Field Hospital Catechesis als deacons´ challenge
The permanent deaconate in South Africa
The Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) region consists of 29 dioceses. The first ordination to the permanent Deaconate took place in the Archdiocese of Cape Town in 1980, followed shortly thereafter by ordinations throughout the Conference region, predominantly in the urban areas. Today there are 278 permanent deacons in the SACBC Region and some 40 at various stages of training.
South Africa has very peculiar challenges to advancing the spread of the deaconate in Southern Africa. There are 11 official languages, vast distances between parishes in the rural areas, insufficient number of priests to service all parishes and big differences in levels of education, culture, communication and income. All these factors combine to present the deaconate with unique challenges, but also with great opportunities for deacons to exercise their ministry to the fullest extent, often in the absence of a priest.
Opportunities: The establishment of the SACBC National Council of Deacons has greatly helped focus the direction the ministry needs to take from time to time. The current goal is to focus on the post-Confirmation group, many of whom we lose after this so-called Sacrament of Goodbye. The plan is to run a series of “Teach the Teacher” courses for deacons to enable them to take the material and teaching to their respective parishes and run the course aimed at the post-Confirmation and young adult groups. However, our research has shown that running a series of these courses aimed at such groups would simply be putting band-aid on the wound – it won’t heal the injury. The problem lies deeper – basic Catechesis is lacking and needs to be done. The Holy Father calls this need “Field Hospital Catechesis” meaning we need to set the foundation on basic Catechetics before moving on to more sophisticated theological teachings and religious practices. This is clearly explained in the Pope’s words: “The thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and warm hearts – it needs nearness and proximity. I see the Church as a Field Hospital after battle.” What he is saying is that we have to heal the wounds caused by inadequate Catechesis before we can move on to explain or defend other practices and doctrines.
Given the above, the SACBC Council of Deacons has a clear goal: to put together a comprehensive training course for deacons designed to enable the deacon to teach basic Catechesis first, as the foundation on which to build the more advanced instruction on explaining the WHAT and WHY of our faith and practice, including apologetics. The entire course will be based more on the person of Jesus – the kerygma – rather than on the institution of the Church. We see this as the work of the deacons, not the priests.
In conclusion, for the deaconate in South Africa, putting this course together and training all the deacons to enable them to conduct the training in their respective parishes and dioceses represents the major challenge, opportunity and goal for the next three years. With God’s grace, we will succeed.
Deacon Mike Carroll