SCRANTON – What started as a way to recognize Teacher Appreciation Week has snowballed into a large-scale effort to celebrate all those who have helped children and families during this extraordinary year in the Diocese of Scranton Catholic School System.

In early May, the Catholic Schools System launched its “Inspiring Excellence” initiative. The goal is simple: to recognize individuals who exemplify excellence in all that they do at one of the Diocese’s 19 schools and Virtual Academy.

Over the last several weeks, students and families have nominated nearly 200 principals, teachers, aides, maintenance workers, cafeteria staff, coaches and central office staff. The nominations are being shared on the Diocese of Scranton Catholic Schools’ Facebook page.

Joe Bayley, head of maintenance at Saint Jude School in Mountain Top, is one of the individuals who was nominated.

“It is a good feeling,” Bayley said of receiving the honor.

Bayley, who was been working for Saint Jude School for approximately five years, said he loves working with the teachers and central administrative staff to create the best educational environment for students.

“If you don’t enjoy what you do then you’re in the wrong line of work,” he explained.

Bayley was nominated by a parent who said he not only keeps the school running but he “treats the kids as if they were his own children,” adding he makes “the children all feel welcome.”

During this last year, Bayley has been instrumental in making sure proper sanitization procedures are followed and helping the students get outside more.

“We moved a lot of picnic tables that were sitting in the grove. It is a lot easier to have class outside and just get fresh air,” Bayley said.

Kathy Marx, a second grade instructional aide for the Diocesan Virtual Academy, was also nominated by a parent. Before assisting with the DVA, Marx has been at All Saints Academy in Scranton.

“I was really quite surprised and humbled but very appreciative of someone taking the time to write such nice things. Just like our students, we all enjoy the occasional pat on the back. We are always grateful for our wonderful, caring parents,” she said.

Marx has been alongside teacher Angelina Guco this year.

“I know as educators we impact children’s lives in a profound way. For me, as an instructional aide, being able to help an individual child or even the whole class with extra help is very rewarding. To see the light in their eyes and the smile on their face when they get it – priceless,” she said.

Marx says adapting to educating students in a virtual setting was “new and challenging” but she is proud of the year and all that the students have been able to accomplish.

“Having the children comfortable and safe this past year was a priority of the Diocese and every Diocesan school. All Saints Academy and the Diocesan Virtual Academy did an amazing job … It is our nature to go above and beyond!” Marx added.

Students and families can still nominate someone in their school for the “Inspiring Excellence” recognition. If you would like to nominate someone, please visit the Catholic Schools tab on the Diocese of Scranton website.



SCRANTON — When the coronavirus pandemic spiraled out of control in early 2020, the Diocese of Scranton needed to suspend in-person services, including faith formation activities and religious education for students and families.

Serving more than 317,000 Catholics, including more than 14,000 students, the Scranton Diocese — one of the largest in the United States — was faced with the daunting task of finding a virtual platform that was flexible and easy for parishes to use.

Religious education programs throughout the Scranton diocese were greatly aided when the Diocesan Office for Parish Life (OPL) decided to partner with Faith Alive! powered by Edmodo, a web-based learning management system, encouraging parishes to consider using it any way they choose.

Jacki Douglas, Diocesan Director of Word and Lifelong Faith Formation in the Parish Life Office, shared, “Like most of us, the Diocese never planned on extended closures of in-person services. The unprecedented stay-at-home orders was deemed a threat to the attendance and very way of life of parishioners and those dependent upon the Diocese.”

Douglas also recognized that while some parishes might have hoped to return to in-person faith formation classes, many wanted more flexible virtual options for continuing classes during closures or to enhance learning when in-person services could resume.

Finding quick success with a small group of parishes, the Parish Life Office quickly made Edmodo available to the whole diocese and is extremely pleased with its first experience.

The learning platform allows parishes to continue religious education online, including the ability to conduct classes virtually, manage lessons and curriculum, and make resources available to students and families. It also allows the flexibility to learn completely virtually or in a hybrid model and both in-person and online activities, while quickly bringing religious education communities online with easy, user-friendly tools.

As the Confirmation coordinator at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Brodheadsville, Terry Talbott is acutely aware of the many challenges the year 2020 presented to Catholic religious education.

“I was worried about how we could continue to prepare the students for the sacrament when forced to meet remotely,” she admitted. “Edmodo not only allowed us to host virtual classes, but also gave us the ability to make important forms and information accessible to students and parents in a secure, transparent way.”

Talbott explained how the parish’s DRE and she devoted great time and energy to “create classes,” focusing on getting families enrolled in the religious ed program. A step-by-step sign-up document was developed, allowing most parish families to “get connected.”

“We also had to present the information to our catechists and introduce them to the platform,” Talbott continued, commenting that while many parish religious educators were familiar with Zoom video conferencing, quite a few were apprehensive about teaching virtually.”

Talbott lauds those catechists who, though at first intimidated by using a virtual platform, were determined to continue in their ministry. “I am so proud of the determination and dedication of all our teachers during this year,” she remarked.

As the year progressed, Talbott explained, many catechists incorporated videos and worksheets into their lesson plans and were able to share websites such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops ( during their classes to illustrate a concept.

“I especially liked the connection to my classes that I had between sessions because I would post follow-up information and instruction for parents on our class page,” she explained. “I also loved the library function because it was a central repository for all the necessary forms students needed, and I could direct them there easily.”

Talbott also extolled Edmodo’s “messaging function” and how, when Our Lady Queen of Peace transitioned to in-person learning for sacramental classes, the platform allowed the parish to continue to provide classes for the small percentage of students and families who chose to remain virtual.

“I’ve been super happy with how I’ve been able to use the platform,” she said. “We intend to continue to use Edmodo next year, even as we return to in-person catechesis. It’s a great tool for communication regularly to our families and supplementing the relational ministry with our students.”

Currently, more than 3,000 students, parents and religious education staff across nearly 120 Scranton Diocesan parishes utilize Edmodo to communicate and join in faith formation activities online — and to come together in a time when it’s needed more than ever.



FOREST CITY — Holy innocence was once again on display this May as First Holy Communions returned to their rightful place in the season of rebirth — fittingly being celebrated throughout the Diocese of Scranton during the glorious month dedicated to Our Lady.

Following a turbulent year marked by a global pandemic that resulted in First Communion ceremonies being held randomly based on health protocols and parish limitations due to strict guidelines, the 2021 “Mass” celebrations of young communicants experiencing the true joy of the Eucharist for the first time has been a most welcomed sight.

“We had to adjust and adapt to this ‘new normal,’ and because of that we had to get creative with how to not only keep our CCD program up and running, but to make the sacramental years interesting and special,” Jennifer Pearson, Director of Religious Education for Ascension Parish in Forest City, shared.

In preparing Ascension’s First Communion class for 2021, Pearson and her staff benefitted greatly from an engaging, user-friendly curriculum and were very thankful to provide some in-person instruction with the students.

“I also had extremely supportive parents who really took the time to be involved in the entire process,” she noted, “especially when the students need to do their lessons from home.”

The result, as has been the case throughout the Diocese, was the much-anticipated ceremony coming together as splendidly as it should — with wide-eyed, nervously excited boys and girls donning their best Spring finery to approach the altar and begin a lifelong Eucharistic journey of receiving their Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

The First Communion season not only presents beautiful, inspiring images of the Catholic Church at its best, but also provides an invaluable lesson for the children’s older counterparts in the faith.

So-called “Cradle Catholics,” who may make literally thousands of Communions throughout their lifetime, often take for granted the immense awe and wonder of physically receiving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus  Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

This is certainly something that is not lost on Pearson and others who devote themselves to preparing their young students in parish First Holy Communion classes.

“I think it is so important for our students to continue to build their relationship with Jesus after they receive their First Communion,” Pearson explained. “I try to encourage them to find examples of how Jesus taught us and wants us to live, whether it is at home, school, the store or wherever, and to make good choices and model their own behaviors after those things.”

She related the children will soon realize that attending Mass and receiving Holy Communion will not always be accompanied by pressed blue suits, lacy white gowns and veils, beaming parents with cameras in hand, and parties with family and friends. But it is cause for much celebration, nonetheless.

“We can celebrate all of the wonderful things that Jesus did for us by receiving Him in the Eucharist,” Pearson concluded, “but we also show Him how grateful we are for His love and sacrifice by doing our best to love one another even when things are hard.”

To receive like a child. If only.


For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You (Ps 86:5)

SCRANTON – The organizers of the 2021 Catholic Women’s Conference are calling out to all women to join them for this year’s conference, “With Merciful Love.”

After being cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference returns with a powerful message about God’s merciful love and how women of all ages – and from all walks of life – can experience divine mercy and rediscover God’s infinite love for them.

The event will take place Saturday, June 19, 2021, with limited in-person seating under a tent on the grounds of Marywood University. An unlimited number of women can also participate in the conference virtually so invite friends near and far!

The day will begin with opening remarks at 8 a.m. followed by Mass with Bishop Joseph C. Bambera at 8:30 a.m. After a short break, featured speaker Father Chris Alar will explain the “merciful love” that comes from the Divine Mercy feast, image, novena, chaplet and hour of mercy. Father Alar will also provide inspiration on how to incorporate them into your spiritual life.

Following the Rosary and lunch, keynote speaker Theresa Bonopartis will take the stage to share her deeply personal story of guilt, shame, healing and ultimate redemption through Divine Mercy. Anyone who feels estranged from God and their faith will take heart in Theresa’s journey and find the faith and strength to begin their own healing journey.

The afternoon will continue with Sister Virginia Joy of the Sisters of Life religious order. She will share with attendees the special mission of the Sisters of Life: to help reveal to each person their own innate goodness, the particular love God has for them, and invite them to something greater – a life of truth, joy, and hope.

The day will begin to wind down by celebrating Eucharistic Adoration with Father Alar and music performed by Christian music artist Taylor Tripodi. The conference concludes at 4 p.m. with the announcement of raffle winners and a musical finale with Taylor Tripodi.

In-person participants will enjoy a continental breakfast, lunch and shopping at the Catholic Vendor Marketplace. Virtual attendees can enjoy the conference remotely from the location of their choice.

The cost to attend the conference is $40 for in-person and $20 for virtual. Student tickets are $20, and women religious are welcome free of charge. Volunteers are always needed and those who sign up for four hours at the conference will receive a free ticket. For more information and to register, visit



Pro-life demonstrators argue with supporters of legal abortion outside of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington March 4, 2020. (CNS photo/Tom Brenner, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The U.S. Supreme Court said in a May 17 order that it will hear oral arguments during its next term on a 2018 Mississippi abortion law banning most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

The case is Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The court’s term opens in October and a decision is expected by June 2022.

Just after then-Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed the law March 19, 2018, a federal judge blocked it temporarily from taking effect after the state’s only abortion clinic filed suit, saying it is unconstitutional. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the block on the law.

In commending Bryant for his signature, the state’s Catholic bishops, Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz of Jackson and Bishop Louis F. Kihneman III of Biloxi, said: “(We) wish to reaffirm the sacredness of human life from conception until natural death. With Pope St. John Paul II, we recognize abortion as ‘a most serious wound inflicted on society and its culture by the very people who ought to be society’s promoters and defenders.'”

In 2020, the Jackson and Biloxi dioceses filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s petition to the Supreme Court asking it to review the 5th Circuit’s ruling prohibiting the state from enforcing the law.

The high court should clarify current law on abortion “in light of a state’s interests in protecting the sanctity of life,” the dioceses’ brief said.

A number of states have passed laws restricting abortion that have been challenged in court by supporters of legal abortion. Pro-life advocates have been hoping one or more of those laws would be taken up by the Supreme Court as a way to challenge 1973’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

The Mississippi case will be the first abortion case the court will consider since the Oct. 26, 2020, confirmation to the court of now-Justice Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump’s third pick for the court. His first two picks, Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, were on the court when it took up its first major abortion decision since they were confirmed.

The case was a Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals.

The court struck it down as unconstitutional in a 5-4 ruling. Chief Justice John Roberts joined Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg in knocking down the law. Kavanaugh and Gorsuch joined Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas in upholding the law.


Rescuers carry Suzy Eshkuntana, 6, as they pull her from the rubble of a building at the site of Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City May 16, 2021. (CNS photo/Mohammed Salem, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The injury and death of so many innocent people, especially children, caused by escalating violence between Israel and the Gaza Strip is “terrible and unacceptable,” putting the area at risk of sinking into “a spiral of death and destruction,” Pope Francis said.

The pope launched an appeal for calm and asked leaders of both sides “to put a stop to the roar of weapons and to follow the paths of peace, even with the help of the international community,” he said May 16 after reciting the “Regina Coeli” prayer with hundreds of people in St. Peter’s Square.

“Many people have been injured and many innocent people have died. Among them are even children, and this is terrible and unacceptable. Their death is a sign that one does not want to build the future, but wants to destroy it,” he said.

The growing hatred and violence in different cities in Israel “is a serious wound to fraternity and to peaceful coexistence among citizens, which will be difficult to heal if we do not open immediately to dialogue,” the pope said, asking, “Where will hatred and vengeance lead? Do we really think we can build peace by destroying the other?”

The pope appealed for calm, a cease-fire and constant prayers so that “Israelis and Palestinians may find the path of dialogue and forgiveness, to be patient builders of peace and justice, opening up, step by step, to a common hope, to a coexistence among brothers and sisters.”

He then led those gathered in the square in praying the Hail Mary for the victims, the children and for peace.

Meanwhile, the head of the Vatican’s press office, Matteo Bruni, confirmed that Pope Francis spoke over the telephone May 17 with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

While the Vatican did not comment on the content of the conversation, the Turkish communications department said the two leaders discussed the ongoing attacks.

According to a written statement reported by Andalou Agency, Erdogan said Israel’s attacks were an atrocity and that the latest violations were putting regional security in danger.

Pope Francis’ appeal May 16 came as Israel escalated its assault on Gaza and it also faced growing civil unrest in its mixed Jewish-Arab cities.

Jewish mobs had destroyed Arab property, and Arab mobs attacked Jewish businesses and burned synagogues, with attempted lynchings on both sides over the past week.

The violence between Israel and Hamas was at its worst since the 2014 Gaza War with Israeli airstrikes and hundreds of rockets launched from the Gaza Strip killing at least 145 Palestinians and 10 Israelis, according to Reuters May 16. Efforts by the international community were underway to broker a cease-fire.



Bishop Bambera is pictured here with the Confirmation candidates just before the celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy and Confirmation ceremony. Looking on are Father Joseph Manarchuck, Pastor, and Deacon Thomas Spataro. (Photo by Jay Asper)

Glorious weather and smiling faces were the picture-perfect backdrop on Ascension Thursday at St. Patrick’s Church in Milford, PA as 15 eighth grade students and one RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), candidate received the Sacrament of Confirmation. Bishop Joseph C. Bambera, Diocese of Scranton, presided.

As the ordinary minister of Confirmation, Bishop Bambera extended his hand over those who were to be confirmed, praying that the Holy Spirit would fill their hearts, minds and souls with the grace to become perfect christians and witnesses of Christ.

The newly confirmed are: Francesca Antonecchia, Isabella Bixby, Nicholas Carlozzi, Caterina Catizone, Abigail Chudoba, Christopher Fleming, Amir Guillite, Claire Marotta, Ava McAteer, Julia Moskal, James Murphy, Bennett Nielson, John Michael Roberts, Rachel Swinton, Anna Vogel and Christina Beezer.


SCRANTON – Rob Williams is not someone who seeks the spotlight or recognition. When it comes his way, he always tries to redirect the attention to the organization he leads.

A perfect example of that came in April when Williams, Executive Director of the Saint Francis of Assisi Kitchen & Food and Clothing Pantry, received the Community Service Award from the Lackawanna Bar Association.

“I was very surprised and happy,” Williams told The Catholic Light in a recent interview. “I do what I do not for acknowledgment or to be noticed. I just keep trying to follow God’s will and do what He is asking me to do.”

Saint Francis of Assisi Kitchen serves the poor and vulnerable in the Scranton area by providing a free, hot, nutritious meal to guests everyday of the year. Staff strive to be of assistance to others and serve with a spirit of compassion, respect and dignity.

Williams became the kitchen’s first ‘lay leader’ in 2019. Prior to arriving in Scranton, he spent 20 years in Youth and Young Adult Ministry in the Diocese of Harrisburg.

“I love doing what I do and I feel called by God. I really do believe I’m here right now in this place, right now in this moment by God’s invitation,” he explained.

Williams often cites the vision Monsignor Constantine Siconolfi had in 1978 when the kitchen first opened its doors.

“Monsignor Siconolfi put it well when he said: ‘Keep it simple, the message is that we feed the poor and the hungry. That is what we’re about,’” Williams reflected.

The last 14 months have been anything but simple.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the kitchen to change its method of operating but the organization easily adapted to the challenges. That makes the recognition of Williams by the Lackawanna Bar Association even more special.

“We stayed open every single day during the pandemic. We didn’t miss a beat in the last year in terms of serving the poor and the vulnerable,” Williams said.

In March 2020, at the beginning of the coronavirus, Saint Francis Kitchen transitioned its “sit down” meals to “take out” meals. The dining room reopened this Easter for people to eat inside and enjoy fellowship.

“It doesn’t matter how we deliver the food, as long as we keep delivering the food,” Williams explained.

Williams says the kitchen would not have been able to continue its mission without its volunteers. Because of the pandemic, a small core group of volunteers helped everything stay afloat.

“We had volunteers that were spending three or four hours a day, for five or six days a week for ten or eleven months,” Williams explained. “It is extraordinary. It blows me away to witness their generosity. It is not just God working through me. It’s me witnessing God working through all those folks.”

Williams says God’s desire is what is most important.

“It is not just good people doing good things. We are working on behalf of God and the Church. This is a real, tangible expression of God’s love, of the Gospel message incarnated,” Williams expressed.

Saint Francis Kitchen just completed its 2021 “Host for a Day” fundraising campaign. Williams describes the effort as “wildly successful.”

Receiving more than 1,000 individual donations, the event is the kitchen’s biggest fundraiser of the year.

“People’s generosity in the last year or two has been phenomenal,” he said.

As he looks toward the future, post coronavirus, the father of four only sees bright days ahead for Saint Francis Kitchen.

“We are going to come out of the pandemic stronger,” he said. When asked about his role in making the kitchen stay successful, Williams replied, “the main part of my role is to be the keeper of the vision and the animator of the mission!”


SCRANTON (May 14, 2021) – The Diocese of Scranton today issued revised guidelines concerning the celebration of public Masses in its 11 counties, effective immediately.

The changes come after the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention announced Thursday that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or keep physical distancing in most settings. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has adopted these recommendations effective immediately.

“The health and safety of our communities continues to be of paramount importance. Given the recent positive trends and widespread vaccinations, we are happy to announce numerous changes that can begin immediately in parishes,” Bishop Joseph C. Bambera said in a message to pastors announcing the changes. “As we have all come to realize over the last 14 months, guidelines can change very quickly. I want to express my gratitude to everyone for their flexibility and hard work in putting the changing directives into effect.”

The Diocese of Scranton invites those who have not yet returned to Mass to rejoin us in person to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, the source and summit of the Christian life. Many pastors are reporting an increase in the number of people who are returning to Mass in person now that they have been vaccinated.

It is essential for the public to be aware that even as restrictions are being eased, the dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday and Holy Day Masses remains in place in the Diocese of Scranton.

A full listing of the new guidelines for the celebration of public Masses in the Diocese of Scranton can be found on the Diocese of Scranton’s website. Some of the significant changes include:

  • Individuals who are fully vaccinated from COVID-19 are not required to wear masks while attending Mass or receiving Holy Communion. Fully vaccinated individuals are welcome to continue wearing masks at Mass if desired for personal protection and/or comfort.
  • Individuals who have not been fully vaccinated must continue to wear masks while attending Mass. Individuals who are not fully vaccinated must wear a mask while receiving Holy Communion but may briefly remove the mask in order to consume the Sacred Host.
  • Priests, Deacons and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion are still required to wear a face mask during the Distribution of Holy Communion at this time – even if they have been fully vaccinated. This precautionary measure is due to the wide-ranging vaccination rates currently among the 11 counties that make up the Diocese of Scranton.
  • Every parish MUST, without exception, post signage in any entrance areas stating that anyone who is not fully vaccinated is expected to wear a mask and anyone with COVID-19 symptoms should not enter.
  • Parishes MUST, without exception, make an announcement at the beginning of Mass that anyone who is not fully vaccinated is expected to wear a mask.
  • Pews no longer need to be marked for physical distancing. Parishes should remind the faithful to continue maximizing the use of space as much as possible.

Updated Guidelines for Public Masses in the Diocese of Scranton – May 14 2021


Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, and Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See Press Office, participate in a news conference for the release of Pope Francis’ document, “Antiquum Ministerium” (Ancient Ministry), at the Vatican May 11, 2021. In the document the pope institutes the “ministry of catechist.” The screen in the background shows journalists who joined the press conference remotely on Zoom. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Calling for formal recognition of “those lay men and women who feel called by virtue of their baptism to cooperate in the work of catechesis,” Pope Francis has instituted the “ministry of catechist.”

“The Spirit is calling men and women to set out and encounter all those who are waiting to discover the beauty, goodness and truth of the Christian faith,” the pope wrote in “Antiquum Ministerium” (Ancient Ministry), his document released at the Vatican May 11.

In addition to releasing texts of the document in Italian, French, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Polish, the Vatican distributed a video of the text translated into Italian sign language.

Pastors must support laypeople in answering the Spirit’s call and “enrich the life of the Christian community through the recognition of lay ministries capable of contributing to the transformation of society through the ‘penetration of Christian values into the social, political and economic sectors,'” the pope said, quoting what he had written about the vocation of laypeople in his 2013 document, “The Joy of the Gospel.”

Bishops’ conferences will need to determine the “process of formation and the normative criteria for admission to this ministry” and devise “the most appropriate forms for the service which these men and women will be called to exercise,” the pope said.

Pope Francis watches as a family carries offertory gifts to the altar during a Mass for catechists in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in this Sept. 29, 2013, file photo. In a document released May 11, 2021, Pope Francis instituted the “ministry of catechist.” (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, he said, “will soon publish the Rite of Institution of the lay ministry of catechist.” The congregation already is working on revised rites for the ministries of lector and acolyte, which Pope Francis opened to women in January.

While millions of lay men and women around the world already serve as catechists, readers and altar servers, formal institution into the ministries signifies that the service is stable, delegated by the bishop and publicly recognized by the church.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, noted how St. Paul VI wrote in 1975 about the importance of laypeople using their gifts for the growth of the entire church.

“It has taken almost 50 years for the church to come to recognize that the service rendered by so many men and women through their catechetical commitment truly constitutes a distinctive ministry for the growth of the Christian community,” the archbishop told reporters at a news conference to present the pope’s document.

In his document, Pope Francis noted how teachers of the faith were present from the earliest days of the Christian community and were recognized as having a special gift of the Holy Spirit for carrying out their role within the community.

“At times,” he wrote, “the charisms that the Spirit constantly pours out on the baptized took on a visible and tangible form of immediate service to the Christian community, one recognized as an indispensable ‘diakonia’ for the community.”

In looking at the history of evangelization, the pope said, Catholics cannot overlook “the countless lay men and women who directly took part in the spread of the Gospel through catechetical instruction. Men and women of deep faith, authentic witnesses of holiness, who in some cases were also founders of churches and eventually died as martyrs.”

Still today, he said, “many competent and dedicated catechists are community leaders in various parts of the world and carry out a mission invaluable for the transmission and growth of the faith.”

Especially in communities without a resident priest, catechists are the leaders of the local Catholic community, evangelizing, convoking and guiding their fellow Catholics in prayer and works of charity. And, in missionary territories under the guidance of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, they already serve with a specific mandate from their bishop.

“The long line of blesseds, saints and martyrs who were catechists has significantly advanced the church’s mission and deserves to be recognized, for it represents a rich resource not only for catechesis but also for the entire history of Christian spirituality,” Pope Francis wrote.

The formal institution of catechists, he said, should be a sign and encouragement for all lay Catholics to recognize “even more the missionary commitment proper to every baptized person, a commitment that must however be carried out in a fully ‘secular’ manner, avoiding any form of clericalization.”

Archbishop Fisichella said Pope Francis was insisting that lay “men and women are called to express their baptismal vocation in the best possible way, not as substitutes for priests or consecrated persons, but as authentic laymen and laywomen who, in the distinctive nature of their ministry, are able to experience the full of extent of their baptismal vocation of witness and effective service in the community and the world.”

Laypeople who feel called to the ministry of catechists should be actively involved in the life of their Catholic communities and faithful to the Gospel and the teaching of the church, he said. But they also must receive “suitable biblical, theological, pastoral and pedagogical formation to be competent communicators of the truth of the faith.”

“Catechists are called first to be expert in the pastoral service of transmitting the faith as it develops through its different stages from the initial proclamation” of the Gospel, preparation for receiving the sacraments and support in living a Christian life, the pope said.

Presenting the document to reporters, Archbishop Fisichella said catechesis “cannot be improvised.”

“Those who will be catechists must know that they speak in the name of the church and transmit the faith of the church,” he said.