As is customary at Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu, at the beginning of every academic year there is usually a colloquium paper that focuses on an aspect of seminary formation. This helps the seminarians to discuss and deepen their knowledge about the vocation they have chosen.

For this year’s colloquium, the Rector, Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Albert Ikpenwa chose as the theme of the colloquium paper: SEMINARY FORMATION: A PERIOD FOR AUTHENTIC CATECHESIS AND WITNESSING. The choice of this theme according to him arises from the “deep-seated widening divide between what the Church teaches and what seminarians and priests believe and also practice. This widening gap ranges from moral, doctrinal, social, liturgical, cultural and canonical issues.” This is because some priests either forget or put aside what they have been taught in the seminary, to do whatever they want to do. Thus, this year’s colloquium paper focuses on Catechesis in the context of seminary formation where the seminarian is taught to integrate himself into the belief system of the Church, make it a part of his life so as to be able to defend this belief system even with his blood.

The colloquium was structured into two phases. The first was the group discussion during which the different groups had the singular task of discussing the colloquium paper, reacting to it and proffering solutions to the challenges that will arise therein, while the second phase harvested the fruit of the first phase.

This year’s theme is discussed under various headings in the Colloquium paper beginning with the “Nature of Catechesis”, which Pope John Paul II describes as “an education of children, young people and adults in the faith. This 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.” (CT 18). This nature of Catechesis is further explained under three sub-headings:

  • Catechesis as Trinitarian and Christocentric: This is true because catechesis is not just any teaching. It is the teaching of Christian Doctrine founded in the words and life of Jesus Christ, who was sent into the world by the Father, in communion with the Holy Spirit to bring salvation to mankind. This therefore implies that the agent of catechesis is not the owner of the message and so must not water it down. By so doing, the agent does not negate his integrity as an intelligent being but further enhances it by knowing his limitations as a human being and expresses his faith in the supreme, omniscient God.
  • Catechesis as Organic and Systematic Body of Teaching: this section re-echoes the words of Pope John XXIII that, “the substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another.” Thus, it becomes very important to arrange them systematically to avoid muddling it up. This ensures that what is taught is not left to the whims of the agent of catechesis who may minimize, exaggerate or leave out areas he considers as not important. This organic and systematic nature of catechesis has its richness rooted in the Scriptures, the tradition and the magisterium of the church.
  • Another sub-section of this nature of catechesis that was discussed is the Major Thematic Areas covered by Authentic Catechesis. These areas include: Kerygma, which brings to the fore that proclamation of the Word goes hand-in-hand with catechesis; Apologetics or Examination of the Reason for Belief; this takes into the consideration the different levels of the faithful in catechetical instructions. Other thematic areas highlighted by this paper are “Celebration of the sacraments” and “The Identity and Proficiency of Agents of Catechesis” which answers the question “who is an Agent of Catechesis?” According to the General Directory for Catechesis, catechesis is the responsibility of the entire Christian community. Christian initiation indeed should not be the work of catechists and priests alone, but the whole community of the faithful.” (GDC 220). However, not minding the above call on all people to be agents of catechesis as partakers in the common priesthood of Christ, only few members receive the ecclesial mandate to become catechists. Thus, in the sphere of catechesis the following hierarchical order of responsibility is observable: a. the Pope, b. the Bishops c. Priests d. groups of Men and Women Religious and Lay Catechists.

Another section of the colloquium paper focuses on the Catechetical Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood. The background of this section is that ‘you cannot give what you don’t have (nemo dat quod non habet). Thus, this section focuses on the formation seminarians should undergo to prepare them to give authentic catechetical instruction. The New Directory for Catechesis 152 outlines the following as what seminary should foster in Major Seminarians:

  1. Permeate them with missionary spirit through spiritual formation that would help them proclaim the gospel.
  2. Guarantee experiences of the first proclamation and exercise in the various forms of catechesis.
  3. Introduce them to profound understanding of Catechism of the Catholic Church.
  4. Explore the rites of Christian initiation of Adults.
  5. Present the guidelines of the respective particular Church relative to catechesis.
  6. Guarantee a place in the curriculum of the study of catechesis, of the magisterium on catechetical matters, of pedagogy and of other human sciences.

This section explains the formation of seminarians on catechesis into various sub-headings; Pre-Seminary Catechetical Formation, Seminary Formation Period; a Platform for Enhanced Catechesis, Subject Matter/Content of Catechesis within the Seminary Formation Period and Catechesis and Theology.

The Colloquium paper further addresses the “Virtues Necessary for Authentic Catechesis and Witnessing”. These virtues are what will help the agent of catechesis to make what they have learnt part of their lives in order to transmit them efficiently to others. These necessary virtues entail: Pedagogy of Faith and Perseverance/Fortitude.

With regard to the “Challenges” faced by those entrusted with the mission to catechize, the paper focuses on those presented by “Catechesis in Situations of Pluralism and Complexity amongst the many listed in the New Directory for Catechesis (cf. NDC 320 ff). According to it, adequate catechetical methods must be developed to suit the following cultural contexts; urban/rural context, traditional local cultures, popular piety, scientific mentality, digital culture, questions on bio-ethics.

In Conclusion, the paper opines that “taking catechesis seriously means not only to learn the doctrines of the church, but also to make them part and parcel of one’s life. This requires the acquisition of necessary virtues some of which have been discussed here.”

The second phase dwelt more on harvesting the fruit of the group discussion. Speaking especially on the solutions to the problems raised by the colloquium paper, the groups agreed that proper training was needed for the catechists whose function would be to catechize the people of God. Furthermore, the following solutions were proffered:

  1. Urban/Rural Context: these are two broad contexts that have different methodoloies. Thus, a good catechist should be able to discern the tool appropriate for the different contexts
  2. Traditional local culture: Dialogue between culture and religion should be the ideal. Thus, catechesis should centre on the integration of the teaching of the Church into the culture of the land.
  3. Popular piety: here, things that tend to portray bad practices in the Church especially by some religious organizations should be discouraged. Again, certain practices and utterances by priest should be avoided. The authentic way of approaching God should also be part of the topics for catechesis.
  4. Scientific Mentality: there is need to have scientific mentality. This entails giving adequate attention to people especially the sick. One is expected to pray for the sick as well as encourage him/her to go to the hospital. The dual extremes of either pushing the person to go to the hospital without praying for him/her or praying for him or her without medical treatment should be discouraged.
  5. Digital Culture: the importance of this digital era cannot be over emphasized. Seminarians and priests now have access to multitude of Church documents at their door steps using their phones and laptops. However, there should be always a controlled and directed usage of the Internet and electronic media.
  6. Questions of Bioethics: some bioethical issues like abortion, euthanasia, and so on, should be taken seriously. The stand of the Church should always be stated clearly, leaving the individuals to make their own decisions.

At the end, the Rector through the Vice Rector I thanked all who contributed and prayed the good Lord to give all the grace to imbibe all that had been discussed in this year’s colloquium. The Event ended with a closing prayer said by Rev. Fr. Dr. Godwin Orji