By Lou Baldwin

Special to The CS&T

PHILADELPHIA – Approximately 300 disciples of St. Paul will be honored at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul on Sunday, Jan. 25, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. At 2 p.m. on that day Cardinal Rigali will celebrate Mass before an expected 1,800 volunteer catechists, their families and friends and parish directors of religious education. The Cardinal will be joined by his auxiliary bishops and other clergy.

“We are in the midst of the Year of St. Paul, and the feast of his conversion is obviously a significant event in Church history,” said Father John J. Ames, deputy secretary for Catechetical Formation at the Secretariat for Catholic Education. “His conversion impelled him to be the great preacher of the faith. We have outstanding catechists who give of their talent and time to share their faith and we are enormously grateful for all they do in teaching the faith.”

Because Jan. 25, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, falls on a Sunday in this Year of St. Paul, Pope Benedict XVI has granted permission for the formulary of that feast to be incorporated into the Sunday Mass of the day. It will be done so at the Cathedral in this Mass for the catechists, which is the major archdiocesan celebration of the yearlong commemoration of the birth of St. Paul.

There are, at this time, approximately 55,000 children who do not attend Catholic schools in parish religious education programs, (PREP, CCD) and they receive their instruction from an estimated 6,000 volunteer catechists.

“The last words of Jesus to His disciples were ‘Go, teach all nations.’ It is at the core of the Church to teach others about Jesus, and the value of catechesis can never be overestimated,” Father Ames said.

This is the first time a special Mass has been celebrated at the Cathedral just for catechists and directors of religious education.

“We are enormously grateful to Cardinal Rigali for the support he gives to the catechetical ministry,” said Father Ames. He is the chief teacher of the faith in the Archdiocese. We are also grateful to the staff of the Office for Catechetical Formation and the executive board of the directors of religious education, as well as the parents who encourage their children to participate in religious education programs. [We are also thankful to] the pastors for promoting catechetical programs in their parish.”

Our culture today, Father Ames noted, offers young people in particular a variety of ways to allegedly find happiness.

“The only true happiness is through a relationship with Jesus,” he said. “Our catechists, by encouraging young people to develop a relationship with Jesus, are assisting them to find the true happiness for which they long.”

The catechists who will be honored at the Mass have served their parish programs for a number of years, according to Ann Menna, director of Parish Elementary Religious Education at the Office for Catechetical Formation.

“I think it is very exciting that the Cardinal is celebrating Mass with men and women who have heard the call and serve so faithfully as catechists for the children of our parishes,” Menna said.

Those who have served for five years will receive the St. John Neumann award, and those with 10 years service will receive the St. Pius X award. Those with 15 years of service will be honored with the Our Lady of Guadalupe award, 20 years of service will receive the St. Martin de Porres award and 25 years of service will be given the St. Charles Borromeo award. Finally, 23 catechists with 30 years of service will receive the newly instituted Pope John Paul II award.

In addition to the catechists, Sister Kathleen Schipani, I.H.M., will receive the St. Katharine Drexel award for 10 years service as director of religious education for the Deaf Apostolate. Sister Rose Caritas, I.H.M., of Our Lady of the Assumption Parish in Strafford and Linda Stewart of St. Ignatius of Antioch Parish in Yardley will each receive the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award for 20 years service as directors of religious education.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.