Presentation of YouCat
Wednesday, April 13, 2011, 12:30 p.m., Sala Stampa, Vatican

Introduction to the Presentation of YOUCAT
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn

In 2006 the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church was presented in Vienna. At the news conference one woman stood up and said, “This book is not suitable for young people.” I think that she was right. Somehow or other I then expressed the idea: Let’s try therefore to make something for the youth. And with that my part in it was already almost finished. For the work on the book itself was done entirely in Germany. Of course we could not have guessed that something would really come of this project. In the following remarks you will hear how the project was planned and how it was carried out. First, though, I would like to give a brief historical retrospect.

In 1985 I served the Synod of Bishops as a “theological assistant”; at that time I was still a professor of dogmatic theology in Fribourg, Switzerland. The Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law gave a speech in Latin, and the key sentence read: “Iuvenes Bostonienses, Leningradienses et Sancti Jacobi in Chile induti sunt ‘blue jeans’ et audiunt et saltant eandem musicam.” In English: “Young people from Boston, Leningrad and Santiago de Chile wear blue jeans and listen and dance to the same music.” Starting from that observation, Cardinal Law meant to say: It must be possible after all in a globalized world to give expression to the faith, too, in a common language. Against all objections, the project was successful. Pope Benedict XVI, in his magnificent Foreword to YouCat reminds us of the objections that he himself had too. And so the Catechism of the Catholic Church came to be, which no doubt, despite all the objections and all the misgivings, became a success worldwide. Nevertheless it was clear from the start that we must make room also for local catechisms, for catechisms aimed at a specific readership, and YouCat is one such attempt at a catechism for youth.

Why have a catechism in the first place? Vatican II commissioned no catechism, unlike the Council of Trent. Twenty years after the end of the Council the World Synod of Bishops determined that the work of handing on the faith had come to a standstill! Therefore there had to be something like a clearinghouse [Vermittlung] of the major doctrinal teachings of the Council and of the whole Church in a didactic form, which would be oriented once more to the old catechism. The great model for this catechism was the catechism of Trent from the year 1566, in its structure as well as in its irenic style and tone. Peter Canisius, the only Saint to have occupied the episcopal see of Vienna, although only as administrator of the Archdiocese, composed his great catechism in Vienna, and also his “Minimus”, his Little Catechism. Is the literary genre “catechism” still justified today even after Vatican II? The Catechism of the Catholic Church encouraged us to think so. YouCat is once again a catechism in the question-and-answer format. The Compendium was already an attempt at this format—in my opinion, a not entirely successful attempt. I believe that this is a successful attempt. We will see.

Two more words about the significance of a youth catechism, on which many young people collaborated. The first is information capability. The young generation lives much more clearly and consciously in a multicultural and multi-religious society. The ability to give information about one’s own faith has become markedly more urgent than it was in my generation, for instance. In the Catechism, which simply tries to restate Catholic teaching about the faith, the reader will find many things that are disagreeable and not so easy to accept. You will find some things that are strange, totally opposed to the current mentality. But I think that learning how to deal with what is disagreeable is one of the most important tasks of such a book and the work connected with it.

The second thing is clearly addressed by Pope Benedict in his Foreword: Faith needs community. This book was developed by a common effort and it should create and foster community. A community that is not merely a congenial get-together but intends to be a community of faith, needs a common basis. YouCat can and should be a help in this regard.

Why was Pope Benedict so interested in this project from the beginning? He, after all, was the one mainly responsible for the Catechism of the Catholic Church. He headed the commission under whose patronage we worked back then as an editorial team. In his famous conference in Paris and Lyons about the situation of catechesis in 1983 he asserted the decisive and influential words and provided the decisive initiative that led to the Catechism. Hence it goes without saying that this catechism for young people is near and dear to his heart.

He himself wrote a forceful and brilliant Foreword to it. With much verve and conviction, this now 84-year-old Shepherd offers what I think is the finest encouragement to read this book.

Translated by Michael J. Miller


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