The Catholic Adult Education Centre, an agency of the Archdiocese of Sydney, continues to provide in-depth education in the faith to Catholics and non-Catholics all over the country. (Download the 2007 Course Handbook as a PDF document, or visit www.caec.com.au.)
What is more, explains Fr John Flader, Director of the Centre since 2002, "Our programs are proving very popular. It is clear that there are many people who are anxious to receive solid formation in the faith."
The first sign of this came in 2002-2003 when Fr Flader conducted classes on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, explaining the contents of the Catechism systematically over 32 weeks, with two classes each evening. The classes were divided into four series, corresponding to the four parts of the Catechism, with an evening session and a daytime session each week.
"There were between 90 and 115 people in each series", says Fr Flader, "and a large number of them were young, in their 20s and 30s. Several were non-Catholics who have since entered the Church. Anyone who thinks young people are not interested in learning about their faith is simply out of touch."
The classes on the Catechism became the core of the comprehensive courses on the Faith begun by the Centre in 2004 under the direction of Peter Holmes. In the first year the Centre offered two certificate courses. The Certificate in Faith Education, usually done over two years, was designed especially for people in a position to instruct others, such as catechists, teachers, sacramental program coordinators, parents, etc.
The Certificate in Youth Ministry, for people who work with youth, can be completed over one year. Other certificate programs now on offer are a Certificate for RCIA Formators (Core and Advanced), and an Advanced Certificate in Faith Education. Classes can be taken by attendance mode at the Centre in Sydney, or by correspondence.
The programs cover such areas as Church doctrine, given largely by Fr Flader, Sacred Scripture given by Peter Holmes, Church history given by Fr Anthony Robbie, and a wide variety of others. The 2007 Course Handbook lists 43 different subjects, including "Introduction to Christology", "Introduction to Theology", "Liturgy and Life", "Marian Spirituality", "Getting More from the Mass", "The Human Person" and "The Genius of Woman".
Since the beginning hundreds of students, most of them in their 20s and 30s from all over the country have taken the classes. The Certificate in Faith Education is recognised by the Sydney Catholic Education Office for the accreditation of teachers of Religious Education in the archdiocesan schools. And in 2006 the Youth Ministry teams of both Sydney and Canberra undertook the Youth Ministry course.
Another unique and successful initiative of the Centre has been a series of evening seminars on major Church documents. The series began early in 2002 with a seminar on Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Oceania, featuring Archbishop George Pell, the then Father (now Bishop) Julian Porteous, and Selina Hasham.
Over 100 people attended the seminar and their enthusiasm led to further seminars on all the major documents that have appeared since then.
A seminar on Rosarium Virginis Mariae, which introduced the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary, was so popular that it was repeated in numerous parishes in several dioceses, as was a seminar on the encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia. The most recent seminar was on Benedict XVI's encyclical Deus caritas est, and the Centre is already planning one on the Pope's Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist, which is expected to be published shortly.
If many Australian Catholics are unaware of or have not read these documents, in Sydney there is ample opportunity to be acquainted with them through these seminars. According to Fr Flader, some of the people attending the seminars come from as far away as Wollongong and the Central Coast, a drive of well over an hour.
Other seminars have been held to acquaint people with the main issues on matters of current interest in the country. These have included one on the Morning-After Pill and one on marriage, at the time of the parliamentary debate on the introduction of same-sex marriage.
Over the years the Catholic Adult Education Centre has also hosted a number of well-known overseas speakers: Professor William May, professor of moral theology at the John Paul II Institute in Washington, Professor Kenneth Schmitz, also of the John Paul II Institute, Professor Gianni Manzone, of the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, and American psychologist, Peter Rudiger.
For young couples the Centre has conducted pre- marriage courses since 2003. Given over a weekend, they emphasise the spirituality and sacramentality of marriage, openness to life and the importance of love in its two dimensions of eros and agape, as mentioned by Benedict XVI in his encyclical "God is love".
Another means of adult faith education offered by the Centre is the newsletter Inform, published six times a year. Each issue is on a single topic, such as one of the sacraments, aspects of the Mass, Scripture, spirituality, the meaning of suffering, etc. Between 20,000 and 40,000 copies of each issue are sold.
The Mustard Seed Bookshop, run by the Centre, stocks thousands of titles of solid Catholic literature in the areas of Scripture, spirituality, theology, philosophy, liturgy, Church history, Church documents, saints, etc.
More information on the Catholic Adult Education Centre can be found on their website: www.caec.com.au