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Head of New Institute Says Catechesis Must Also Evangelize

Pope Francis attends an encounter marking the 25th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church at the Vatican on Oct. 11. (Photo: Catholic News Service)

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — At the same time the U.S. bishops look to revitalize the nation’s faith through different initiatives related to encounter and evangelization, Father Daniel Mahan wants to utilize the same concept to enhance catechetical processes for young people “in ways that spark the imagination.” 

As more and more young people in the U.S. leave the Church, Father Mahan said there’s a need to supplement the catechetical texts with effective presentations of the faith that win their hearts and memorable experiences that create an encounter with the Lord.

“We want to make sure that we’re aware of the fact that we can’t simply teach the faith out of a book,” Father Mahan said. “Our books have to be top notch for sure, but we have to be teaching the faith in an authentic manner. We have to do that in ways that spark the imagination.”

Some of those ways, he added, could be taking young people on pilgrimages to holy places, visiting churches that have historical importance and architectural history, and participating in events that bring together people of different cultures and walks of life for the same purpose.

“These are all things that could be done now that we could be doing more of,” Father Mahan said.

Father Mahan was appointed on Feb. 27 to become the first director of the Institute on the Catechism launched by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in November 2022. In the role he’ll begin on July 1 , he will look to help the bishops and local catechetical leaders implement an “evangelizing catechesis.”

The institute is couched within the USCCB Secretariat for Evangelization and Catechesis and, within that, the Subcommittee on the Catechism. It was created to re-implement and reinvigorate the subcommittee’s mandate to respond to the nation’s catechetical landscape by bringing together bishops, diocesan staff, Catholic publishing houses, and catechetical consultants, according to the USCCB.

Father Mahan blames an ever more secular culture for the rise in young people leaving the Church, saying it “wraps its tentacles around young people and pulls them in an opposite direction” from the faith. He noted that the way to address that is through creating the aforementioned experiences of encounter, but also by the way the faith is taught in the classroom.

In addition to the text, Father Mahan highlighted the need to utilize digital media for religious instruction that connects the material to current events. Beyond that, he said, catechists need to teach with a passion that touches the hearts of the students, which traditionally “has defined the best of catechesis.”

“That personal encounter with the Lord is the desired outcome of our catechesis, and we want to pay attention to that and make sure that we’re doing the best we can to make sure that we learn from the best practices,” Father Mahan said. “And that we really do see it as our goal in catechetics not simply to get to the end of the lesson, but to win hearts over to the Lord.”

Father Mahan brings to the Institute on the Catechism more than 20 years of experience reviewing catechetical texts. In recent years, he has been a part of the core group that laid the groundwork for bishops to envision the institute and helped put together its inaugural event in November.

He has been a parish priest in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, where he was ordained, since 1988. Of the appointment, Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, chair of the Subcommittee on the Catechism, said Father Mahan brings a “deep understanding of the Catechism, along with the invaluable, long-time expertise of teaching it to the faithful in a meaningful way.”

Father Mahan said his pastoral experience is key to how he views catechesis, having heard for years from parents concerned that their children have slipped away from the faith and that their grandchildren won’t be raised in the faith, as well as seeing firsthand what does and doesn’t work.

“Whenever we try to express the faith in ways that are experiential, ways that are tactile, ways that involve the whole person, we see very positive results,” Father Mahan explained. “We see that the parents and their children get it,” noting the power of things like Corpus Christi and rosary processions.

“I have seen that expression of awe and wonder in the eyes of children, and I see how that has an impact upon their parents,” he continued. “Their parents suddenly want to be more interested in the faith. They want to learn more. They want to make sure that they’re supportive.”