesis is by no means limited to children. “Every Catholic,” regardless of age, education, or profession, “is invited to know and love the church,” Bill Huebsch wrote, “to walk with Christ in his or her daily life, and to gather faithfully together on Sunday for the parish Mass.”

Whole Community Catechesis emphasizes the development of “households of faith,” and this includes everyone, in every household in the parish, whether families of parents and children, younger or senior married couples without children, voluntary service households such as Jesuit Volunteers and L’Arche communities, or any other family configuration. Each and every household in the parish – including the priests – receives an invitation to participate in Whole Community Catechesis, both in the home and in parish group experiences of all kinds.

Spokane’s Our Lady of Fatima Parish plans to have its first all-parish catechetical gathering in January. “We’ve talked about coordinating it with our First Communion preparation, and therefore having a big session on Baptism, which seems like a great starting point to me,” Pelo said, “because that kicks off the other sacraments. We haven’t chosen that, however, because in the meantime we’ve had these listening sessions and have come up with about five pages of suggestions from the parish as to what we might do.”

“What really counts,” Bill Huebsch explains, “is how we live (our) faith in our everyday lives at home! If our homes are not places where faith is shared and lived, then the work of catechesis is like sowing seed on rocky ground.”

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