The parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour has about 140 members involved in the catechesis ministry, with a significant proportion comprising young adults in their 20s and 30s reaching out to about 1,400 students each year. Kenneth Lim, who has spent half his life as a catechist in OLPS, tells Daniel Tay how the parish attracts and retains catechists, and his involvement in the ministry
"I HAVE ALWAYS had a voracious appetite to find out what makes us different" from other religions, said Mr Lim, explaining how he undertook upon himself to learn everything he could about the faith by asking questions to priests and religious, and attending courses at the Singapore Pastoral Institute.
Describing himself as a "late bloomer", Mr Lim, now 54, recalled how failing his ‘O’ Levels led him to repeat them in Anglo-Chinese School where "God led me to" amateur theatre. His involvement in theatre helped build his self-confidence, taught him eloquence and the skill of reading human nuances and personalities. "This has been a great help in my catechesis ministry," he said.
When he was 26, attending CHOICE Weekend led first to his involvement in the Legion of Mary and later a youth ministry in his parish. The following year, he was recruited to be a catechist teaching Primary Six students before being reassigned after only half a year to teach Confirmation Level students.
"In the early days, there was a lack of qualified catechists. While there was one year in which I taught four classes concurrently, in most years I taught three classes," recalled Mr Lim. Not only were there insufficient catechists back then, there were those who did not attend meetings, and did not fulfil their responsibilities in conducting workshops and combined sessions.
These are people who take volunteerism literally, saying "I volunteer as and when I can", leaving the responsibilities to fall on the shoulders of several committed individuals, explained Mr Lim. Today, volunteers are asked to leave if they cannot live up to their responsibility, although Mr Lim admits that sometimes "there are bad partings".
Yet, these sorrows are far outweighed by the joys that Mr Lim feels in his 27 years as a catechist. "I am endowed with this love, this personal calling" to pass down the Catholic faith to the students. Describing himself as "a child of Vatican II", Mr Lim is a firm believer that the transmission of faith, which is "critical to the Church", is something that laypeople "cannot depend on priests and religious alone" to do.
"It is personally enriching for me," he said with passion in his eyes. In order to be a catechist, "you must have the calling and the charisms, such as the passion and responsibility to undertake the propagation of the faith, and a love for children", he said.
He noted that the handing down of the faith is not "anyhow do", but must be based on the guidelines of the catechetical commission, and the resources and tools provided, such as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the corresponding Compendium. Above all, catechists "must know that we are doing this in the name of the chief catechist – the archbishop; it is a duty he shares with his brother priests".
Involving the young
Mr Lim’s passion for the catechetical ministry is contagious. Among the many of his former students who have been inspired to become catechists, one of them is Frederick Chong who is now into his 10th year in the ministry.
"Kenneth taught me during my confirmation year when I was in Secondary Two. Since then, he’s been calling me for a good 11 years [to join the ministry] from 1987 till I finally joined in 1998," Mr Chong told CatholicNews. "I used to be a Sunday Catholic, but now I have a real relationship with Jesus. I have a close-knit community among my catechists, and my faith in myself and my God has really grown."
When asked how he does this, Mr Lim revealed his secret: "I make it my personal mission to keep in touch with students who are close to me, and their parents. Every time I see them in church, I would keep in touch with them and encourage them to become catechists."
In the last 10 years, Mr Lim has been able to tap on his own network to recruit "good, reliable, motivated and interested" people to be catechists. The age group of catechists has also become younger and younger through the cooperation and guidance of the parish priests.
Teenagers who are inspired to become catechists used to be turned away as the age limit in the past was 21 years. Mr Lim describes this as "putting out the fire in them". Today, those who have received the Sacrament of Confirmation are invited to become assistant catechists until they are fully ready to commit.
"We catch them when they are interested and let them get involved," he said. "They are young, motivated, creative and able to work together as a team." Being able to work together as a team is necessary as each class has two to four catechists at any one time. Those who find difficulty working in their assigned team are offered options such as reassignment to other teams or to different levels.
What makes OLPS different
"We have some rules that are uniquely OLPS," said Mr Lim happily. "The first is that we respect and love our catechists, because we remember they are volunteers. So we never ‘eat up’ their public holidays to bring them back for retreats and such. We use semester holidays in June and December for these."
"There is an unwritten rule in OLPS: if possible, don’t get involved in more than two ministries," said Mr Lim, explaining that this is the reason he chose to withdraw from the youth ministry to concentrate fully on his ministry as a catechist.
Over the years, recruitment of catechists in the parish of OLPS has changed. Interviews by the priests and coordinators have become more stringent, and new catechists have to undergo trial periods before deciding if this ministry is suitable for them.
In the past, confirmation level catechists had little coordination between them and because of his dedication to the ministry, Mr Lim was unanimously chosen to be the coordinator for confirmation classes, a role he played until two years ago when he stepped down to make way for new blood.
Today, the parish hires a full-time catechetical coordinator. However, Mr Lim stressed that the presence of a catechetical coordinator does not imply that catechists are excused from their work. "I tell them that she is there to help them out during the working week, not for everything to be thrown to her," he said.
Although Mr Lim has twice asked for his name to be removed from the roster of catechists, he remains as a deputy "in case of emergency". "I will definitely stay for as long as they need me in this ministry," he said.