Catechesis as an Instrument of Evangelization: Reflections from the Perspective of Asia

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It is unmistakable from Pope John Paul II's many writ­ings that the church's evangelizing mission has been one of his major and abiding concerns.1 Among these papal publications two stand out in importance: the Apostolic Exhortation Cate­chesi Tradendae (October 16, 1979) and the encyclical Redemptoris Missio (December 7, 1990).2 These documents enunciate, among other things, the important principle that catechesis is an essential part of the evangelizing mission of the church and must be understood in that context. Furthermore, in his Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum on the publica­tion of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992),3  no doubt one of the lasting legacies of his pontificate, John Paul II urges the church's pastors and the Christian faithful to "receive this catechism assiduously in fulfilling their mission of proclaiming the faith and calling people to the Gospel life."4

The purpose of this essay is to study the link between evangelization and catechesis and to examine how catechesis, and in particular the catechism, are to function within the church's mission of evangelization. The sources for reflection include not only the three documents mentioned above but also, and especially, the recent General Directory for Catechesis (1997).5The essay will first briefly review the development of the church's official teaching on evangelization and catechesis from the General Catechetical Directory (1971)6 to the Cate­chism of the Catholic Church (1992). The second part of the essay will focus on this theme as elaborated by the General Directory for Catechesis. The final part will reflect on the role of the catechism as an instrument of evangelization, especially for the churches of East Asia.


1. The General Catechetical Directory. In compliance with Vatican II's mandate that a "directory for the catechetical instruction of the Christian People"7 be drawn up, the Con­gregation for the Clergy prepared the General Catechetical Directory, which was approved by Paul VI and promulgated on April 11, 1971. Its intent is "to provide the basic principles of pastoral theology... by which pastoral action in the ministry of the word can be more fittingly directed and governed" whereas its immediate purpose is " to provide assistance in the production of catechetical directories and catechisms."8

The GCD distinguishes four closely related forms of the ministry of the word: evangelization, or missionary preaching, catechesis, liturgy, and theology (17). By evangelization the GCDunderstands the activity, which "has as its purpose the arousing of the beginnings of faith... so that men will adhere to the word of God"(17). Catechesis proper, which generally presupposes evangelization, is “that form of ecclesial action which leads both communities and individual members of the faithful to maturity of faith" (21). Since the focus of the GCD is catechesis proper, it does not have much to say about evan­gelization as such but devotes its pages entirely to the elabora­tion of catechesis as a ministry of the word (its nature, pur­pose, and efficacy), its criteria, message, methodology, and plan of catechetical action.9

With regard to the catechism, which it considers as one of the "catechetical aids," the GCDsays: "The greatest importance must be attached to catechisms published by ecclesiasti­cal authority. Their purpose is to provide, under a form that is condensed and practical, the witnesses of revelation and of Christian tradition as well as the chief principles which ought to be useful for catechetical activity, that is, for personal educa­tion in faith. The witnesses of tradition should be held in due esteem, and very great care must be taken to avoid presenting as doctrines of the faith special interpretations which are only private opinions or the views of some theological school. The doctrine of the Church must be presented faithfully" (119).

 2. Evangelii Nuntiandi. The GCD's narrow definition of evangelization as the first proclamation of the Gospel to those who have not yet known Jesus is vastly enlarged by Paul VI's encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi, a veritable magna carta for evangelization.10 Seen as a much more complex process than the verbal proclamation of the Good News, it is said to be composed of seven intimately intertwined elements: "Evangel­ization... is a complex process made up of varied elements: the renewal of humanity, witness, explicit proclamation, inner adherence, entry into the community, acceptance of signs, apostolic initiative.  These elements may appear to be contra­dictory, indeed mutually exclusive. In fact, they are comple­mentary and mutually enriching. Each one must be seen in relationship with the others" (24).

Among the many methods of evangelization, EN lists witness of life, preaching, liturgy of the word, catechesis, utiliza­tion of mass media, contact, sacramental celebrations, and popular piety. With regard to catechesis, it is said that through "catechetical instruction" people learn "the funda­mental teachings, the living content of the truth which God has wished to convey to us and which the Church has sought to express in an ever richer fashion during the course of her long history. No one will deny that this instruction must be given to form patterns of Christian living and not to remain only notional"(44). Further, concerning the catechism, EN affirms that "the effort for evangelization will profit greatly... if those giving catechetical instruction have suitable texts, updated with wisdom and competence, under the authority of the bishops" (44). Finally, ENvigorously insists on the neces­sity for evangelization to "translate" or "transpose" the Gos­pel message, "without the slightest betrayal of its essential truth" into the various conditions of the anthropological and cultural language in "the field of liturgical expression, and in the areas of catechesis, theological formulation, secondary ecclesial structures, and ministries" (63).

3. Catechesi Tradendae. John Paul II's Apostolic Exhor­tation Catechesi Tradendae develops further Paul VI's teaching on catechesis. CT acknowledges the complex character and the several elements of evangelization, of which catechesis is a “stage,” and affirms that "there is no separation or opposition between catechesis and evangelization. Nor can the two be simply identified with each other. Instead, they have close links whereby they integrate and complement each other" (18). For CT, the specific difference of catechesis lies in its aim, namely, "the teachingand maturation stage, that is to say, the period in which the Christian, having accepted by faith the person of Jesus Christ as the one Lord and having given Him complete adherence by sincere conversion of heart, endeavors to know better this Jesus to whom he has entrusted himself: to know His 'mystery,' the kingdom of God proclaimed by Him, the requirements and promises contained in His Gospel mes­sage and the paths that He has laid down for anyone who wishes to follow Him" (20, italics added).

As for catechisms, CT states that the task of preparing them can be undertaken "only with the approval of the pastors who have the authority to give it, and taking their inspiration as closely as possible from the General Catechetical Directory, which remains the standard reference" (50).

One important new addition in CT is its recommendation that catechesis be joined with the church's work for ecumeni­cal unity. It urges that catechesis give "a correct and fair pres­entation of the other churches and ecclesial communities that the Spirit of Christ does not refrain from using as means of sal­vation" (32). More significantly, it suggests that in situations of religious plurality it is necessary to have certain experiences of collaboration in the field of catechesis between Catholics and other Christians, complementing the normal catechesis that must in any case be given to Catholics" (33).

4. Redemptoris MissioJohn Paul II returns to the theme of evangelization in his encyclicalRedemptoris Missio. Here, however, the operative word is "mission" rather than evangel­ization, since one of the pope's intentions is to affirm the legitimacy and urgency of the mission adgentes, and not only evan­gelization in general. RM distinguishes three situations for the church's activities. First, there are "peoples, groups and social contexts in which Christ and his Gospel are not known, or which lack Christian communities sufficiently mature to be able to incarnate the faith in their environment and proclaim to other groups." Here the church exercises the "missionad gentes in the proper sense." Second, there are "Christian communities with adequate and solid ecclesial structures" with Christians who bear "witness to the Gospel in their surround­ings and have a sense of commitment to the universal mission." Here the church exercises its "pastoral care." Thirdlythere is “an inter-mediate situation, particularly in countries with ancient Christian roots, and occasionally in the younger churches as well, where entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel". Here the church exercises a "new evangelization" or a "re‑evangelization" (33).

Besides its emphasis on the necessity of the mission ad gentes, RM is noted for its teaching on the Holy Spirit as the "principal agent of mission” (chapter three) and on the various ”paths of mission,” in particular ecclesial basic communities (51), inculturation (52), and interreligious dialogue (53). On catechesis as such, RM has little to say explicitly, but it is implicit in its emphasis on the necessity of "forming local churches" which is the goal of the mission ad gentes: "The mission ad gentes has this objective: to found Christian com­munities and develop churches to their full maturity" (48). Of course, one of the effective means to achieve this goal is catechesis. Again, RM does not say anything about catechisms, but no doubt the composition of these texts must be an impor­tant part of the task of inculturation by which "the Church makes the Gospel incarnate in different cultures and at the same time introduces peoples, together with their cultures, into her own community" (52).II

5. The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Paul VI's and John Paul II's concerns for evangelization and catechesis, appropriated especially by the extraordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops in 1985, produced a concrete fruit in 1992: the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In his Apostolic Con­stitution Fidei Depositum introducing the catechism, John Paul II describes it as a "reference text" for "a catechesis renewed at the living source of the faith," as "a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion," and as "a sure and authentic refer­ence text for teaching catholic doctrine and particularly for preparing local catechisms" (3). John Paul further notes that the catechism "is not intended to replace the local catechisms duly approved by the ecclesiastical authorities, the diocesan bishops and the Episcopal Conferences, especially if they have been approved by the Apostolic See. It is meant to encourage and assist in the writing of new local catechisms, which take into account various situations and cultures, while carefully preserving the unity of faith and fidelity to catholic doctrine" (3).

On the theme of mission, the CCC reiterates the teaching of and quotes abundantly from RM.References are made to the essentially missionary nature of the church, the Holy Spirit as the principal agent of mission, the tasks of inculturation and interreligious dialogue, and ecumenical collaboration (849‑86).

On catechesis, the CCC relies extensively on CT and speaks of it as built on a number of elements of the church's pastoral mission, such as "the initial proclamation of the Gos­pel or missionary preaching to arouse the faith; examination of the reasons for belief; experience of Christian living; celebra­tion of the sacraments; integration into the ecclesial commu­nity and apostolic and missionary witness" (6). The CCC affirms that Jesus is "the heart of catechesis" with reference to whom everything else is taught (426‑29). It refers to the liturgy as "the privileged place for catechizing the People of God" (1074). With reference to moral catechesis, it says that "catechesis has to reveal in all clarity the joy and the demands of the way of Christ" in so far as it has to deal with the Holy Spirit, grace, the beatitudes, sin and forgiveness, human virtues, Christian virtues, and the twofold commandment of love (1697).

On catechisms, the CCC stresses the necessity of particu­lar catechisms to adapt the presentation of Christian doctrines to local conditions. The CCC "does not set out to provide the adaptation of doctrinal presentations and catechetical methods required by the differences of culture, age, spiritual maturity, and social and ecclesial condition among all those to whom it is addressed. Such indispensable adaptations are the respon­sibility of particular catechisms and, even more, of those who instruct the faithful" (24).

In summary, in the two decades from the GCD to the CCC important developments have taken place with regard to catechesis and catechism. It would be useful to list here some of the most significant points:

(1) Catechesis is an essential component of the church's evangelizing mission and must be understood and carried out within that perspective, not in opposition or separation from evangelization.

(2) The concept of evangelization or mission itself has been vastly broadened to include not only verbal proclamation of the Good News but also all other activities of the church, such as personal witness of life, preaching, liturgy of the word, sacramental celebrations, popular piety, ecumenical dialogue, fostering social justice, inculturation, and interreligious dia­logue.

(3) Carried out in intimate connection with these church activities, catechesis is still understood as teaching of Christian doctrine directed toward the maturation of the faith.

(4) Catechesis is also an important part of the mission ad gentes the necessity of which is strongly reaffirmed.

(5) Local catechisms are not made redundant by the existence of a universal catechism; on the contrary, their necessity and useful-ness is strongly and repeatedly affirmed.

(6) However, local catechisms should not be simply abbreviations or simplifications of the CCCbut they should be composed as part of the process of the church's evangelizing mission, namely, ecumenical dialogue, inculturation, and inter­religious dialogue.


1. General Directory for Catechesis. The GDC pro­poses to achieve a balance between the principal requirements for catechesis posited by two decades of catechetical reflec­tions: "— on the one hand the contextualization of catechesis in evangelization as envisaged by Evangelii Nuntiandi; —on the other hand the appropriation of the content of the faith as presented in theCatechism of the Catholic Church" (7). Clearly then, according to the new directory, the two issues that should guide contemporary catechesis are inculturation and the appropriation of the teachings contained in the CCC, or to join the two issues together, the challenge for contemporary catechesis is how to inculturate the teachings of the CCC.12

2. Evangelization. Compared with its 1971 predecessor, the GDC stands out in its resolute and consistent placing of catechesis within the church's mission of evangelization. Indeed, its entire first part (a third of its total of 300 pages!) focuses on catechesis as an intrinsic and integral task of evangelization. Here lies the relative novelty as well as the signifi­cance of the new directory. Repeating the teachings of Paul VI and John Paul II, the GDC sees evangelization as a complex process of transmitting divine revelation composed of "stages" or "essential moments" (47‑49) among which the "ministry of the word" is "a fundamental element" (50). The functions of the ministry of the word in evangelization are fivefold: (1) "the primary proclamation," directed to non‑believers, those who have chosen unbelief, those Christians who live on the margins of Christian life, and those who follow other religions; (2) pre and post baptismal catechesis: the catechesis of non‑baptized adults in the catechumenate, the catechesis of baptized adults who wish to return to the faith, or of those who need to com­plete their initiation, and the catechesis of children and the young; (3) "permanent catechesis" for those Christians who have been initiated into the basic elements of the Christian faith, but who need constantly to nourish and deepen their faith throughout their lives; (4) the homily in the celebration of all the sacraments; and (5) theology, which is "the systematic treatment and the scientific investigation of the truths of the Faith"  (51).

Within the process of evangelization catechesis is inti­mately related to the "primary or first proclamation." Between these two forms of the ministry of the word there is a "com­plementary distinction": "Catechesis, 'distinct from the pri­mary proclamation of the Gospel,' promotes and matures ini­tial conversion, educates the convert in the faith and incorporates him into the Christian community" (61). Never­theless, the GDC acknowledges, "in pastoral practice it is not always easy to define the boundaries of these activities" (62) and rarely do these two forms of evangelization need to take place simultaneously.

After this first proclamation follows the "catechesis at the service of Christian initiation" which is "an essential 'moment' in the process of evangelization" (63). This "initiatory catechesis must be comprehensive and systematic, includes not only instruction but also an "apprenticeship of the entire Christian life," and prepares to incorporate the catechized person into the community.

In addition to this initiatory catechesis, there is catechesis at the service of ongoing formation in the faith. This "continu­ing catechesis" can take different forms: study of the Bible, study of the social teaching of the church, liturgical catechesis, occasional lectures, spiritual formation, and theological instruc­tion (71).

Lastly, there is catechesis and religious instruction in schools. This instruction too is evangelization as far as "it is called to penetrate a particular area of culture and to relate with other areas of knowledge. As an original form of the min­istry of the word, it makes present the Gospel in a personal process of cultural, systematic and critical assimilation" (73).

Whatever form catechesis takes, however, its fundamental tasks are: promoting knowledge of the faith, liturgical educa­tion for a full, conscious and active participation in the liturgy, moral formation, and initiation to prayer (85).13  Besides these fundamental tasks, catechesis must also perform two additional tasks: educating the catechized "to live in community and to participate actively in the life and mission of the church," including its ecumenical dimension, and initiating them into the missionary work of the church, including inter­religious dialogue (86). All these tasks, the GDC insists, are necessary and mutually interdependent, each realizing in its own way the object of catechesis (87).

Inculturated Catechesis. Compared with the old directory, the GDC has a brand‑new part in which, instead of list­ing the basic Christian doctrines to be communicated in catechesis, it discusses how the contents of the CCC should be inculturated into local churches. Obviously, this part is of great interest to our essay, since it speaks at great length on how catechesis should be carried out and especially how the catechism should be composed at the local level. The GDCinsists that the Gospel message is christocentric (98) and trini­tarian (99), and that it is this "trinitarian christocentricity" that determines the internal structure, the pedagogy, and the practi­cal implications of catechesis (100). In light of this trinitarian christocentricity, the message of the Gospel must be presented as a message of both salvation (101) and liberation (103).

This message of salvation and liberation must be inculturated, a “profound and global process and a slow journey”: “It is not simply an external adaptation designed to make the Christian message more attractive or superficially decorative. On the contrary, it means the penetration of the deepest strata of persons and peoples by the Gospel which touches them deeply, 'going to the very center and roots' of their cultures" (109).

There are two basic principles governing this process: “compatibility with the Gospel and communion with the uni­versal Church” (109). With regard to catechesis, there are four concrete tasks: (1) relying on the local church as the principal factor of inculturation, especially the catechist; (2) drawing on local catechisms which respond to the demands of different cultures; (3) making use of the catechumenate and catechetical institutes, incorporating, with discernment, the language, sym­bols, and values of the cultures; and (4) offering an effective apologetics to assist the faith‑culture dialogue (110).

Compatibility with the Gospel, which is one of the two principles governing inculturation, is further explained in terms of integrity or authenticity, comprehensiveness, and hierarchial­ism. By integrity or authenticity two things are meant: first, “intensive integrity,” that is, a presentation of the Gospel message without ignoring certain fundamental elements, or without operating a selectivity with regard to the deposit of faith," and secondly, “extensive integrity,” that is a presentation that "grad­ually and increasingly proposes the Christian message more amply and with greater explicitness, in accordance with the capacity of those being catechized and with the proper character of catechesis" (112). By comprehensiveness is meant a coherence which is achieved by organizing the contents of the faith around the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, in a christocen­tric perspective"(114). By hierarchialism is meant harmony which is achieved by observing the “hierarchy of truths,” that is, by adhering to the fact that "some truths are based on others as a higher priority and are illumined by them" (114).14

4. Contexts of Inculturation. This inculturation of catechesis is both a need and a right of every Christian individual and Christian community and involves the community as community (167‑68). There is the need to adapt catechesis first according to age, i.e., adults, infants and young children, young people, and the aged (171‑88), and then according to special conditions such as the disabled and the handicapped, the marginalized (e.g., immigrants, refugees, nomads, traveling people, the chronically ill, drug addicts, prisoners), profession­als (e.g., workers, artists, scientists, university students), and rural and urban people (189‑92).

The remaining two categories to which catechesis should be adapted are of special importance for catechesis in Asia. The first refers to the religiously plural context, and here the GCD speaks of catechesis on the one hand and popular devotions, non‑Catholic Christians, Jews, followers of other religions, and new religious involvements on the other. The GDC acknowledges that "Christians today live in multi‑religious contexts; many, indeed, in a minority position" (200). It stresses that in this context catechesis has three tasks: deepen­ing and strengthening the identity of believers; helping Chris­tians not only discern the elements in those religions which are contrary to the Christian message but also accept the seeds of the Gospel which are found in them and which can sometimes constitute an authentic preparation for the Gospel; and pro­moting a lively missionary sense among believers (200).

The last category is the socio‑cultural context, and here the GDC discusses inculturation proper. In this context catechesis is charged with six tasks: knowing in depth the cul­ture of persons and the extent of its penetration into their lives; recognizing the cultural dimension in the Gospel itself; pro­claiming the conversion demanded of cultures by the Gospel; witnessing to the transcendence of the Gospel over cultures; promoting a new expression of the Gospel in accord with the culture being evangelized; and maintaining the content of the faith integrally (203).

Catechetical inculturation follows a series of methodolog­ical steps: "a listening to the culture of the people, to discern an echo... of the word of God; a discernment of what has an authentic Gospel value or is at least open to the Gospel; a pur­ification of what bears the mark of sin (passions, structures of evil) or of human frailty; an impact on people through stimulating an attitude of radical conversion to God, of dialogue, and of patient interior maturation" (204).

The GDC also points out that catechetical inculturation must not be restricted to a few experts but must involve the whole People of God; that it must be guided and encouraged, and not forced; that it must be an expression of, and mature in, the community, and not exclusively the result of erudite research; and that it requires the cooperation of all the agents of catechesis (206).

One important element of inculturation is language. The GDC states that though catechesis must make use of the forms and terms proper to the culture, nevertheless it must "respect and value the language proper to the message, especially bibli­cal language, as well as the historical‑traditional language of the Church (creed, liturgy) and doctrinal language (dogmatic formulations).... In the process of inculturating the Gospel catechesis should not be afraid to use traditional formulae and the technical language of the faith, but it must express its meaning and demonstrate its existential importance" (208).

5. Local Catechisms. Lastly, as concrete steps toward catechetical inculturation, the GDCfollowing its predecessor, suggests three: a socio‑cultural and religious analysis of the state of the diocese, developing a plan of action, and elaboration of instruments and didactic aids for catechetical activity (279‑83). Among these, "catechisms excel all others. Their importance derives from the fact that the message transmitted by them is rec­ognized as authentic by the Pastors of the Church" (284). These local catechisms are declared to be "invaluable instruments for catechesis" since through them "the Church actualizes the 'divine pedagogy' used by God himself in Revelation, adapting his language to our nature with thoughtful concern" (131).

Every catechism adopted by the local church must have three characteristics. First, it is official, and as such it is qualita­tively different from other catechetical aids, such as didactic texts, non‑ official catechisms, and guides. Secondly, it is "a synthetic and basic text, in which the events and fundamental truths of the Christian mystery are presented in an organic way and with regard to the 'hierarchy of truth." Thirdly, it is a reference point to inform catechesis" (132).

The GDC insists that in elaborating this kind of cate­chism the local church should exercise a "mature creativity" (134). It makes it clear that an inculturated local catechism is not "a mere summary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church" (134) because the latter lacks genuine adaptations to the local conditions. Such local catechisms can be diocesan, regional or national in character. Furthermore, they can be structured in different ways, e.g., they can be organized according to a trinitarian structure, or the stages of salvation, or a biblical theme, or an aspect of the faith, or the liturgical year (134).

In summary, the GCD represents a comprehensive and organic synthesis of the teachings of Paul VI and John Paul II on evangelization and catechesis. Its long‑term influence and significance do not lie in any new doctrine but in its funda­mental approach to catechesis as an intrinsic moment of the evangelizing mission of the church and in its strong insistence on the necessity of local catechisms that both creatively and faithfully inculturate the contents of the faith as presented by the CCC.


From the recent history of the Asian churches, it is obvi­ous that they are a stranger to neither inculturation nor incul­turated catechesis. A cursory reading of the documents of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC) will quickly dispel any doubt that evangelization and catechesis, especially in their triple form of inculturation, interreligious dialogue, and solidarity with the poor, have been the staple themes of their reflections and publications in the last three decades (Rosales and Arévalo 1992). This last part of this essay will first review what the FABC and the recent synod of Asian bishops have said about catechesis as an essential element of evangelization and will then, by way of conclusion, make some suggestions, in the light of the teachings of both the Roman documents examined above and of the FABC as well as of the synod of Asian bish­ops, regarding the composition of inculturated catechisms for East Asia.

1. Evangelization and Catechesis in Asia. That evangel­ization is a first‑priority concern of Asian bishops is demon­strated by the fact that the theme of the FABC's first plenary assembly held in Taipei, Taiwan in 1971 was "evangelization in modern‑day Asia." The assembly dramatically affirmed the urgency of evangelization: "...the preaching of Jesus Christ and His Gospel to our peoples in Asia becomes a task which today assumes an urgency, a necessity and reaches the magnitude unmatched in the history of our Faith in this part of the world (Rosales and Arévalo 1992: 13).

Evangelization was studied again during the international congress on mission held in Manila, Philippines on the occa­sion of the 400th anniversary of the foundation of the diocese of Manila in December 1979, co‑sponsored by the Sacred Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Pon­tifical Mission Aid Societies of the Philippines. The congress had nine workshops, and their titles alone indicate the scope and richness of the discussions: Toward a theology of mission for Asia today; local Asian churches and the tasks of mission: inculturation; dialogue with other religious traditions in Asia; the Gospel, the kingdom of God, liberation and development; basic Christian communities and local ministries; prayer, spiri­tuality and formation for mission; co-responsible evangeliza­tion; mission and education; and media and evangelization (125-63).

Evangelization was also the focus of the FABC's fifth ple­nary assembly in Bandung, Indonesia, July 1990, the title of which was "Journeying Together Toward the Third Millennium." The theme of evangelizing mission of the contemporary Asia was discussed at length (279-89).  Besides plenary assemblies (which generally met every four years) and occasional congresses, the FABC also had six offices relating to various aspects of church life, one of which is mission or evangelization. Until 1991 there have been five "institutes” on missionary apostolate, that is, conferences in which a number of bishops, priests, religious and laity participated and issued final statements (93-108; 291-94; 335-47).

As can be gathered from its manifold documents, FABC's theology of evangelization is extremely rich and varied and resists a comprehensive summary. Indeed, it is itself, already an instructive example of an Asian theology of mis­sion. The following statements attempt to represent its essen­tial points:

(1) The church's evangelizing mission and activity must be informed by the sociopolitical, economic, cultural, and religious contexts of modern Asia. Hence, it must be preceded by a careful and accurate analysis of these contexts to respond to the "signs of the times” (3-5; 30-1; 57-9; 68-9; 179-83; 275-79; 335-37).

(2) The proclamation of Jesus Christ is "the center and the primary element of evangelization without which all other elements will lose their cohesion and validity (292).  With the proclamation of Jesus Christ, the kingdom of God, which was his message, becomes the goal of evangelization.15

(3) The primary focus of evangelization in Asia today is ”the building up of a truly local church” (14). This local church must have its proper autonomy within the communion with the universal church: "... In our Asian context we are in the process of re‑discovering that the individual Christian can best survive, grow and develop as a Christian person in the midst of a self-­nourishing, self‑governing, self‑ministering and self-propagating Christian community”(77). Hence, evangelization will lead to gathering together a believing community, the church.

(4) Mission will practice dialogue as its essential mode in its threefold and interrelated forms: dialogue with the religions of Asia (interreligious dialogue), dialogue with the people, especially the poor (liberation), and dialogue with the cultures of Asia (inculturation).16

(5) The acting subject of mission in Asia today is the local church: "Local Churches, servant and inculturated, are the subject of the evangelizing mission"(343). It is the members of the local church that discern and work out the most effective ways in which the Gospel is proclaimed, the church planted, and the values of the kingdom of God realized in their own place and time (130).

(6) Every local church in Asia must be both a "receiving church" and a "sending church." Every local church is respon­sible for its mission and co‑responsible for the mission of its sister‑churches (130).

(7) Evangelization in Asia must be the particular respon­sibility of the laity, especially in the roles of evangelist, cate­chist, preacher, and religion teacher.17  The FABC's fifth plenary assembly declares: "... The lay faithful should take upon themselves as their specific responsibility the renewal of Asian society according to the values of the Gospel. They are the pri­mary evangelizers of culture and cultures, and of the whole fabric of life in society” (283).

(8) Evangelization must make use of all possible means at the disposal of the church in Asia, particularly "grassroots ecclesial communities” (148-52), schools and universities as well as non-formal education (156-61), and the media of communication.

(9) Among the means of evangelization catechesis stands out in importance. It is true that the FABC has not spoken extensively and explicitly on catechesis as the work of teaching Christian doctrines aimed at maturating the faith. Nevertheless, catechesis is implied in the FABC's numerous statements on evangelization, education, and min­istries in the church. The FABC explicitly stated that "more thorough‑going renewal is called for in catechesis"(79) and spoke of 13 kinds of specialized catechizing ministry for the laity (79-81).

(10) In sum, for evangelization to succeed in Asia, what is needed is not merely a new approach to evangelization, but a new way of being church: "We dream of a servant Church: ser­vant of God, servant of Christ, servant of his plan of salvation; servant of the Asian peoples, of their deep hopes, longings and aspirations; servant of the followers of other religions, of all women and men, simply and totally for others"(340).

The Asian Synod of Bishops, convoked by John Paul II to prepare for the third millennium, met in Rome in April-­May 1998, and had as its theme "Jesus Christ the Savior and his mission of love and service in Asia". The synod's instru­mentum laboris, which collates the responses of various Asian Bishops' Conferences to the lineamenta, devotes its final chap­ter to the theme of mission in Asia. It represents the concerns of Asian bishops for "a new evangelization in Asia18: "Evangel­ization today has acquired a wider meaning than in the past. Evangelization is a complex reality and has many essential ele­ments such as witnessing to the Gospel, working for the values of the Kingdom, the struggle for human promotion, dialogue, a mutual sharing of God‑experiences, inculturation and dia­logue with other religions, to mention a few” (IL, 47).

The document speaks of the liturgy as the wellspring of mission, the importance of the Bible in evangelization, mis­sionary spirituality, the role and formation of the laity for mis­sion, the family as the agent and the first place of catechesis, youth as evangelizers, prayer and contemplation as the source of power for evangelization, various forms of dialogue (inter­religious dialogue, inculturation, human promotion), service to creation, and the means of social communication (IL, 40-53).

2. Local Catechisms as an Instrument of Evangelization in Asia. Interestingly enough, neither the documents of the FABC nor those of the Asian Synod have explicitly mentioned the need of composing local catechisms for Asia. Yet the history of catechisms written both in and for Asia is rich as well as varied. The names of Francis Xavier, Roberto de Nobili , Alessandro Valignano, Michele Ruggieri, and Matteo Ricci and their cate­chisms need no introduction.19 The catechism by Alexandre de Rhodes entitled Cathechismus pro iis qui volunt suscipere baptismum in octo dies divisus, in Vietnamese and Latin, less known than those of his Jesuit colleagues, was no less influential."20

Recently, a national catechism for the Philippines was approved by the Congregation for the Clergy, the first to receive this honor since the publication of the CCC. The Catechism for Filipino Catholics (CFC was begun in 1984, completed in 1994, and approved by the Vatican in 1997. TheCFC claims to be truly Christ‑centered and trinitarian, and solidly grounded in the Bible, Church teaching, and human experience. Furthermore, it claims to respond to the particular needs of Filipino catechesis as sketched in the National Cate­chetical Directory of the Philippines (approved by Rome in 1984) and to be truly inculturated in the context of Filipino cultural and religious values and traditions.

The CFC is divided into three parts, flanked by the introduction called "Foundations" —which discusses the identity of the Filipino Catholic and the themes of revelation, faith and unbelief — and the epilogue, a commentary on the Our Father. The three parts are entitled "Christ, our Truth," "Christ, our Way," and "Christ, our Life" respectively. The first part deals with doctrine, speaking of believing in God the Father (head and faith); the second with the moral life, speaking of following Christ (hands and love); and the third with worship and sacraments, speaking of trusting in the Holy Spirit (heart and hope). Each chapter seeks to achieve three goals: integration, inculturation, and community formation, and is composed of five sections: introductory text, context, exposition, integration, and questions and answers.

All in all, the CFC is an impressive achievement. Its most notable features include a conscious and consistent effort at bringing about genuine inculturation (by an almost ubiquitous reference to the Filipino context and by citing the teachings not only of the Magisterium of the universal church but also that of the Filipino church), integration (by linking the three parts of doctrine, moral life, and worship together), and orien­tation toward praxis (by stressing the communal and social dimensions of faith). The CFC is intended not as a textbook but as a proximate source book for the preparation of catechetical materials, religion textbooks, and other guides.

No doubt, both the method and structure of the CFC can serve as a useful guide for the composition of other national catechisms in Asia. Of course, the fact that the CFC is written in English makes the first stage of inculturation, i.e., transla­tion of Western theological categories, somewhat simpler. This is not the case when the catechism is presented in other lan­guages such as Chinese or Vietnamese in which such funda­mental vocabularies as God, Holy Spirit, grace, sin, salvation, and sacrament can, as history has shown, cause serious diffi­culties. Furthermore, the fact that Christians form the great majority in the Philippines vastly simplifies the task of interreligious dialogue, which again is not the case with countries such as India, China, Vietnam, Korea, Japan, and others. Finally, the Filipino church has at its disposal several Catholic universities with a copious corps of experts in relevant sacred disciplines, whereas in some other Asian countries such as China and Vietnam even an elementary level of theological education has not been available, not even to the clergy, for several decades.

With regard to national catechisms in countries such as China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam that share similar religious traditions (mainly Buddhist, Confucian, and Taoist), similar socio‑political condition (socialist and Communist, except Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan), and similar Christian minority status (in all of the countries mentioned), some sug­gestions may be offered here, though unfortunately only in the most cursory fashion.

(1) Before embarking upon a national catechism, it would be useful for the churches of these countries to compose first national catechetical directories in the light of the recently promulgatedGDC. These directories will supply concrete norms for the composition of national catechisms later.

(2) Selective use should be made of the CCC in catechesis, which by now has been translated into the languages of these countries. Indeed, summaries of the CCC should be used in the meantime, though it must be remembered that these summaries cannot be regarded as equivalents of inculturated local catechisms still to be composed. The advantage of these summaries is that they begin the process of incorporating the essential contents of the CCC into local catechesis as well as into local languages.

(3) The composition of the national catechisms will of course proceed in stages, perhaps following the three parts adopted by the CFC. In the composition of this national cate­chism, the collaboration of non‑Catholic Christians will be actively sought, especially in countries where non‑Catholic Christians are numerous, e.g., South Korea and Japan. In this way not only ecumenical unity will be served but also the dan­ger of using different sets of vocabularies for the same theolog­ical terms among Catholics and Protestants (e.g., in Vietnam) will be avoided.

(4) It would be useful to attempt to express key Christian concepts in terms of the cultural and religious heritage of the country and subject these attempts to a wide and searching cri­tique by experts of the same country and culture. For example, how can the concept of the reign of God be expressed in the Con­fucian framework? (Phan 1998b: 295-322).  How can Jesus Christ be under-stood in the context of the veneration of ancestors? (Phan 1996a: 25-55).  How can ecclesiology be elaborated taking account of the concept of family? How can Christian ethics be structured around filial piety? Once validated, these interpretations may be used as signposts for the process of inculturating Christian doctrines into the culture of each country.

(5) A wide variety of Asian sources must be pressed into ser­vice, especially sacred texts and religious practices of non‑Christian religions (far more so than in the CFC) so that a genuine inter­religious dialogue becomes an essential part of catechesis (Phan 1996b: 403-5).

At the threshold of the third Christian millennium, the Church is challenged to undertake new forms of evangelization. Nowhere is this challenge as urgent as in Asia. Within this new evangelization catechesis understood as the teaching of Chris­tian doctrines and practices for the purpose of maturating the Christian faith is a necessary and vital part. And a powerful instrument for evangelization the catechism has been and will continue to be.



1. In 1979, John Paul II wrote: "Catechesis has always been a central care in my ministry as a priest and as a bishop" (Catechesi Tradendae, 4). We might now add, as a pope. What is meant by mission, evangelization, and catechesis, will be made clear in the course of the essay.

2. Catechesi Tradendae will be cited as CT and Redemptoris Missio as RM, followed by the number of the paragraph. English translations of both documents are available from Pauline Books & Media, Boston.

3. The text will be cited as CCC, followed by the number of the paragraph. Its English translation, copyrighted by the United States Catholic Conference, is available from Paulist Press, New York, 1994. For good introductions to the CCC, see Marthaler 1994 and Walsh 1994.

4. Fidei Depositum, Section 3.

5. Congregation for the Clergy, General Directory for Catechesis (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997). Henceforth it will be cited as GDC, fol­lowed by the number of the paragraph.

6. Congregation for the Clergy, General Catechetical Directory (Washington, DC: Publications Office, United States Catholic Confe-rence, 1971). Henceforth it will be cited as GCD, followed by the number of the paragraph.

7. The Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church (Christus Domi­nus), 44.

8. Foreword.

9. It is not the purpose of the essay nor is it possible to summarize the teach­ing of GCD on these points here. Interested readers can consult parts two through six of the document.

10. English translation is available from St. Paul Books & Media. The encycli­cal will be cited as EN,followed by the number of the paragraph.

11. After the publication of RM in 1990, the Congregation for the Evangeliza­tion of Peoples and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue issued a joint document entitled Dialogue and Proclamation (DP) on May 19, 1991. This docu­ment seeks to clarify the relationship between these two activities as components of the one evangelizing mission of the church: "Interreligious dialogue and proclama­tion, though not on the same level, are both authentic elements of the Church's evangelizing mission. Both are legitimate and necessary. They are intimately related, but not interchangeable: true interreligious dialogue on the part of the Christian supposes the desire to make Jesus Christ better known, recognized and loved, pro­claiming Jesus Christ is to be carried out in the Gospel spirit of dialogue. The two activities remain distinct but, as experience shows, one and the same local Church, one and the same person, can be diversely engaged in both"(77). Obviously, this document has profound implications for catechesis and catechism. For both the texts of RM andDP and excellent commentaries on them, see Borrows 1993.

12. For studies on the GDC, see Dooley 1998a: 33, 35-9; 1998b: 114-23; Horan and Regan 1998; Bissoli 1998; Manello 1997; and the journal The Living Light 34, nos. 2 and 4 (1997‑98).

13. These four tasks correspond to the four "pillars" of the CCC.

14. The GDC, 115 argues that this “hierarchy of truths" present in the way the history of salvation is told (with Jesus Christ as the unifying center), the Apos­tles’ Creed is formulated (with the doctrine of the Trinity as its structure), the sacra­ments are understood (with the Eucharist occupying a unique place), moral theol­ogy is organized with the double commandment of love of God and neighbor as its summary), and prayer is taught (with the Our Father as its heart).

15. See Rosales and Arevalo, 342: “... The reign of God is a universal reality, extending far beyond the boundaries of the Church. It is the reality of salvation in Jesus Christ, in which Christians and others share together…. See in this manner, a ‘regnocentric’ approach to mission theology does not in any way threaten the Christo-centric perspective of our faith. On the contrary, ‘regnocentrism’ calls for ‘christo-centrism’ and vice versa….”

16. See Rosales and Arevalo, 23; 138-48). For studies of these aspects in FABC's documents, see Bevans 1996:1-23 and Phan 1998:205-27.

17. See Rosales and Arevalo, 79. It is interesting to note that the “Asian Colloquium on Ministries in the Church” (Hong Kong, Mareh 1977) spoke first and at great length of the ministries of the laity before dealing (relatively briefly) with those of deacons, priests, and bishops, contrary to the practice of most Roman documents. For further teachings of the FABC on the laity, see the statement of its fourth plenary assembly (Tokyo, Sept. 1986), the title of which is “The Vocation and Mission of the Laity in the Church and in the World of Asia” (177-98).

18. The English edition of the instrumentum laboris is available from Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City, 1998. The document will be cited as IL, followed by the number of the paragraph.

19. For a history of early catechisms in Asia, see Phan 1998a: 111-21 and Jennes 1975. For a detailed history of catechisms from 1950 to 1870 see Braido 1991. For a comprehensive and readable history of catechisms, see Marthaler 1995.

20. For a short presentation of de Rhodes' catechism and his catechetical method, see Phan 1997: 103-28.

21. See Catechism for Filipino Catholics (Manila: ECCCE and Word & Life, 1997).


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* Originally published in Studia Missionalia (Vol. 48, 1999).