In Lahore catechists get the lowest salaries. Vocations are up compared to the past. Children who study in government schools are deprived of catechism. The faith should be promoted through social media.
Lahore (AsiaNews) – The laity are the most neglected class in our Church and continue working in silence, this according to Emmanuel Neno.
Speaking to AsiaNews, the executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops Commission for Catechetics, highlighted some critical issues that confront the local Church, above all the treatment of the laity.
"The situation of catechism teachers and catechetical staff is no different,” he noted. “The Church should recognise them" on their own terms.
Neno, 60, spent 35 years serving the local Church. He holds a master degree in Religion and Religious Education from Fordham University, a Catholic university based in New York.
During his career, he has translated and authored more than 40 books, including the Urdu translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Roman Ritual currently used by the clergy in Pakistan.
For over three decades, his books on catechism have been used to teach students from grade 1 to 10 in more than 500 schools run by Catholic Church.
Speaking about the evolution of the Church in the last 35 years, the former seminarian said “The Church hierarchy is now local as most of the Catholic bishops are native-born”. What is more, “Compared to the past, vocations have increased.”
“Now there is a national catechism syllabus, approved by the Catholic Bishops' Conference, which is adapted to the culture of the country. This is a sign of our concern to fulfil our duty as an evangelical church," he explained.
For Neno, his biggest challenge is working without staff, alone in his office, at Dar-ul-Kalam, the laity training centre in Lahore.
"Every day errands like visiting the post office interrupt my research, project writings and training," he said.
Another problem is the fact that “children studying in government schools are being deprived of catechism. The rapid growing of mushroom churches is also confusing local Christians. They think all of them are house of God."
In order to address their concerns, Neno started the first Church-run Urdu page on Facebook. In a short period of time, it reached more than 10,000 members.
"Young people want to know about the reality of their faith,” he explained. “They have to face tough questions regarding Christianity from people of the majority faith and an apologetic approach is needed to give logical answers. Most of the questions are raised by Protestant pastors and Messianic Jews," he added.
With respect to digital media use by the clergy, Neno noted that "Most priests use social media to share their personal and pastoral activities. This does not help in faith promotion. The Church should pay more attention to this technology – it has literally become the language of the laity."
Finally, Neno stressed the need to teach the catechesis to the clergy. "There is a huge communication gap when they step out of the seminary,” he said. “Usually their vocabulary is very high due to their studies in philosophy and theology. But they have to deal with catechists, not theologians."
Money is also another issue. “Catechists have the lowest salaries. In Lahore Archdiocese, a new catechist starts with a monthly salary of 2,000 rupees (US$ 19). The annual raise is only 100 rupees which does not even cover the cost of two loaves of bread. And even this depends on the favour of the higher-ups."