By: Fr Francis Onyango IMC
As a departing shot, it gives me joy to share with you, and to assure you that indeed Catechesis begins from the womb and ends in the tomb. An ordained minister of the Church can bless one whilst still in the womb, and yes on his very last moments in his/her physical reality. It is on this juncture, and the spirit of this presentation that we can posit, that indeed Catechesis is for everyone.
First and foremost, the Catholic faith is planted like a seed and then nurtured all through one’s life, no one just wakes up and becomes a Catholic. One is prepared through a catechetical process to help the person to understand the Catholic faith and doctrine. A person is said to be fully initiated in the Catholic Church when they have received the three sacraments of Christian initiation; Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. This is achieved through a process of preparation. The usual practice is that a family will bring the baby to the Church for baptism but due to certain unavoidable circumstances or individual choices, this is not always the case and so sometimes a baby grows from infancy stage to childhood without having received the sacrament of Baptism.
Becoming Catholic is one of life’s most profound and joyous experiences. Some are blessed enough to receive this great gift while they are infants, and, over time, they recognize the enormous grace that has been bestowed on them. Others enter the Catholic fold when they are older children or adults. A person is brought into full communion with the Catholic Church through reception of the three sacraments of Christian initiation – Baptism, Confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist – but the process by which one becomes a Catholic can take different forms especially if someone has received baptism in another church whose baptism is recognised by the Catholic Church.
A person who is baptized in the Catholic Church becomes a Catholic at that moment. Then this initiation is deepened by Confirmation and the Holy Communion, but one becomes a Catholic at baptism. Catholics are taken through a process of catechesis to prepare them for sacraments to help them understand the mysteries of our faith and so embrace and practice them. Our journey of faith does not just begin when someone has received the baptism, the Catholic Church journeys with the human person from the womb to the tomb. For us Catholics, life does not just begin at birth; it begins with conception, and this is the reason why the church is pro-life. When the church speaks against abortion, it is the care of human life that is at play. The church begins to defend life from the very moment that conception happens. As Catholics we are baptised and sent; baptised and sent to go and bear witness, to practice and defend the faith we profess!
In the diocese, we have always walked this path of journeying with the faithful from the womb to the tomb. Unknown to many, there is a blessing for pregnant mothers where the priest gives a blessing during pregnancy for the protection of the unborn child but also for the mother. The church cares for the unborn child and prays for their safety, protection and safe delivery! Just as a mother goes to the clinic during pregnancy, so too does she go to the church not just to listen to word but also to receive the sacrament for her spiritual nourishment, preparing herself so that when the child is born, the child is brought to a community of believers led by a mother who herself is a believer.
The church then performs infant baptism and if someone wasn’t baptized as an infant and if they are already of reasonable age, they are taken through a catechetical process to prepare them for the sacraments. This preparation continues until all the sacraments of initiation are received. Once a faithful has been fully initiated to the community of believers we make sure that we continue to journey with them through other sacraments of healing but also encourage them to receive the sacraments at the service of the community. Our daily celebrations, the daily sharing of the word, our works of charity, the continuous visits to the parishioners, the offering of prayers of thanksgiving on their behalf together with prayers of request, the blessing of their homes, cars and other items, the laying on of hands, the anointing, and even the visit to the elderly at home to offer them an opportunity to receive Holy Communion is part of our journey as a diocese with the baptized members of our Catholic family.
We do not just admit them to our community then abandon them halfway; we walk with them and not just spiritually but also emotionally. The church also has the commission for justice and peace to help safeguard and defend the rights of the people; becoming the mouthpiece of the voiceless ensuring that justice is served. The poor and vulnerable are fed and cared for and the sick are looked after. We also ensure that the environment where our people live is well taken care of; this we do through clean up campaigns even as we call on people to take care of the earth our common home. We try to make sure that the human person is taken care of in totality. And when their time has come that they leave this world back to the father, they are given viaticum to help them pass from this world to the next placing them in the care and mercy of God. As a church we don’t abandon them at death, we still care for their souls offering them requiem Masses for the forgiveness of their sins and also for the comfort and consolation of the bereaved family. We continue to journey with the deceased handling their bodies with great dignity until their final place of rest and to live in the hope of resurrection to eternal life.
The Catholic faith is a journey of life and every one of us is called to participate in this journey; it is not a journey that is to be taken only by the ordained ministers of the church, but by every believer; we are called to defend the unborn and once they are born to walk with them as a community of believers teaching the young, being exemplary to the youth, serving the community as grown-ups, caring for the elderly, visiting the sick, burying the dead and walking with the bereaved families. Every Catholic is called to be a catechist for we have all been baptized and sent! Au Revoir!
Article souirced from Siyatfunywa News (Diocese of Manzini Newsletter) 1st edition published in 0ctober 2021.