What is it like to be a catechist in a country where Christians are persecuted? What particular virtues would a catechist need in a society where parishes are illegal, and church buildings may be constructed only with government approval? Imagine the challenges of catechizing adults, teenagers, and children when civil authorities announce plans to build a community without a church; a city where no public expression of faith is tolerated; and the State does not permit public reference to God and to the Church.
This scenario is not taken from a futuristic novel or movie. It was the lived experience of Catholics in Poland, under the Communist regime in the decades following the Second World War. During this period of Polish history, the basic right to exercise and express faith in public forms and places was routinely denied or undermined. The State went so far as to plan a model workers’ town, called Nowa Huta, to be built without a church. Nowa Huta was located on the outskirts of Kraków, Poland, home to then Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, the future Saint John Paul II.
This “pope of the family” is surely one of the great saints of our time. His loving and fearless witness to faith as a priest, a bishop, and as the pope offers every catechist a model to follow, even as we strive to catechize in the midst of the steady erosion of religious freedom today. From his saintly example, we may draw three lessons for catechesis in our time.