Busted Halo
feature: religion & spirituality
August 18th, 2011

YouCat, a Compelling New Way of Approaching the Catechism

Busted Halo sits down with the new youth catechism's publisher


sample from YouCat (click to view full-size)

sample from YouCat (click to view larger)

Everyone registered for World Youth Day is getting a free copy of YouCat in their native language as part of their registration packet, as it is officially introduced in Madrid. When YouCat was launched back in April, we talked with its publisher. Here’s that discussion.

When you think of a good read, the Catechism of the Catholic Church probably doesn’t come to mind. That’s why YouCat is exciting — it presents the Catechism in a compelling and engaging way. YouCat is the official new “Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church.” But its potential value goes well beyond this definition.

Today, Fr. Joseph Fessio, S. J., founder and editor of Ignatius Press, U.S. publisher of YouCat, is in Rome for the presentation of YouCat to Pope Benedict XVI. We sat down with Fr. Fessio last week to discuss why this book is needed, who can benefit from it and how it came to be made.

PFR: Why don’t you tell me a little bit about the development of YouCat, and why it was felt that it was needed.

FF: The history goes back to the Catechism of the Catholic Church itself. Pope John Paul II wanted Cardinal Ratzinger to oversee that project, and Cardinal Ratzinger put Father Schönborn (and then Bishop Schönborn) in charge of the editorial secretary work, and it produced what we all know as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is a wonderful document of the 20th century and for many years to come, I hope. But, it was for adults, and Cardinal Schönborn received a request from some young people who said, “You know we would like something that’s more adapted to us,” and he said, “Why don’t you write something like that?” and they said, “Okay.” So, Cardinal Schönborn organized some theologians and youth ministers and priests to draft an adaptation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Same structure — four pillars of doctrine, sacraments, moral life, and prayer — but question and answer format with commentary based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. And then they had the draft and they had two summer camps with 50 teenagers to go over the drafts. They revised them. They asked more questions. They reshaped it. They added pictures. They got sidebar things like sayings of saints, a glossary — and so they put together a book that both in appearance and in content is more accessible than the larger catechism. So, that’s the origin of it. It was just published, early April, 2011, in now, 13 or 14 languages. Next week, we’ll be in Rome presenting the Pope with all the different languages of YouCat.

PFR: Now, there’s already the Compendium. So, why is this needed?

FF: I think the Compendium is less complete than this is. This not only has questions and answers — it has commentary. It explains the answer. The Compendium also still is written more for adults than for young people.

It’s complete; there’s nothing in the catechism teaching that’s omitted there. It’s just that more emphasis is given to things that are more important to young people.

PFR: I had the chance to look through some of it. I guess I was expecting — as probably a lot of people would be — “youth-oriented” language, intentionally hip language. But, it’s not that. It’s just clearly, plainly written. Maybe what’s different is the lack of jargon?

FF: Well, it’s simplified a bit, and it’s selected in terms of what issues are more important to stress with young people, but it doesn’t water down the faith, and it doesn’t try to be too modern in its language.

PFR: So, there is a shift in focus in the material. Towards what?

FF: Well, moral life and making decisions for your life. They’re the ones the young people said: This is what we want to stress. It’s complete; there’s nothing in the catechism teaching that’s omitted there. It’s just that more emphasis is given to things that are more important to young people.

PFR: Do you see going back from this — this kind of taking the place of the Compendium that exists, since it’s more complete and more plainly written?

FF: For young people, yes.

PFR: I don’t mean to belabor this, but I have a working knowledge of theological jargon, and I — and you can’t put this side-by-side with the Compendium because they don’t match up — but I took some passages from the Compendium and some passages from YouCat, and while I could understand the Compendium, it wasn’t fun to read. It had a denseness to it. Whereas YouCat was really readable and fresh, and I found myself jumping around. The quotes along the side from saints — I noticed the saints are those that are popular today.

sample from YouCat (click to view full-size)

sample from YouCat (click to view larger)

FF: Yes, I did enjoy those sidebar quotes. That was good, and the pictures are good. They add to it, I think.

PFR: So, what role do you see this playing?

FF: That’s a very good question. I’ve been talking to people. We’ve sent some copies out to people, and from independent sources I’ve gotten the same response. Namely, there’s a need for a good confirmation preparation course, and this would be an ideal book to be the centerpiece to that, and so we’re working right now with some people to develop a confirmation preparation. Most Catholics are confirmed in their teenage years, so this would be a way to get them the preparation and formation they need for confirmation. That’s one thing. Ignatius Press has two catechetical series, “Faith & Life” and “Image of God,” but they’re for grades 1 to 8. This is more for 7 and 8, and high school and college. But, I think we may want to, in our 7th and 8th grade texts, refer to this rather than the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as a resource for young people. So, that’s how I see it being used.

PFR: In the RCIA programs I’ve been aware of, there are a lot of cradle Catholic young adults. Maybe their parents never got them confirmed and as a twentysomething, early-thirtysomething, they’re getting confirmed, and even baptized in some cases. Do you see —

FF: This could be useful for that, yes.

PFR: Is this particularly aimed more at teenagers, though? From my brief experience with it, I would say it could be presented to twenty- and thirtysomethings too.

FF: I would say high school age, a little below and above, but again, useful beyond that. As you noticed, I mean, it’s still a serious book.

PFR: Is this something you see people who are seekers — cradle Catholics maybe who’ve drifted away, like many of our readers — picking up out of curiosity?

FF: Well, this may just be the thing for them. If they’re reading you, I mean, they probably have some interest in the faith… This might be a good reintroduction, because it is fresh.

PFR: And does it have a role for the individual out there? You talked about RCIA and confirmation classes. Is this something you see people who are seekers — cradle Catholics maybe who’ve drifted away, like many of our readers — picking up out of curiosity?

FF: Well, this may just be the thing for them. If they’re reading you, I mean, they probably have some interest in the faith.

PFR: Right.

FF: This might be a good reintroduction, because it is fresh, and it’s something that sparks their interest. I had the same experience you did. I flipped through it and said, “Oh, here’s a question that’s really interesting. Or there’s a sidebar. What’s that all about?”

PFR: Any other insights into the process?

FF: It’s funny. Once you get the concept, there’s not more to say except to read it. There are some different pictures in the different editions, but basically it’s a common catechism for young people. World Youth Day — I should mention that. The Pope wanted to have all the people who will be there to have a copy. There’s a German foundation, Aid to the Church in Need, which is going to print and provide copies for all the Youth Day kids. Did you read the Pope’s recommendation on the back? I mean, that’s pretty strong. “Read this catechism,” it says. When you get a blurb from the Holy Father for your book, you know, you want to put it on the cover. [Laughs.]

PFR: Thank you, Father Fessio.

Originally published April 13, 2011.

The Author : Phil Fox Rose
Phil Fox Rose is content manager of Busted Halo. He's a writer, editor and content lead based in New York and writes the On the Way blog at patheos.com. He is coordinator for the New York City chapter of Contemplative Outreach, helping promote centering prayer, which has been his contemplative practice for nearly 20 years. Phil has also been a political party leader, videographer, tech journalist, punk roadie, software designer, sheepherder, stockbroker and downtempo radio DJ. A common thread is the process of learning about stuff, figuring it out and then sharing that understanding with others. Follow Phil on Facebook here. Or on Twitter here. philfoxrose.com.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    Hi, Phil Fox Rose
    Wow, it was purely fortuitous that I happened on this again; I’d been thinking it was a dead issue! Thanks again for your time here.
    Well, I guess where we’re differing, and where I found your answer unsatisfactory, is that I go by the regular dictionary definitions of the words “religion” and “spirituality”, and from what I understand, you’re using a specific Catholic definition. In the normal dictionary sense of the words, no, I’m not mixing them up at all. But the specific Catholic sense, as you describe it, seems to muddle the boundary between the two. So as far as the “YouCat” is concerned, it’s correct there, but only as long as you stick with the specialized definitions. It might be helpful, though, that in future editions, it be noted that some of the words used are used in a specific Catholic sense, rather than the common dictionary sense. Unless that had already been noted somewhere in the text? If so, I didn’t see that part in the excerpt given.

    Okay, now for your addition of yet another word for discussion, “belief”, from the book “Introduction to Christianity”.

    Was this originally written in English? Perhaps the translator took shortcuts?
    I’m thinking that this must have been taken out of context. He should have listed belief as, at best, a third mode of access to reality. Because while of course tangible external sensory input does not comprise the totality of a human being, there are mental, psychic, emotional states as well, and all serve as additional modes of access to reality, and also serve as means to enlarge one’s world view. And without those senses, belief cannot come into being. (And “true” reality… well, it’s all relative. Defining reality is very, very tricky. I guess here you’d have to define in what sense you mean reality.) At least here, in the segment that’s given, his statements don’t follow logically. Yes, belief *can* mean what he says in the excerpt above, but it doesn’t necessarily. And that is some of the problem I see with the excerpt. My impression is that he is saying that this is the only way in which a belief state can occur, and this is the only thing that it can mean. But that’s not true. However well meaning he may have been, he makes leaps of logic that don’t withstand scrutiny. It sounds to me as though he’s describing opinion of his personal experience. That’s cool. It’s just that it doesn’t apply to everybody. It’s possible that this segment makes more sense when combined with a greater portion of the text; I don’t know; I can only go by what I see here.

    I very much prefer the dictionary definition of the word “belief”. It makes sense without making enthusiastic, if unwarranted, leaps of logic. :-)

    Please understand, I think that going about one’s life in a way that is mindful of divinity in all aspects of life is a truly marvelous thing and worthy of admiration. That is not in question. My questions have only to do with accuracy and clarity of expression.

  • Phil Fox Rose

    Yikes, Julie. I just noticed your followup comment. I don’t think the question is unresolved, I just think you find my answer unsatisfactory. It’s OK, we don’t have to agree. I’m fine with using the term “religion” in this general sense to mean the same thing as “spirituality” and the full Catechism does the same. Again, you’re mixing “religion” in the broad sense, and specific “religions.” The terms are meant differently, and I believe in the broad sense it is synonymous with spirituality. Most people today associate the term religious only with belonging to a specific religion. But as you say, many people who practice religions are not doing so for spiritual reasons, and many people who are very religious in the sense of being very spiritual don’t do it through a specific religion. I don’t see a problem with these terms, but if you do, that’s fine. Just say “spiritual.” But as I said before, it’s not an error or shortcoming of the YouCat; it’s consistent with the full Catechism. Personally, I like the idea of redeeming the word “religion.”

    If you’re interested, by far my favorite definition of being spiritual or religious is from Pope Benedict in the 1970s (then Cardinal Ratzinger) in his book “Introduction to Christianity” in which, after discussing the roles in a religion for law and ritual, he then defines “belief.” This sums it up better than I possibly could:

    It means that man does not regard seeing, hearing and touching as the totality of what concerns him, that he does not view the area of his world as marked off by what he can see and touch but seeks a second mode of access to reality, a mode he calls in fact belief, and in such a way that he finds in it the decisive enlargement of his whole view of the world… It signifies the deliberate view that what cannot be seen, what can in no wise move into the field of vision, is not unreal; that, on the contrary, what cannot be seen in fact represents true reality, the element that supports and makes possible all the rest of reality. And it signifies the view that this element that makes reality as a whole possible is also what grants man a truly human existence, what makes him possible as a human being existing in a human way. In other words, belief signifies the decision that at the very core of human existence there is a point that cannot be nourished and supported on the visible and tangible, that encounters and comes into contact with what cannot be seen and finds that it is a necessity for its own existence.

  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    Since the question is still unresolved, I was wondering if you didn’t really read my answer, because of no further explanations, but then it dawned on me: you said, “Let me know if you have any further questions.” You didn’t say you’d *answer* them!

  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    Hi, Phil Fox Rose
    Thanks for your thoughtful and generous answer. I do understand that the portion shown in the example is just a small part of the entire text. I’m sorry to say, though, that I still see a difference between religion and longing for God. Admittedly, the two often go hand in hand, and one can give rise to the other, no question. But just to give an example, that is rather the same as saying that a deep love of the aesthetic is the same as the practice of art. I know many people who truly love art, but do not make any attempt to produce any themselves. And (I am also sorry to say :-), I know artists who seem to have a decided antipathy to beauty. (Go figure, eh? ?-) I have also met people who definitely classify themselves as “religious”, but who practice their religion for reasons other than to satisfy a longing for god (honoring of tradition, giving a sense of certain values to the young, fear, a sense of belonging to a community, and so forth). And I also know many people who do indeed have a deep longing for God but practice no religion as such (several of them left their various religions because those religions did not satisfy their longing). And while I have no quibble with the definition as a starting point, I believe it is not complete. One can “acknowledge the divine as the power that created … ” and so forth, and not be at all religious. But if one takes that as the definition of religious, with no qualifications, then it is also the definition of “spiritual”. So then how do you differentiate between “religious” and “spiritual”? And the definition as it stands says nothing about longing for the divine; those same behaviours could easily be based on fear or other qualities instead.
    (Thanks for letting me know about the YouCat not being a work in progress. Perhaps if it’s published again, then a bit more editing could be fit in.)
    I’m sorry to be nit-picky about this, but I still see a significant difference between religion and longing for God. And I really do appreciate your efforts to resolve the question. It’s very kind of you.

  • Phil Fox Rose

    Julie, that’s a wonderful question. Seekers often differentiate spiritual from religious by saying that religion is the rituals, dogma and bureaucracy. It’s a convenient way to dismiss it. But this is not what the Catechism says.

    *A* religion may mean a specific set of beliefs and practices, but religion in the general sense is the recognition that there is more than the material, that there is in fact a divine dimension to things. This fundamental belief leads to religious beliefs, religious behaviors and religious expressions — to a religion.

    The sidebar you commented on is from the YouCat, not by me, so I can only offer my own understanding, but I’ll try. First, please understand that was just a fragment of a page, meant to give you a sense of the book. In the YouCat when there is an arrow and a word in caps that means there’s a glossary entry in the margins. That glossary definition (which wasn’t shown) says, “We can understand religion generally to mean a relationship to what is divine. A religious person acknowledges something divine as the power that created him and the world, on which he is dependent and to which he is ordered. He wants to please and honor the Divinity by his way of life.”

    The “[27-30]” right after the statement you asked about indicates that the source for that paragraph is entries 27 through 30 in the full Catechism, which among other things says, “In many ways, throughout history down to the present day, men have given expression to their quest for God in their religious beliefs and behaviour: in their prayers, sacrifices, rituals, meditations, and so forth.”

    I don’t know of the project the other commenter is referring to, but I believe they’re just advocating for making it available for free. The YouCat is not a work in progress still being edited. It is the official youth catechism of the Catholic Church. I believe that word choice you describe as ambiguous only appeared so to you because you were unaware of the fuller definition provided on that same page in the margin and the links to the full catechism for even more detail.

    I hope that clears things up for you. Sorry if things weren’t labelled in the original article in a way that was clear to you. Let me know if you still have any questions.

  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    But wouldn’t you want to be able to read it first to see if it’s something you’d want to support? For example, my question above, about ambiguous definitions… I’d want that cleared up first. And to find that in such a small sample of the book makes me wonder what else might benefit from a bit more editing before publication.

  • ¬ø why not youcat free online ?

    The target of our web is to bring together here an important number of followers, that make to think about to those responsible for the publication of YouCat, and then, for a fraction of the cost of editing on paper, they also make YouCat available free online.

    Search in google “youcat free” and support us ! :)

  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    I have a question about the definition of a word above, in the sidebar shown. It says, in effect, that the longing for God is called religion. I guess I’m wondering why you don’t differentiate between longing for God and what is a system of beliefs and practices. One can belong to a religion and not have a longing for God. And one can have a longing for God and not practice or belong to any religion.
    Could you please explain the reasoning for the definition?

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