Every September, the Philippine Catholic Church celebrates "National Catechetical Month." This is about the feast of Saint Lorenzo Ruiz (1594–1637), a catechist and the first martyr-saint in the Philippines, Asia’s predominantly Catholic country.
After his execution in Japan by the Tokugawa Shogunate during its persecution of Japanese Christians in the 17th century, he became his country's protomartyr.
Every year, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP)-Episcopal Commission on Catechesis and Catholic Education (ECCCE) releases a theme and official poster which serve as a reference for the celebration of catechists at the national and arch/diocesan/prelature level.
This year’s theme is: "The Catechists, Walking Together as Witnesses of the New Life in Christ." The message highlights the role and contribution of catechists in witnessing Christ in the Church.
In the Philippines, catechists are assigned to various parishes in a diocese. They also teach religion subjects as teachers at public schools under the Department of Education, though their salary is paid by the diocese.
RVA News spoke with April A. Baybayon, a catechist in the Catholic Diocese of Cubao, Metro Manila, about her vocation and mission of witnessing Christ as the Philippine Catholic Church celebrates "National Catechetical Month."
She has been a catechist for 13 years—six years at Holy Family Parish-Roxas District, Quezon City, where she is assigned now, and seven years at Transfiguration of Our Lord, her first parish assignment.
Currently, she is pursuing her Master of Arts degree in Religious Education at the Formation Institute for Religion Educators (FIRE), a Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University's Department of Theology. FIRE is a master’s program that provides catechists and religion teachers with high-quality professional formation. Excerpts:
Why and how did you become a catechist?
I just want to finish my college degree. Little did I know that the Religious Education course is to become a catechist. I was neither religious nor active in my church before college.
From the time I graduated until now, I have been involved in parish work. God called this unqualified servant. "Your presence is not an accident. God meant why you are here." This quote was the answer.
What has been your experience as a catechist?
There are always mixed emotions. I have faced lots of ups and downs, trials, and successes. I have encountered times of despair, questioning, disappointment, and what-ifs. But still, I am here.
What is the role of the catechist in teaching and nurturing the faith of others in the church?
I can say that the role of a catechist is a lot more. We are the frontliners of the church. Sadly, the catechists are one of the most neglected groups in the church.
Most importantly, we teach the faith and live it out. We defend the Church, its teachings, and the people. We make Jesus known and loved. We bring people into the church. We go out to see where they are too.
What are the challenges you face as a catechist?
Catechists face lots of challenges, like any other profession in society. But our challenges are mostly financial because, as a breadwinner, it is really hard to make ends meet with the meager salary I receive. But God has been so gracious to me all these years. "May biyaya sa pagsunod." Siya palagi ang nagpupuno sa mga pagkukulang. ("There is grace in obedience." God always fills in the gaps).
Sometimes, parish priests and principals of schools, especially those who are not Catholics, have been challenged.
Your reflections on the theme: "The Catechists, Walking Together as Witnesses of the New Life in Christ."
I may be late in meeting and walking with Jesus in my life, but as I look back, I see catechists in my life walking with me, though sometimes they are like shadows.
As a catechist myself, it is very important to build a relationship with fellow catechists. The journey to Jesus is a bit lonely and hard. That's why it is necessary to have companions on the journey. These are my people. Catechists are those who are witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.” Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.