Malaysian Catechetical Commission online meeting, Aug 11-12

By Dr Steven Selvaraju

Aug 14 2020

IN response to the new norm of the post-COVID era, the Malaysian Catechetical Commission (MCC) annual meeting was conducted via online platform Cisco Webex on Aug 11-12, from 2 pm-5 pm each day. It was originally planned to take place in Kota Kinabalu.

The online meeting was ably set up by MCC Secretary Frederick Empaga (Diocese of Miri). In attendance were Archbishop Julian Leow, Episcopal President for Catechetics, the clergy and religious who serve as directors or heads of their respective Diocesan Catechetical Commissions, and invited lay representatives.

MCC Chair Fr Nicholas Stephen (Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu) welcomed members and informed that it was necessary for them to meet online in view of the Covid-19 pandemic. Although this is not always the best mode of communication, as it prevents interpersonal interactions, given the present situation, it is important that MCC finds creative ways to move on with its discussion and endeavours.

Archbishop Leow shared three important insights. Firstly, the Covid-19 has caused disruption to the way catechesis is normally carried out. New challenges have arisen, and it is laudable that priests, catechists and parents are doing their best to adapt to new modes of communicating and sharing the faith. In some dioceses, the challenges are greater because in certain areas, access to the internet or even electricity is not available.

Secondly, for now, face-to-face catechism and RCIA sessions have been suspended. The Church leadership will continue to monitor the situation closely, heeding the advice of the health authorities regarding the re-opening of religious classes. Meanwhile, in certain dioceses, the Bishops have started administering the Sacrament of Confirmation, and parishes have begun holding liturgical celebrations for the reception of the Sacraments of Initiation for adults who have completed the RCIA process.

Thirdly, with regards to the way children and young people are being catechised – whether it is time to conduct a systematic evaluation of the catechetical content and methodology now being used, as well as, the role of catechists and parents.

According to the Archbishop “Perhaps, we have to find new ways of sharing the faith to the next generation… and therefore, all avenues, all areas of communication need to be exhausted and not to depend on traditional methods”.

Archbishop Leow, therefore, proposed that a Study Day be organized for MCC members, as well as, invited participants, especially from the youth, to discuss and “brainstorm” the issue at hand. The Study Day is planned for 29 September 2020.

Among the important matters discussed on the first day of the meeting was next year’s Catechetical Sunday. In 2021, Catechetical Sunday will fall on 31 January 2021, and the theme chosen is “Parish Communities: Agents of Faith, Hope and Love (Ref: 1 Cor. 13: 13). It highlights the role of the parish as an agent of faith, hope and love in the light of the doubt, fear and anxiety created by the Covid-19 pandemic. The theme was chosen because MCC has decided that the Strategic Focus for Catechesis in 2021 will be “Parish Communities”. Arrangements will be made for the Catechetical Sunday 2021 message to be prepared and translated, and sent to parishes by the end of November 2020. 

On the second day, among matters discussed was the possibility of introducing more topics to the current syllabus for the Confirmation class. These topics will not be included in the textbook but will be provided separately as supplementary topics for the catechist to select and use as he or she deems necessary. A team was set up to look into the matter.

During the latter part of the day, time was allocated for members to share how each diocese is responding to the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Most dioceses are taking a prudent approach with no face-to-face classes being allowed. Where the facilities and equipment are available, classes are conducted online. Other methods include keeping in touch with learners via Whatsapp or other social media apps.  

Among the concerns raised by dioceses is how to resolve issues related to non-completion of syllabus or non-attendance of students. In this regard, for example, can the learner receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion or Confirmation? Or if the syllabus is not completed, will the whole class be held back for another near?

In response, Archbishop Leow stated that the decision on these and related matters is left to the diocesan bishops, and upon their directives, to the parish priests. Each diocese and parish has its unique challenges, and has to respond accordingly to its needs.

The next MCC meeting will be held in Kuching, Sarawak from 5-8 July 2021, if circumstances allow. Otherwise, the meeting will be conducted online.