WHAT IS CATECHESIS?
"The name catechesis was given to the totality of the Church’s efforts to make disciples, to help men believe 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, thus building up the body of Christ."The definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch, but also in communion and intimacy with Jesus Christ." (CCC 4)
“Catechesis is an education in the faith of children, young people, and adults which includes especially the teaching of Christian doctrine imparted, generally speaking, in an organic and systematic way, with a view to initiating the hearers into the fullness of Christian life.” (CCC 5)
CATECHISM IN QATAR: A Glimpse of the Past….Now and Then
In the early ‘80’s, Qatar being a Muslim country did not have a church structure for Christian believers, in particular for the existing small multinational Catholic community. Masses were celebrated in private homes of the faithful by visiting priests assigned by the Apostolic Vicar of Arabia. Also, little is known about other liturgical services and religious activities being conducted for the Catholic community, including the much needed Christian formation for the young.
As the Catholic community increased in number, the Vicariate saw the need to provide a venue for them to openly exercise their faith. In response to this need and through the efforts of the Vicariate and with the approval of the Qatar authorities, the R.C. Mission Parish was officially established in Qatar. The Rev. Fr. John Van Deerlin was the first parish priest. Henceforth, the Catholic faithful openly exercised their faith as a community in a small parish church building situated within the city of Doha.
THE BEGINNING AND GROWTH
One of the priority projects of the parish was to establish a structured catechetical program for the children of the Catholic families in Qatar. In 1990, the Rev. Fr. John Van Deerlin introduced a catechism for children based on the “Christ Our Life Program”. The printed resources for the program were brought into the country by Rev. Fr. John, which was made possible by God’s divine providence. The catechetical program commenced with 3 level classes for teenage children.
Registrants were children from various nationalities, predominantly Indians and Filipinos, while catechists consisted of volunteers from the laity, also from different nationalities and who held fulltime jobs. Classes were scheduled every Friday, which is a weekend in Qatar.. Classes were conducted in private homes of Catholic families who offered their houses for this purpose. The Rev. Fr. John was the Spiritual Director.
Through the few years since the program started, the number of registrants gradually grew in number. They were children of various ages who were desirous to know about their faith and their God. It was evident to many – children and parents alike – that the catechesis is meeting it’s goal, i.e., to bring God closer to His people. For this reason, the catechetical ministry deemed it necessary to group the children into 6 levels. It was not difficult for the ministry since applicable printed resources for the various levels were already available.
But success was not without accompanying problems. The concerns were classrooms and teachers. God paved the way for solutions! The program was heartily welcomed and subsequently introduced in two other towns where there were large number of Catholic families – Dukhan and Messaieed. This move resolved the problem of lack of classrooms in Doha. Also, the campaign for more volunteer catechists did not fall on deaf ears, as more volunteers came forward to offer their time and effort.
Subsequent years saw the introduction of Levels 7 and 8 and the Connect Series for those who completed Level 8. The target groups for the Connect Series are adolescents, who by their nature want to become independent. The objective of the Connect Series is to help them cope with their young lives as they struggle in their transition from childhood to adulthood.
In 2002, the much awaited Kindergarten Level was introduced. This was another milestone achieved over the years.
Medium of Instruction
The Catechism Program was initially conducted in the English language. However, when more and more Arabic and French speaking children registered, the ministry deemed it best to group them accordingly to facilitate instructions and learning. Hence, the Arabic and French group got their own Arabic and French-speaking teachers, respectively and used their own language as medium of instruction in their classes. On some occasions, particularly in the lower levels, it may be necessary to use dual languages to facilitate learning e.g., English/Tagalog, English/Hindu.
The syllabus for each level is prepared by the office of the catechetical ministry. It is based on the resource material from the “Christ Our Life Series” designed for a particular level. Topics that are relevant to a particular liturgical season, like Lent and Advent are taken into consideration in formulating the syllabus. In addition, syllabus for the level of children being prepared to receive the Sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and Confirmation focuses on the truths related to the particular sacrament.
A new set of resource materials replaced the “Christ Our Life Series”. To date, the “We Believe Series” is used by Levels 1 to 6, “Confirmation Journey – Part 1” for Level 7 and “Confirmation Journey – Part 2” for Level 8.
Catechists are encouraged to use instructional methods that are applicable to the age group and topic for discussion. Instructional aids are provided by the ministry office, as applicable.
Catechist Training and Other Related Events
All volunteer catechists are not trained teachers. They come from various walks of life – professionals, housewife, etc. but it is the desire to serve the Lord that motivated them to join the ministry. In early 1994, Rev.Fr. John conducted the first Catechist Training Course, an approved course in catechesis as specified by the Apostolic Vicar. It was aimed in helping catechists attain a better knowledge and understanding of some Truths of the faith as well as develop their knowledge and skill in instructional methodologies. A certificate is issued to trainees who complete the course.
Special classes are conducted to prepare children who are of age to receive Holy Communion and Confirmation prior to receiving the sacraments.
A Catechism Day is designated during the year and all groups come together in joyful camaraderie, complete with program and snacks, which are donated by kind-hearted parishioners.
QATAR’S CATECHETICAL MINISTRY
As mentioned earlier, the catechetical ministry in Qatar was started by Rev. Fr. John Van Deerlin in 1990 as the first parish priest. As Spiritual Director for the ministry he established a very strong foundation for an effective catechism along with a group of committed staff of volunteers and with full support from the then incumbent Apostolic Vicar of Arabia, Bernard Gremoli OFM Cap. He also envisioned a church building that would include facilities for conducting catechism classes and other religious services. He spearheaded efforts in obtaining legal requirements and financial assistance prior to the end of his tenure in Qatar. Indeed, he was headstrong in achieving this goal and his commitment to this endeavour sifted down to his successors. He lived to witness the ground-breaking for the church building for Our Lady of the Rosary Parish. But that was only the beginning! Much had been done
and is being done for the continually growing Catholic community in Qatar. Thanks to the undying dedication of our priests and laity.
Fr. Lester Mendonsa is the current parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Doha from 2002-2005. His continued support contributes greatly to the attainment of the goals and objectives of the catechetical ministry.
Fr. Tomasito “Tom” Veneracion, OFC Cap was the Spiritual Director for the Filipino Group when he first came to Doha in 2001 as parish priest. He was the assistant parish priest who is charismatic and dynamic. He laid down the foundation for a proactive approach in evangelizing children. With his guidance, catechism is set to do away with the conventional approach to catechesis. He also strives to ensure availability of needed resources essential for the smooth running of the ministry i.e., adequate classrooms and offices, to mention a few.
Fr. Zacaria Parra OFM, another Filipino priest who also became the Spiritual Director for the Filipino Group from 2010 to 2012.
PHILIPPINE CATECHISM CLASSES
In 1997, due to the continually growing number of Filipino children registering in catechism classes, the Filipino catechetical group decided to bring all Filipino children together and hold classes in one place. The management of the Philippine School-Doha (PSD) at Al Sadd gave permission to the Filipino catechetical group to use their classrooms and premises on Fridays. A catechist-coordinator, Ms. Laura Huab was appointed by Fr. John Van Deerlin and catechists are all Filipino volunteers. Levels 1 to 8 and teen levels were offered.
In 1999, Al Khor catechism classes started with volunteer catechists coming from the same area and who completed the Catechist Training Course. This was a welcomed relief to catechists who earlier, would travel from Doha to conduct classes there.
Two years later, the Philippine International School (PIS) at Abu Hamour offered their premises too for international catechism classes.
Celebration of First Holy Communion are held at PSD, separate from the multinational groups. However, celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation remains to be a parish event and thus has to be conducted at a designated place; now at the Parish Church of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary for all groups in the catechetical program