There is a very urgent need in the Church today* for catechists and religion teachers. We have about 1.3 million children and youth studying in our 529 public schools in Metro Manila. There are only 521 catechists to attend to their spiritual hunger. If that is not an urgent need, I do not know how to call it. This is practically a state of emergency as far as spiritual life, and moral education is concerned.

Our economy is growing. According to government reports, the inflation rate has dramatically gone down and has shown a great deal of resiliency even to external factors. Hopefully, the peace process in Mindanao made a great breakthrough with the signing of the agreement between the MNLF and the Philippine government. Peace will mean a more stable nation. A more stable nation will mean more jobs. But is the moral life of the youth growing with their material life? We are running the risk of having a nation of professionals with masters and doctoral degrees but are kindergarten kids regarding morality and spiritual life.

We indeed have priests and religious sisters and brothers serving our Catholic schools, but the more significant majority of the country’s future are studying in our public schools, deprived of religious instruction because they have no one to teach them.

We can achieve greater progress if our children and youth are morally formed and spiritually rooted. Our youth deserve a holistic formation. We need more catechists. Catechists are teachers of Christ. They are lay men and women who belong to Christ. It is Christ who owns them. Their origin is Christ. The mission of a catechist is to teach not only doctrine but the Christian life. Christianity is not simply a set of doctrines to be memorized or prescribed prayers to be recited. Christianity is the way of life that Jesus commanded us to live. The stage on which the drama of Christianity is to be played is not the intellect but the soul. Catechists are teachers of Christ. They are Christ-sent. They are Christ-rooted.

Catechists are teachers of Christ on another level. They are teachers of “other Christs.” The other Christs” are the 1.3 million children thirsting for the meaning of life, hungering for the living Word. These children are hungry. They long not only for the food that goes to the stomach but also for the food of life. They have no food for the souls. Whatever we do to these least of our brothers and sisters, we do to them. Catechists are teachers of these “other Christs.” Paraphrasing a great Filipino statesman and patriot, those who have less in life should have more in the things of God. The affluent can go to the private Catholic schools and receive food for the spirit. The poor should get the same food for their souls. When we fail to feed their souls, it is Christ who suffers and hungers and thirsts. I was struck that among those who ask us to prepare them for weddings in the Church, many do not know the commandments, do not appreciate the beauty of Christ’s sacraments and have lived amoral lives because they had nobody to teach them. These incidents will increase in the years ahead unless we attend to the emergency need of our 1.3 million pupils guided by only 521 catechists. This is a nightmare!

Catechists are not only teachers of Christ, according to the two meanings I had just explained. Catechists are actually “Christs” for us. They give themselves to the poor children as Christ did. The children believe their catechists because their lives are living testimonies of what they teach. They feed, nourish, sacrifice, and are willing to lay down their lives for their pupils. They receive only a meager allowance to help pay for their transportation and meals. They are underpaid and overworked, and yet they continue laboring in the vineyard of the Lord selflessly, uncomplaining, and heroically. They are Christ for all of us. We see in them the love, zest, and generosity of Jesus Himself.

We have so few of them. It is understandable from the human point of view. Theirs is not a job for pay. Theirs is a task of service. Their reward does not go to their pockets or to their bank accounts. Their pay goes directly to their hearts. All catechists have big hearts. Those hearts are almost as big as the heart of Christ. Their task is to make more hearts like that of Jesus. Isn’t that the best work anybody can ever do?

Jesus Our Light

*Year 1997

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