In October 2021 the annual workshop of the Comboni Secretariat of Mission of the Province of South Sudan took place in Juba. The Topic: Work and Formation of Catechists in our Parishes

The workshop was received positively and necessary for our pastoral work. There were 27 participants: 12 Comboni Missionaries and 15 participants from Juba town.

The moderator was Fr Gregor Schmidt, the presenter was catechist Augustine Omugi from St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Gumbo.

During the first part of the workshop, each parish presented its work with catechists based on these questions:

1) How many catechists are there? How many chapels do you have?

2) What are their roles/duties, etc.? 

3) Are some married in church with the sacrament of matrimony or are some acolytes?

4) How do you select and train them? With which materials?

5) Mention positive aspects and things that are going well regarding catechists.

6) What are your challenges and problems with catechists?

7) How would you like to be supported by the diocese or by other institutions to improve the pastoral work?

8) What is the vision for your parish regarding the collaboration of clergy, religious and lay ministers such as catechists?

The sharing of our pastoral work was very enriching, getting to know the differences of urban pastoral and rural pastoral. Furthermore, the sharing between Comboni parishes and parishes of Juba diocese was considered important for the participants.

During the second part, catechist Augustine Omugi presented three chapters of the New Directory for Catechesis of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization (chapter 4 on formation of catechists, chapter 7 on methodology and chapter 8 on groups which need catechesis). The catechist shared during his presentation from his work experience which was welcomed by the others. The second part was completed by a presentation of Fr Gregor on inculturation, which is also considered in the new directory in chapter 11.

The third part of the workshop was small group work. The groups wrote down new insights of the participants and recommendations to the bishop and Comboni Provincial considering the challenges and discussed how catechists’ formation could be improved.

The workshop ended with a prayer in the chapel.

Holy Trinity Parish, Malakal Diocese, Fangak County

Describe briefly how your parish works with catechists.

1) How many catechists are there? How many chapels do you have?

  • The parish has about 80 villages where there is a regular Sunday prayer led by a catechist. The group of prayer leaders consists of fully trained catechists and auxiliary catechists who still need training.
  • For practical reasons a “chapel” is considered a village where there is a catechist who prays regularly. For this reason, all catechists are busy. There are almost no catechists who are idle on Sundays.
  • But the number of chapels is not stable during the year. Some close because people move away, or they have no catechist anymore. Every year in January, we update the names of open chapels and active catechists. What is not changing is the number of centers: There are 22. Each center has a different number of chapels from only 2 up to 9 chapels.
  • Only 2 female catechists.

2) What are their roles/duties, etc.? 

  • All catechists have the duty to lead Sunday prayer.
  • Trained catechists also teach the Bible, the catechism, and the prayers of the Church. (Infant baptism 4 meetings, confirmation/first communion or adult baptism about 6 months)
  • Any catechist may be invited by the faithful to pray for the sick and the dead or to guide rosary and thanksgiving prayers.
  • Catechists are the link between missionaries and the people living in the villages.

3) Are some married in church with the sacrament of matrimony or are some acolytes?

  • In February 2021, the bishop of Malakal instituted 8 catechists as acolytes who have the responsibility to administer communion in the absence of the priest. 3 of these men (called LPA, Lay Parish Administrators) had done so for many years by the approval of the former bishop.
  • There is a growing number of catechists who also marry in the church, about 20 altogether. But it takes long to receive the sacrament because they need to be sure themselves and need the approval of their families.
  • Several catechists have dropped out of their service when they married a 2nd wife.

4) How do you select and train them? With which materials?

  • Each stable group of Catholics, who want a Sunday prayer in their village, need to choose a catechist candidate among themselves who lives there.
  • We have a training for new catechists during Lenten Season for two years (2 x 8 weeks). Topics: Bible (OT/NT), Liturgy, Sacraments, Memorizing the Prayers of the Church, Spirituality of Prayer, The Creed, The 10 Commandments
  • The experienced head catechists of the 22 centres come each year in September for 2 weeks for sharing and spiritual formation.
  • Sorghum for meetings is provided by the centres, the other expenses by the missionaries.
  • We use a range of Nuer materials that were prepared since the time of Fr Antonio Labraca, Fr Christian Calassare and Fr Wellington. We also translate current documents of the pope and other church documents for the catechists. All teaching is exclusively in Nuer.

5) Mention positive aspects and things that are going well in regard to catechists.

  • The Catholic parish could not exist without the presence and service of the catechists. The Catholic faith was planted in Fangak County by catechists in the 1990s without missionaries. The first priest came in 1998. The origin of our parish is the work of lay Catholics.
  • We appreciate the good will and the dedication of our catechists who are not paid by the parish. They are volunteers and only receive a small contribution from the people of their local center or chapel.
  • Previously only one head catechist was paid by the diocese, but he is gone.

6) What are your challenges and problems with catechists?

  • The faith-life of a center or chapel often is only so strong as the catechists are engaged in animating the Catholics. Some catechists do only the minimum (prayer on Sundays) but neglect the teaching of sacraments and prayers of the Church. In consequence, several Catholics have only a superficial knowledge of the faith and don’t know how to pray with their children.
  • Young catechists may decide after some years of service to drop out and marry a 2nd wife. Or they move on for further studies (secondary school) in Khartoum, Juba, and Uganda.
  • Low level of education: many catechists did not complete primary school, cannot count, most of them don’t speak English
  • Distances in the region are huge, all on foot or by canoe.

7) How would you like to be supported by the diocese or by other institutions to improve the pastoral work?

  • We would appreciate to be more integrated on the life of the diocese and to have a training center for catechists on the diocesan level. This is very difficult in Malakal diocese which has almost no established structures.
  • Currently, it seems that each parish in the diocese is surviving on its own. We look out for any pastoral and catechetical material that is used by others, as we gladly share our materials.

8) What is the vision for your parish regarding the collaboration of clergy, religious and lay ministers such as catechists?

  • The foundation of Holy Trinity Parish is based on the tireless dedication of lay catechists. We missionaries consider ourselves as animators and moderators, not as the “owners” of the parish.
  • God has given different gifts to each believer with which each one is called to contribute to the upbuilding of the Body of Christ, the Church, and to reach a sense of belonging as Family of God in the parish.
  • Our common feasts like Comboni Day and Holy Trinity Feast help us building unity, mutual appreciation and family spirit.
  • Clergy, missionaries, religious, catechists and other lay leaders together with all parishioners should build a web of fraternal relationships to make visible the love of God and the mutual respect among humans which is necessary to let God’s kingdom spread.
Catechist James Kuony, Saint Joseph the Worker Parish, Malakal Diocese (Foto: Fernando González Galarza)

Holy Cross Parish, Rumbek Diocese, Yirol

1. What are your challenges and problems with catechists?

Parish of the Holy Cross in Yirol was evangelized by the Catholic Church quite late, from 1991. When the missionaries came to this land, they faced strong ECS church and their members. We can find many places of prayer, starting in Yirol and present through all the surrounding villages. All the population didn’t know anything else apart of ECS church. Up to now this church is very strong, gathering all elders, men and women.

When the first missionaries came to Yirol, they involved themselves in development of education sector, which they have used also for evangelization. Up to now Catholic Church is seen as the church of the educated people, only for school children and the youths. ECS leaders teach their people that the catholic and ECS churches are brothers and sisters – ECS is for the elders and the catholic is for the children (they divided society between two). Their teaching is “we are the same, we are one”.

Many of our catechists come from that mentality of ECS background. They do not know the differences; they have difficulties to understand the sacraments – they are not able to explain them to the others.

Projects, flowing money and we the foreigners, created crippled communities. They don’t want to contribute; they do not want to own the church – they demand. Catholic is here for development.

Catechists are very weak as the leaders. (Society do not recognize them – like they do with the leaders of ECS which has many titles and uniforms) Catechists are not creative, are not able to move the people.

Catechists are not formed. Most of them are too young. They are not stable in the place/chapel. (They are students or teachers who leave the place very often)

2. How do you select and train them?

If it is possible, the community should choose their catechists. Many times, we must look for the person who knows how to read. Most of them are the teachers at the school or youths. There are not more than 3 catechists per chapel.

The catechists have 2 trainings per year, 5 days. Visiting the chapels and making exams for the catechumens we look how they teach. We visit chapels on Sunday unexpected. We check them. After each course they have exam.

3.  What are their roles/duties, etc.?

Catechist is the Active Person who participates the Catechists Courses twice per year and is Appointed as Catechist by Priest to a particular chapel. He is teaching Catechumens and Leading the Sunday Prayers. Catechists are invited to visit the sick and the people of that chapel; inviting women to pray rosary, inviting youths to sing in the choir, inviting boys to become altar servers, inviting girls to become Alleluia Dancers. Catechist should have only one wife.

  • Every catechist can appoint another trained person, in case of his absence, to lead the prayer, to teach the catechumens or to lead the choir,
  • In case of lack of the catechist, one catechist can teach the catechumens in following schedule: on Mondays (Baptism group), Wednesdays (First Communion) and Fridays (Confirmation),
  • Catechist should lead the prayer with the Alb and the Cross (full uniform), accompanied with Altar Servers and alleluia dancers,
  • One catechist should be always present at the Altar in his uniform during the visit of the Father,
  • According to receive any of the incentives or emergency help discerned with the father in his Office, catechist has to be active and present.
  • Catechists keep record of:
    • Names of altar servers,
    • Names of alleluia dancers,
    • Sunday collections,
    • Name of the person who led the prayer on Sunday,
    • Registration of the Catechumens.

Catechists can be stopped by the father in case of misbehaviour or often absence in the chapel, when is not teaching the catechumens.

Catechists should always recognize the active people in the chapel with the capability to become future catechists. These people should be presented to the father who will take record and call them for the Catechist Course.

4. How many catechists are there? How many chapels do you have?

We have 32 chapels and 96 catechists.

5. Are some married in church with the sacrament of matrimony or are some acolytes?

Catechists are the young boys who are not yet married and the grown men who most of them are polygamous. We do not have marriages in the church. It is very difficult to approach these catechists who have only one wife. They fear families; they have little knowledge about the marriage.

6. Mention positive aspects and things that are going well in regard to catechists.

We have faithful catechists. A part of their limits, they are present in the chapel, they lead the prayers and teach catechumens. They do not ask payment for it.

They are faithful to come to the courses. They are slow to learn or change but each course leaves impact on them. They try to implement what we agree during the course.

7. How would you like to be supported by the diocese or by other institutions to improve the pastoral work?

Catechists need preparation and on-going formation. In our place they need good trainings.

At the moment we are building new Training Centre which should host up to 100 participants. We will invest in formation – catechists, choir masters, alleluia dancers, elders, women etc. We hope to have list of the experts ready to come and facilitate these trainings.

We hope the diocese will have their team ready to facilitate the trainings. Some steps had been already done (diocese organizing courses from their side).

There is very little done regarding the liturgical books and materials for catechists.

Diocese should come with clear program of the training of the Catechists at the Parish and Diocesan level.

Catchist Maria Nyaluak Luny, Saint Joseph the Worker Parish, Diocese of Malakal (Foto: Lorena Morales Fallas)


Salam to all. I am sorry to tell you that I am not in a parish and the people we have around don’t constitute any kind of canonical ecclesial administrative entity as we know them today. I can say that we are working like in Comboni’s time within a kind of Apostolic Vicariate of Northern-Est of Uganda whose headquarter is in Palorinya, Obongi District, Itula Sub- County. 

As matter of fact we have Christians originated from the dioceses of Yei, Torit, Wau, Juba, Arua, Nebi,  Mahagi-Nioka and Beni Butembo… (DRC).  They are from over 20 Parishes according to our late census conducted in the last two months.  So please, don’t be afraid of calling me Abuna Mustapha, Ancestor and Apostolic vicar of Palorinya.

Nonetheless, in catholicity, we have officially an Episcopal Vicar for Refugees based in Moyo, who never come to see the refugees since I am here, and it seems even before. If he is called, then fuel must be provided for him. Let the one who has ears to hear, hear properly.  And when the bishop comes for confirmation, we have more troubles than the peace of the Holy Spirit he is supposed to bring along.  He is scheduled to come the first week of December inshallah.

As for our work with the catechists, since I am new, in order to enter into the reality, we have organised, with the help of the head Catechist Robert, two assemblies of the catechists (the first called upon at the coming of Fr. Luis in order to introduce me to them, on August 16th, 2021),  then the second took place on September 16th.  In October it has not been possible because I was in Kampala. Our next assembly and workshop will be on Nov 5th Inshallah.   Apart from these assemblies we have held twice the zonal meetings with catechists ( we have three zones: Base Camp, Bela Meling and Morobi).   All these gatherings have given us the possibility of getting to know better the situation of our catechists, their joys, hopes and challenges that we are going to share later. 

Since our work is going to be in continuity with the past, we are going to draw a pastoral plan from our assemblies and the work which was conducted in the life of the different chapels through the late census.

In the past, some of our catechists have been trained in Maracha and Lodonga (Arua Diocese) some others have been trained locally.  Considering our difficult context, out of the normal setting of a parish or a diocese, the catechists are the right hands of the community as far as pastoral life is concerned.  Without them we can do nothing good in this field of evangelization wallahi.

  1. The catechists are spiritual leaders in the communities.  They are those conducting Sunday services following the guide of the Arua Diocese: “Rite for the Assembly of the Faithful Led by a Lay Presider”, Bari Edition, Arua Diocese Publications, Uganda, March 2003”. This is the prominent mission of announcing and nourishing the faithful with God’s Word.   They also have the role of teaching the different catechesis to groups for Infant baptism, first communion, confirmation, adult baptism, marriage and conduct funeral rites when possible. They visit the sick and elderly, advice people in preventing conflict and accompany the Christian community in its struggles for survival, giving them hope according to the Christian belief. Where there are ministers of the Eucharist, the catechists accompany them if not some of them instituted for the purpose.
  2. We have at present 11 chapels in settlements with 2 more coming up which have been suggested during the last assembly, then 4 from the South Sudan among which three catechists attended our last assembly. So, a total of 17 chapels. We have now 32 active catechists. Moreover, we have been selecting some new catechists to assist the others because the work being so far from voluntary is very heavy for some of them. Therefore, we have reached the number of 45 catechists. But this number will increase to have at least 3 catechists by chapel inshallah.   Since we have 5 groups for catechesis, one catechist alone cannot manage if we also include other activities of the life of the chapel like having a look at different movements, catholic actions, and commissions etc. This has been too much work for one or 2 persons only. For the catechesis they must follow the program from the Arua Diocese with a specific book for every group.
  3. We have many catechists married in the Church, at least 30 have been authentically married. 4 are looking for money to pay the dowry and be freed from the traditional snare. The rest are the new generation still at school, singletons. No acolytes at all, of different kind. We have the normal altar servants, and this is enough for the time being in the Catholic Church.
  4. For the training, there are two ways. The classical one at the Catechetical Centres in Maracha for one full year and Lodonga for two years. As procedure about that training, they send application forms from the Catechetical Centres and then come for interviews to make the selection. For this group English is compulsory.  The second training is the local one. Candidates are selected from the chapels, follow a full program for one year with different topics among which the main ones are the Catechism of the Catholic Church (and other catechetical subjects from the diverse directories), the Bible, the social teachings of the Church, JPIC, Self-reliance etc. They have the advantage that the teaching is done both in English and local languages and students may attend as helpers of the catechists. The catechists who attended the other specific formations of three years are among the resource persons.

In Both cases the selection is done at the chapel level, approved by the community which will give a part of the contribution for the formation.  Those with families need the approval of their partners who will sign a document of allowing them to go for such a long time training out of the family.

  • The catechists shared some positive aspects of their ministry as follows.  
  • They feel to have been really called by God and are happy about it. Besides, they are glad to bring other people to God and encouraging young people to join the ministry.
  • They enjoy respect and consideration from the community members, they feel to be closer to the people of God attending to their spiritual needs. In some places they are called Abuna.
  • Their lives and that of their families have changed from the time they became catechists since they found themselves to be or to become role models for others. Peace was found in their families and with the neighbours but also the strong urge for forgiveness and pardon.
  • Their faith has been improved and challenged during  their apostolate. They brought many people to become Christians. It is a joy to become a spiritual parent also.  Sent some people to seminary and some youths have been brought back to Church.
  • Some of them have worked already for more than 20 years now and feel happy to go on despite all the difficulties. Certain among them have been also children of catechists.
  • Socially speaking it is a promotion in the community/village.  Someone was working as a government soldier but left that work to become a catechist and is very happy.
  • The Use of the Bible brought a deep sense of God and the life based on the Biblical understanding of reality,  moreover a mutual respect for people and from people.
  • Keeping the way, trust in God, it is not government work which needs retirement or pension to stop the work, it is God’s call to be lived till the end of life; it is important to be united and in collaboration with the Priests, this will strengthen our work.
  • There is always need for on-going formation to be strong and ready to continue the journey.
  • Most of the catechists had received bicycles to help them for their apostolate.
  • Catechists are eyes, ears, and mouth of God, they are watchmen for the people of God despite their fragility.
  • As for the Challenges, there are countless, given our peculiar situation of fragility.
  • Some of their people don’t behave as Christians but when they get problems, they call the catechist to give the solution. Many times, when corrected they feel bad about it. We also meet people who don’t come to Church, some drunkards, and others who go to consult witch doctors to find solution to their problems or to get money. Someone was stopped wanting to sell a child to get money because of utter misery.
  • Difficulty to get money for the family and the school fees for the children; severe poverty makes it difficult for many people to come to Church on Sunday as they must struggle for survival, going to the market or in search for food. There are many women who are alone with children, widows, or single mothers.
  • When sick there is no proper health care, many people die because of lack of medicines.
  • In many chapels there are no proper chairs or tables.
  • It is a voluntary work. One must struggle to survive otherwise it is, most of the time becoming tough. We have no land to cultivate and no salary how to live? Yet very often we have a lot of work.  No assistance from Christians and no help from the parish.
  • Lack of materials for preparation. Lack of proper training for some catechists.
  • Sometimes there is a clash between the needs of the family and the work of the church. There is no time for themselves. They can be called for community needs even at risky hours of the night and at faraway places. This can create insecurity for the family.
  • Some people of bad moral talk at times evil about the catechists saying, it is a work of uneducated people, lazy, without payment, useless. At times even some family members complain that you go to assist people, but you come empty handed.
  • Among the catechists who came from South Sudan some did only the primary school, so the level is very low. Someone else has a blind wife with several children that are to be cared for. Being without money it is quite difficult to cope with life.
  • Certain catechists have a problem of transport.
  • Need for adult literacy or learning for some catechists who don’t know English but only local languages.
  • In some communities, we are confronted with several languages. It becomes a problem for communication or translation.
  • One of the Chapels St Matthew in the base camp has still grass roof which gives a lot of troubles to the community when it rains.

NB. For the lack of books just recently coming from Kampala, we passed through the pastoral centre in Arua and bought all the necessary books for catechesis according to the Arua book policy of the Diocese with the following titles:

 1. Come to the water for Infants

  • 2. Come to the Table for the 1st communion
  • 3. Our Journey together for adult catechumenate
  • 4. Joining the Christian Journey for confirmation
  • 5. Together as One for the marriage
  • 6. We added also for every chapel the Policy Book which gives guidelines on the pastoral in the Diocese.
  • As for the support only in these few lines, you have an idea of our main pastoral challenges. 

Quality training both in the main Centres and locally. In fact, there are other Centres apart those of Arua, also in Gulu we can send some people.  For the moment we need assistance from people of good will to plan better this training pole pole, inshallah.

Incentive.  We are not in ordinary setting where catechists can have their own field and take care of their families. The little food they receive from the UNHCR is insufficient. They do not have land to cultivate, no money to start even a little business.  They are living so far like the birds in the sky, by miracle. Our community was giving to the catechists 60 000 UgX (today’s rate = 16,86 US $) each at 4 moments of the year:  Easter, Sacred Heart, Comboni and Christmas.  This year nothing has been given because of lack of funds, imagine!!!  Allah Karim.

Education:  You heard from many catechists they are unable to send their children to school. This situation is the same for many families in the settlements. That’s why there has been a program of sponsorship for few children. We need the support also for that.

Groups.  Need for formation and training of apostolic groups in every chapel.  We have some group activities but in other chapels they are lacking. We need to create new groups where they are not, if necessary.  However before putting into place a new group, it is mandatory to give a proper formation according to the diocesan directives and guidelines.  There is a need to equip them and follow them in a quasi-on-going formation if we want to have mature Christians in faith, capable of evangelising others, otherwise, tururu !!!

We cannot do all this without a sufficient financial and material support. From the diocese we cannot expect anything, not even in a dream think about any support, rather from other partners or institutions with the help of the province inshallah.  

Previous articleComboni Media, Successes and Challenges
Next article“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn 1, 14)