Forming a Community of Faith

Adult Catechesis in the Cultural Context of Pakistan

Catechesis is the systematic study of the history, nature, goals, principles, and process of deepening of Christian faith and doctrine. Catechesis is concerned with the process of growth in faith, the education of children, young people, and adults in faith, which includes especially the teaching of Christian doctrine in an organic and systematic way, with a view to initiating the hearers into the fullness of Christian life.

The Church puts much emphasis on the formation of life according to the faith and teaching of Christ. The fullness of Christian life consists not in understanding of Christian faith but in leading a life according to the Word of God. Faith formation for Christian life signifies a transformation that springs from the renewal of the mind and heart. It helps Christians to live their life meaningfully as leaven in the society and the whole world.

The Christian life consists mainly in proclamation, celebration, and witnessing. In and through our life, the faith is being proclaimed, celebrated, and witnessed. In recent decades the Church has published a number of documents that call for faith formation to be given top priority in its catechetical ministry.

Meaning of Catechesis

Catechesis is defined as the efforts within the Church to help the believer understand that Jesus is the Son of God, so that believing they might have life in His name, and to educate and instruct them in this life and thus build up the Body of Christ.

The purpose of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is to provide the Church with a synthesis of the essential and fundamental content of the Catholic doctrine as regards faith and morals in light of the Second Vatican Council and the entire Catholic Tradition.1

Adult Faith Formation

Adult Christians live in daily contact with people of other faiths. The faith of adults is constantly challenged by the materialistic environment of the present world. Lay people are the witnesses of Christ in the world. On them depends to a great extent the image that the Church projects to the world. A lot depends on the religious formation that they themselves will still continue to seek.

Today the Church has begun to realize that the religious formation of adults has been very much neglected. One exception may be the work of Catholic Action. This new awareness is an invitation to review our pastoral action and to take the orientation that the present needs of the Church demand. The Christian who does not know his faith cannot explain the faith nor defend it. For this reason the faith formation of every adult in the Church is essential.

The Prime Goal

The principal goal of adult catechesis is to grow in the faith. Adult faith formation, by which people consciously grow in the life of Christ through experience, reflection, prayer, and study, must be the central task in catechetical enterprise, becoming the axis around which revolves the catechesis of childhood, adolescence, and even old age.2

John Paul II states that “one of the constant concerns, whose urgency is confirmed by present day experience throughout the world, is the catechesis of adults. This is the principal form of catechesis because it is addressed to persons who have the greatest responsibility and the capacity to live the Christian message in its fully developed form.”3

Reasons for Adult Religious Education

The General Directory for Catechesis earnestly affirms the need of catechesis for adults, for these reasons:

  • The faith formation of the adults is necessary because they fully participate in the social life, the responsibilities of the family, and civic and political matters of the state. For this reason they must complete their Christian formation according to the norm of the Word of God in a special and suitable way.
  • Aptitudes and capacities which reach their full development in adult life, such as the experience of life and maturity of personality, have to be cultivated and illumined by the Word of God.
  • The adults also have to pass through certain periods of crisis, and during these times their faith must be constantly enlightened, developed and fortified.4

A Missionary Vision

“The whole Church is missionary by her very nature.”5 The word “missionary” means one who is sent with a mission, or one who is sent with a purpose or for a function. The missionary can also be a person or a group or community of persons.

The New Testament highlights that the Incarnation of the Word has a missionary character. The Word proceeds from the Father and comes into the world in order to bring salvation and then return to the Father.6 The perfect missionary is Jesus himself, because Jesus is the one who is sent by the Father, with a mission to redeem the people, and who later joins the Father.

The Church is born of the evangelizing activity of Jesus and the twelve apostles. The Church is the community of believers, the community of hope that lives and is communicated.7

Adult faith formation calls and prepares adults to act as disciples in mission to the world: to share the message of Christ and to renew and to transform the social and temporal order. This dual calling to evangelization and justice is integral to the identity of the lay faithful.

Maturity in Faith

The process of catechesis takes place from birth to death. Catechesis fosters the maturity in faith which calls for continuous effort on the part of the catechizers and the catechized. Catechesis is not restricted merely to the classroom and children. Rather, it embraces the whole life of the Church and every age group. Every baptized person should make a sincere and dedicated effort, personally and by participating in the catechetical initiatives of the Church, to know the content of faith described in the Bible, Tradition, the Magisterial documents, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, to grow in the personal encounter with Christ and to become authentic and credible witnesses of faith in their lives.

Adult faith formation in Pakistan allows people to consciously grow in Christ’s life through experience, contemplation, prayer, and study. Adult catechesis must be considered the most important form of catechesis since it works with people who are capable of responsible commitment. All other necessary forms are oriented toward it in some way.

The Christian Community

Pakistan is a country with a rich and diverse cultural heritage, abundant natural and human resources and an important geopolitical position. Pakistan is an Islamic State. It is a developing country and politically unstable. The majority of the people living in Pakistan are religious-minded, kind and loving. They care for each other with brotherly love and affection. The attitude and behavior of common Pakistani is pleasant and encouraging.

In spite of all this, Christian settlements have been attacked and burned. Christians are at risk from the Blasphemy Law and the law of evidence (the testimony of a non-Muslim worth half that of a Muslim) have made minorities officially second-class citizens. There are serious challenges to Christians living among Muslims in Pakistan. The Church in Pakistan has to struggle for basic human rights. It has to struggle for its right to run schools and give religious education, so necessary for the life and the future of the community. The Church has to battle daily against discrimination and intolerance.

The Catechetical Centers of Pakistan

The National Catechetical Commission of Pakistan (NCC), since its formation in 1968, has contributed a great deal in the field of catechesis. The task is vast but the resources are very limited. The progress made by the catechetical movement gives new hope. All the catechetical centers in Pakistan conduct service training of catechists and religion teachers. The catechetical movement is kept alive through the efforts of these centers.

National Catechetical Commission (NCC)

The inter-diocesan Catechetical Commission was formed in 1968. The name was later changed to the National Catechetical Commission of Pakistan in 1985. The NCC meets very regularly and it is one of the most active commissions of the Bishops’ Conference. The NCC is rendering many services for the local Church and it is proud of its achievements. The Syllabus Committee of the NCC is responsible for the writing/publication and revision of textbooks. It helps to publish other catechetical, biblical, and liturgical materials.

All-Pakistan Catechetical Conference (APCC)

In 1992, the first all-Pakistan catechetical conference was held. This conference was a milestone in the history of the Catholic Church in Pakistan. The need to plan the faith formation of God’s chosen people of Pakistan was a long-felt need. One of the major shifts proposed was to base catechesis on parish level. Generally, the adult thinking is that catechesis is meant only for children. The APCC concluded that a historic shift should take place from school-based to home-based catechesis.

Diocesan Catechetical Centers

The function of the diocesan catechetical center is to supervise the entire catechetical organization of the diocese. Six dioceses now have organized diocesan catechetical centers, while one has a skeletal office. All these centers have full-time trained personnel. They have a variety of activities for school-going and non-school-going children, teachers, parents, and other adults.

Centers for Adult Catechesis in Pakistan

The life and future of a community depends on how values are communicated and passed on. For a Christian community, this is to speak of catechetics. The details of catechetical centers in Pakistan are as follows:

Catechists Training Centre, Khushpur

The Centre is forming high quality catechists to meet the needs of the Church in the third millennium. They have a three-year formation program. The main thrust of the training is “Formation of Basic Christian Communities.”

Joti Centre, Mirpurkhas

The Joti Centre is pioneering a catechism in pictures for unlettered adults, mainly tribal converts. It is also experimenting in the formation of the catechumenate of adults (RCIA). Special emphasis is given regarding preparation of parents before the baptism of their children, for first communion, confirmation, and confession.

Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Multan Catechetical Centers

These centers have regular training programs for lay ministers, basic Christian formation, marriage preparation, liturgical and biblical courses. They are becoming a source of adult catechesis. These centers also publish books in the Urdu language for adult faith formation. In this regard, the publications by Maktaba-e-Anaweem and Daughters of St. Paul are praiseworthy. The concerted efforts of the various institutions or organizations point toward a better catechesis in the future.

Religion Teachers’ Course at Pastoral Institute Multan

The contribution by the Pastoral Institute, Multan, towards the training of religion teachers is highly commendable. RTC has trained religion teachers (lay and religious), who are fully engaged in teaching religion in all the dioceses of the country. The number of candidates seeking to follow this course is increasing, and this is a hope for a bright future in Catechesis. Acha-Charwaha (Good Shepherd) is a journal published by the institute in Urdu on various theological issues.

Peace Center Lahore

The prime motive of the institute is to create harmony among various religions living in Pakistan. Religious scholars participate in interreligious dialogue. The Peace Center is rendering remarkable services in highlighting minority issues and social formation of the youth. It is publishing Peace Center Theological Journal for clergy and adults.

Communication of Faith through Media

The Catechetical Conference of Bishops in India states that media communications are a great gift of God to humanity. While appreciating their growth as one of the chief means of formation today, we are aware of the negative impact they can have on the adults’ minds, questioning the existing value system and posing a great threat to the traditional values. Undeniably, they have brought about a mediated culture. Hence we encourage every member of the Church to be critical in understanding the media and at the same time to utilize these powerful audio-visual means for making our catechetical pedagogy more effective.8

In Pakistan, Catholic TV and Wave Studio are rendering remarkable services in the field of evangelization. Catholic TV often organizes talent competitions, like singing, painting, and debate contests among Christian youth. Theological discussions and talk shows on various theological and social issues are also part of their regular transmission. Wave Studio presents liturgical music and audio-video productions to highlight Christian mysteries. Many congregations and diocesan priests have launched YouTube channels which present Sunday homilies in Urdu.

Contextual Implications for Catechetics in Pakistan

One of our leading catechists, Fr. Anju Soares, has presented a list of various contextual implications of catechetics in Pakistan.

The list of these implications is as follows:

  • The vast majority of our people are poor, oppressed and uneducated. They should be the main concern of our efforts. Our catechesis must be a source of hope and liberation for them.
  • The message needs to be adapted to the mentality, cultures and spiritual needs of our people so that inculturation takes place in all aspects of daily living.
  • There will have to be more emphasis on living our faith in a non-Christian environment and having a dialogue of life with the wider society at all levels.
  • Catechetical methodology will have to be varied to make it relevant to the various communities found in our urban and rural settings, and also accommodate to special groups within them.
  • Catechesis needs to be Gospel value-oriented and relevant to real social issues in order to transform the situation.
  • We need to be sensitized to the importance of ecological issues as part of the Church’s evangelizing mission.
  • A well-organized catechetical program for adults needs to be developed.
  • Our methodology will have to deliberately shift focus from “banking” to an “action/reflection/action” approach.
  • We should utilize the media culture in our catechesis, particularly in the area of value-formation, and at the same time educate people in the use of the media.
  • The equal dignity accorded by God to all persons, regardless of age, sex, or status, must become an integral part of our faith formation.
  • We need to foster a spirit of communal prayer and help people to rediscover the mystical experience of the Sufi and Bhakti traditions in our communities, for this too is part of our own heritage.
  • We need to study the catechetical value of the phenomenon of Christian shrines, melas, and conventions to promote authentic popular religiosity.
  • Our sacred sacramental rituals need to be celebrated according to the aspiration and sentiments of our people. The value of silence and listening should also be inculcated.
  • A deep study of other living faiths and the Asian vision of harmony need to be promoted.
  • The rich catechetical value of popular religiosity needs to be encouraged. Vatican II recommends a process of inculturation of a country’s catechesis and liturgy.
  • The real challenge facing parents, teachers, and catechizers is the need to awaken a genuine desire for faith, this call for a serious study and research on both diocesan and national levels.9

Paradigm Shift: An Urgent Call

The catechesis has renewed its methods and has progressed a long way in the line of biblical, liturgical, and doctrinal aspects. But it has not yet established a new relationship with today’s Pakistan. This new relationship is not a pedagogical question, but one concerning the whole situation of the Church in Pakistan.

The traditional methods of catechesis are still in practice. The common methods are the Sunday homily, seminars, workshops, Melas, conventions, sermons on catechetical instructions and guidelines on liturgy and the Catechism, always practiced and taught in the boundaries of the Church.

These traditional methods, ways and means are good but old-fashioned. There is an urgent need to renew, review, and update our catechesis methods. The youth love creativity, active participation, challenges, appreciation, and encouragement.

The twenty-first century requires that we should reach out to our community at their workplaces. The faith formation endeavors can be done with nursing staff, sanitary workers, factory workers, brick kiln workers, household women, and people of all walks of life and fields. The movements like “Ten Minute Catechism” would be a good start on social media platforms. We must also include people-forming-people methodology.

Holistic Faith Formation

During Jesus’ time, synagogues were not only the places of worship; there were also included elements like politics and social activities. The Catholic Church always emphasizes “holistic formation,” but it cannot be achieved without active participation of the people, dialogue on daily life issues, awareness about rights and duties, and addressing to political and social challenges while living in an Islamic milieu. Religious houses in big cities often provide residence to young people who come from peripheries to do specialization in different fields.

Now some dioceses have launched programs of CSS exams preparation. These exams are held every year throughout the country to choose candidates for the civil services; thus, the preparation by the dioceses is a good way to introduce Christian boys and girls into the civil services. This is a holistic integration along with strong faith formation for youth in a challenging atmosphere. It will be good for the Christian witness among the Muslim majority, along with inspiration for the young generation.

CSS exams preparation is costly and needs lots of time and energy; but in Pakistan, the Church is not only responsible for spiritual but also secular formation of the youth. The social and spiritual life of the community is closely connected, similar to the early Christian community, where the Church was responsible for the pastoral care and daily hardships of the people. These programs are opportunities to encourage them to be active members of the Catholic Church.

Our youth are facing various types of challenges, like identity crisis, poverty, lack of education, forced conversion, and other forms of persecution. In such situations it’s often possible to go astray and look for the short cuts or to become pessimistic. Through such activities the Church is able to prepare them to be a rock in all crises, and to be ready even for martyrdom. So it is one of the ways to keep them together despite all hardships.

Our faith formation methods must provide students with opportunities to explore human values in a critical fashion and to test their own values through personal reflection and experience. Adult faith formation must be firmly founded on their Christian faith, culture and context. Adult faith formation needs to promote a process that seeks to develop and support both human and faith dimensions of adults. It must remind the adults that the gifts which they have are to be used for the common good.

Pastoral Plan

The parishes in Pakistan are committed to sponsoring the development and maturation of the Christian faith of the community. Therefore, the aspects like: the content of Christian faith, the dimensions of faith development, the surroundings in which catechesis is given, the persons to whom the faith formation is offered, the persons who are the agents for offering the faith formation, the methods of imparting the Christian faith, and the organization of parish programs with specific goals should be our concern if we are serious about deepening the faith of our people.10

The name catechesis was given to the totality of the Church’s effort to make disciples. It is to help people believe that Jesus is the Son of God so that believing they may have life in His name. Every pastor has to take upon himself the responsibility of building up the body of Christ, which includes basically the formation of faith of the community who are children, youth, and adults.11

Challenges

In Pakistan, we are facing numerous challenges to adult faith formation; we live our faith in an Islamic context. During the last few decades the process of Islamization has greatly influenced our political, social, and family life. The rapid industrialization has left a profound impact on our people and on the environment. Certain religious sects are attracting some of our faithful away from the Church. The growing influence of media culture poses a tremendous challenge. Media is having its good and bad effects on the attitudes, morals and beliefs of our people.

Another major challenge is of missionary zeal. We are not reaching out to the people and that is why we are not aware of their actual needs and problems. The majority is following the same pattern of traditional faith formation and only a few are using modern means of communication in their talks and seminars. Another challenge lies in the fact that the number of faith educators and animators are not enough to keep with the growing population.

Signs of Hope

Signs of hope and new life are still alive. The religious formation houses are full of young candidates. Adults are also getting education in the catechetical institutes of the country. Lay people are coming up with new and creative ideas. Young priests, religious and sisters are also making sure of the participation of the lay people in the Church activities. New ministries for adults are flourishing and new ways of adult faith formation are also being discovered by the Church at the universal and local level.

The Church in Pakistan is encouraging the initiatives of inculturation and harmonizing religious education with cultural education for evangelization purposes. The traditional values are examined on the parameter of the gospel values. Religious piety and Marian devotion are helping tools for proclamation of the gospel and faith formation in rural areas as well as in big cities.

Conclusion

Serving the adults of today is a process of incarnation. The Church must come to their level in order to serve them. It demands initiative and commitment on the part of animators and the co-operation of the recipients. Once adults find the treasure, Jesus Christ, they cannot stop proclaiming Him. In this way adults become real witnesses of Christ, living and proclaiming their faith. Adults who are well trained in faith and prayer become the apostles of Christ in the modern era.

Adults must be encouraged and motivated to do the work of faith formation and evangelization in their own society. Thus each adult becomes a messenger of the Good News. People-forming-people theory must be followed. If each person forms and evangelizes one person, it is not far away for the whole world to know Christ. Then the whole world will be overflowing with the knowledge of Christ and we can successfully form integral human persons. The various forms of methodology have their place in a total catechesis of the community. If we are seeking for a serious catechesis, where the faith really operates among people, we will need to develop many forms of catechesis designed for different specific group’s different life events.

While we appreciate the catechetical initiatives taken so far in our regions, dioceses and parishes, we earnestly look forward to a systematic and vibrant catechesis in every locus of catechesis: parish, family, and small Christian communities, lay movements, pastoral groups, and educational institutions.

  1. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 11.
  2. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, no. 5.
  3. Catechesi Tradendae, 43.
  4. The General Directory for Catechesis, 29–30, 1997.
  5. Ad Gentes, 35.
  6. John 13:1.
  7. Evangelii Nuntiandi, 15.
  8. Catechetical Conference of Bishops in India, 2011, 5.
  9. Cf. A. SOARES, Vision 2000 and Beyond, Focus, vol. 20, no. 1, Multan: 2002, 12–14.
  10. Cf. A. SOARES, Preaching the Gospel, Focus, vol. 22, no. 2, Multan: 2002, 62.
  11. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, no 1074–75.
Fr. Shahzad Barkat About Fr. Shahzad Barkat

Fr. Shahzad Barkat, O.P., is a Dominican friar from Pakistan. Currently a candidate for the Licentiate in Systematic Theology in the Facolta Teologica dell’Emilia-Romagna, Bologna, Italy, he has also served as tribal coordinator in the Multan Diocese and is heavily involved in the adult faith formation of the Hindu Tribal Catechumenates.

Comments

  1. Avatar Promila Jacob says:

    Fr Shehzad is a sort of encyclopedia or dictionary for us. His work in Pakistan specially for the formation of Faith is incredible. I have found this article like a real picture of his work which I have seen and experienced while he was working in Pakistan. His writing is as civilized and crystal clear as he is himself. God bless him with great success. Amen

  2. Avatar Emmanuel fazal OP says:

    Dear fr. Shehzad Barkat OP. Thank you for your article on Adult Faith formation. It is need of time. I wish have seminars with this topic to catechise the adult for incarceration of the true Christian Faith.

  3. Avatar Irfan Christ OP says:

    Dear Fr. Shahzad Barkat, congratulations for this thought provoking and informative article. May God bless you and use you in His mission abundantly.

    • Avatar Fr Shahzad Barkat OP says:

      Thank you brother Irfan Christ for your prayers and appreciation

    • I would like to suggest that Fr. Barkat investigate/research the Neocatechumenal Way which forms small communities of baptized and non-baptized people of all ages and who enter a way of conversion which Pope Paul VI called, “a process of Christian formation suitable for our times”, and which has been validated by him and the four popes succeeding him. Benedict XVI, when he was head of the CDF, himself read and validated the 13 or so volumes of catecheses used for the various steps of the catechumenate without changing much and including references to both the Scriptures and the Catechism. I have been involved with the Way since 1989 and must attest to the fact that it has really helped me to enter into the grace of my baptism, into a greater understanding of the gift of the priesthood (diminishing greatly my clerical attitude) and of the mission and means of evangelizing.

  4. Congratulations fr Shahzad BARKAT, I am happy to read your article in a form of intellectual charity. Indeed today at the threshold of science and technology we are challenged to give faith formation. Let’s do our part…

  5. Avatar Danish Daniel says:

    Fr. Shehzad Your article about the adult faith formation was informative and the idea that you have shown in it was very clear. I like your work, also proud to read the article and listen to what you had to say

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