YouCat, a Compelling New Way of Approaching the Catechism

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.