A Nativity mosaic triptych in the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia is seen in this undated photo. Manor College,  (CNS photo/courtesy Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia)

Following Pope Francis’ recent institution of the ministry of catechist, a local Catholic college has launched a one-of-a-kind program to “teach the teachers” of the faith.

Starting this fall, Manor College will offer the world’s first post-baccalaureate certificate in Eastern Christian catechetics.

The 180-hour, fully online curriculum is designed for catechists or lay persons wishing to delve more deeply into Eastern Christian tradition.

Courses, which begin Sept. 7, are structured in seven-week segments, with each costing $1,125. Tuition for the certificate totals $4,500, and discounts are available when five students from the same diocese or eparchy enroll.

The program is anchored in the “Catechism of the Ukrainian Catholic Church: Christ – Our Pascha,” released in 2016 in response to St. John Paul II’s call for “new and local catechisms” of the 23 additional churches that along with the Latin church comprise the entire Catholic Church. All are in full communion with Rome and recognize the pope as their visible head.

These churches, which originated in Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa, derive in turn from five major ritual groups: Alexandrian, Antiochene, Armenian, Byzantine and Chaldean.

In the Philadelphia area, there are six Byzantine Ruthenian churches, in the Philadelphia area, including Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church in South Philadelphia, and 12 Byzantine Ukrainian churches, including the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception B.V.M. in Northern Liberties.

With some 4.4 million members worldwide, the Ukrainian Catholic Church is one of the largest Eastern Catholic churches in the world, second only to the Latin church.

Pope Francis himself is close to the Ukrainian Catholic Church, said Manor trustee and Basilian Sister Ann Laszok, director of religious education in the Ukrainian Catholic Church’s Eparchy of St. Josaphat, which is based in Parma, Ohio.

The pope “was actually an altar boy at one of our churches in Buenos Aires,” she said.

Sister Ann Laszok, O.S.B.M., director of religious education in the Ukrainian Catholic Church’s Eparchy of St. Josaphat. (Courtesy of Sister Ann Laszok, O.S.B.M.)

Previously, Pope Francis has also said he studied the Ukrainian alphabet.

Quoting St. John Paul II, Sister Ann said embracing Catholicism’s Eastern and Western traditions enables the church to “breathe with her two lungs.”

“People should know the Catholic Church is far greater than just their parish,” she said, citing the profound impact of the Greek Fathers – early Christian theologians and leaders – as one example of the Eastern tradition’s richness.

“A lot of (modern) Roman Catholic theologians are quoting and studying the Greek Fathers – Maximus the Confessor, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nazianzus,” said Sister Ann.

Exploring Eastern churches’ architecture, religious imagery and liturgical rites can enhance the faith of Latin-rite believers, she said.

The iconostasis, or icon screen, separating the sanctuary from the nave in most Eastern churches “represents the heavenly gates,” she said.

Eastern churches “emphasize the Risen Christ,” she noted, which is why they use “leavened bread, which is risen.”

Holy Communion is distributed under both species, with the priest placing the bread and wine directly into the recipient’s mouth using a spoon (which communicants are directed not to touch with either the mouth or tongue).

In the Eastern churches, the celebration of the Eucharist is called the Divine Liturgy, rather than the Mass – and the ritual itself, during which the priest and congregation face the altar, is “mystical,” said Sister Ann. “Heaven and earth are praising God.”

At the same time, she said, “the Eastern Catholic churches are just beginning to appreciate the need for social justice,” she said. “We have to balance the two and learn more about the social justice aspect from the Roman Catholics.”

For that reason, the new certificate program includes courses in ministry to children, teens and youth, with a focus on current trends and challenges faced by younger believers.

Elective courses will also allow students to study adult and intergenerational catechesis, as well as marriage and family life.

The program is open to students from the Eastern and Latin churches, said Sister Ann — and the primary goal is to foster faith, which “should progress beyond the second grade.”

“You can live a holy life by praying and being part of the Eucharist, but it’s always good to know about the person as well as know the person,” she said. “We need to learn about God, as well as get to know God.”

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For more information on Manor College’s Eastern Christian Catechetics Certificate, visit the program’s website.