For the first time, Pope Francis installs women in two ministries of the Church
On Sunday, Pope Francis installed women as well as men from around the world as catechists and readers, marking a break with what had been Church law reserving these ministries for men, even though women have held these positions in many parts of the Catholic world for decades without the official designation.
Francis conferred the ministries during a celebration in St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday of the Word of God, which he instituted in 2019, to encourage in all Catholics an interest in knowing the Holy Scriptures and their central role in the life of the Church and the Christian faith.
The theme of this year’s celebration, which is marked globally, is “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God”, which comes from the Gospel of Saint Luke.
Previously, the two ministries were reserved only for men because they were considered preparatory to the reception of Holy Orders. While in most dioceses women already served as lectors and altar servers at Mass, they were not officially instituted in these services on a stable basis.
In a statement earlier this week, the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization pointed out that “well-established practice in the Church … has confirmed that lay ministries, grounded in the sacrament of baptism, can be entrusted to all the faithful who are suitable, whether male or female, according to what is already implicitly indicated by canon 230 of the Code of Canon Law, which the Pope modified for the occasion”.
Pope Francis officially instituted the ministry of catechesis in May 2021. This follows his decision in January to open
the ministries of reader and companion to women.
Victor Hidalgo Chungue is from the Amazon rainforest of Peru. He was in Rome this week in preparation for Sunday’s big event, as one of those who will receive the ministry of catechist from Pope Francis.
“I have been a catechist since I was 16,” he said. Node by telephone. “Until I was 19, I was an accompanying catechist. Since that time, I lead catechesis for the sacraments of Christian initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist – and today he also trains other catechists.
“The work is very good and it is the vocation to which I was called,” said Hidalgo, who lives in the Vicariate of Yurimaguas-Loreto. “For me it is a privilege and I am very happy to receive this ministry from the hands of our Holy Father Francis. I feel very committed to all my Church in Peru, the vicariate and all those men and women who are catechists and are dedicated to evangelization.
Candidates from Peru, Brazil, Ghana, Poland and Spain will be appointed catechists by the Pope, and lay people from South Korea, Pakistan, Ghana and Italy will become lectors.
Speaking about the ceremony, Italian Archbishop Rino Fisichella, who heads the council for the new evangelization, said that a total of 15 people will receive the ministries, most of them young people: “It is above all the Church that receives the sign that the Word of God God is a seed that must be brought into the world,” he said,
This is the central dimension of the day, he said: “Making believers responsible for the process of living the transmission of the Word of God. Individuals become responsible to the extent that the Church succeeds in making people understand that the Word of God “touches our lives”.
Quoting St. Jerome, Fisichella argued that “non-knowledge of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ”.
“The proclamation of the Word of God, the deepening, the formation of believers is more urgent than ever at this moment in history,” he said.
Hidalgo also believes that every member of the Catholic Church is called to “make an effort every day to be a little better.” This demand, he said, comes from the fact that more often than not the laity have “a lot of biblical, liturgical and pastoral training,” but nevertheless, “do not live a life in accordance with our knowledge.”
“The role of the laity is to announce the Good News of Christ with our lives,” he said. “Only then will we come closer and become just a little bit like Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Hidalgo believes there are many catechists and readers around the world who are “a little scared” or “don’t feel encouraged to receive this ministry” because it is a lifetime commitment. He described it as “giving oneself completely to a life with God, and that is a calling for life, not just for a few years or a few days.”
For this reason, he says, many catechists, readers and acolytes are afraid. And he counts himself among those who have fears and reservations, especially with the added “pressure” of being among the first to receive this ministry from the hands of the pope.
“However, I will give all this fear, this emotion to the Lord,” he said, with palpable emotion. “Because I want to look him in the eye and tell him: Lord, here I am, do with me what you want, I am your son. Send me wherever you might need me, wherever you might find me useful.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma