Monday, April 21, 2008

Catechists’ workshop

Last Friday and Saturday I helped with a training for catechists (the teachers of religious education) in the parish of Dulce Nombre de María. To the surprise of the pastor 128 catechists came for the day and a half training. (An interesting note: each community that sends catechists is supposed to provide some support for the meeting – a few dollars per person and/or some food items – whether vegetables or corn or beans.)

Some catechists had participated in the first training session two months ago but over half of these who came hadn’t. So there were two tracks to the training session. I was scheduled to do a session on the sacraments in general for Saturday morning but spent much of Friday helping out in various ways since the cook and others were overwhelmed by the numbers who came. (My favorite part of this was doing “tortilla runs” during lunch on Friday – getting tortillas from the place where they were making them and bringing them to where the plates with the rest of the meal were being distributed. I wonder if the women making the tortillas were thinking – “that crazy gringo!”)

The parish infrastructure is woefully inadequate. There is a hall for meetings as well as two “dormitories.” But there weren’t enough mattresses and so Padre Efraín had to drive to Santa Rosa to borrow some from a parish there. There are also only three bathrooms in the center and there are problems with the water tank. For Friday’s workshops we used the sisters’ buildings for one group, but on Saturdays and Sundays the sisters host a school for students who work during the week or who don’t have advanced classes in their villages. So Saturday morning one group met in the meeting hall, the other in the church, and the Parish Council (which meets on the third Saturday of the month) met in one of the dormitories. There were more that 160 people at the parish center that Saturday morning.

After the meeting Padre Efraín, spoke with Misael, an albañil, a sort of construction worker who can supervise and do projects on his own. This week, God willing, Misael will work on constructing two or more new bathrooms, repair the current toilets, and repair a concrete tank so that there is another tank to store water. Padre Efraín really wants to improve the facilities so that they can be welcome places for the training sessions and other meetings held there. He is particularly concerned about hygiene, especially since there is workshop on liturgy next weekend.

Various people led the workshops – the sisters who live and work in Dulce Nombre, several teachers who are involved in the parish, the pastor and me. They covered the range from sections on God’s call, the Bible, and the sacraments, to sessions on how to teach religion to children. The training ended with Mass at 11 am on Saturday.

During the meals and the breaks I had a little time to talk to some of the catechists. Some have been doing it for years. Some are in their forties and fifties, but there are a good number of young people in their teens and twenties. At lunch on Saturday I listened as Father talked with one woman who was concerned since she cannot read – but her teenage daughter can and will help with the class.

What is amazing is that almost all the rural villages have a few catechists who end up being responsible for the basic religious education – which is now divided into four levels – as well as for preparing children for first communion and for confirmation. That is quite a lot of responsibility, but it is encouraging to see that the parish is serious about the training of the catechists, with sessions planned for every two months. For the most part I will be helping with the sessions on the sacraments. It is challenging to try to do a workshop in Spanish that meets their needs and is somewhat participative – but it’s something that I am really finding fulfilling.

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