Readers may recall an earlier report on the launch of new courses by the Catholic Adult Education Centre (CAEC) in Sydney (see Melbourne and Sydney initiatives to educate adults in the Catholic faith, February 2004 AD2000).
The team at CAEC perceived a growing need in Australia for adult faith education that gives down to earth and practical help in living out our faith in our daily lives.
As Cardinal Pell wrote in recommending the courses in January, "Faithfulness to Christ requires a lifetime of learning. In fact, constantly learning and living in Christ is the only way to grow both as individuals and as Church communities."
The Courses offered at CAEC all flow from the question: "How does our faith work in day-to- day life?"
Even before we launched the courses in February we were aware of many people who were looking for basic education in the faith. The response to our courses throughout this year has been overwhelming.
Over 180 men and women from 16 to 82 years old, from five states and territories, have enrolled in over 530 individual courses in our first three terms alone. Among these people are teachers, students, catechists, youth workers and leaders, counsellors, managers and workers in secular companies, members of five different religious orders and all manner of lay people.
While most of our students attend classes locally, a growing number of them are taking up the units via correspondence. (Thanks in no small part to the article in the February AD2000). Students from dioceses all over Australia receive recordings of the lectures on CD in the post and submit their questions and papers via e-mail or post.
Because we record all our lectures, students can enrol in units given in past terms, such as Faith and Reason, Opening the Bible, The Early Church, The Creed, Christian Leadership, Moral Life in Christ, The Gospel of Luke, The Old Testament, and The Sacraments, as well as participating from week to week in the classes being offered in Term three.
Our local students have already started new courses like Sex, Marriage and the Church, Sharing Your Faith (without losing your friends), Introduction to Theology, and Catholic Social Teaching, each with the aim of learning the faith in order to put it into practice in their everyday lives.
What is drawing people to the Courses? Why are our students returning for more and bringing their friends with them? In their own words:
* "The Fabulous lectures. Good structure, presentation and practical classes."
* "The classes are both challenging and 'user friendly'."
* "The lectures have a good Scriptural focus."
* "Very challenging. They really make me think about what I do in the Church."
* "This course has definitely changed me."
* "It was very practical - not just 'head' knowledge but challenged you to be a better Catholic generally all the time."
*"Eye-opening and enjoyable."
*"I already recommend this unit to all my friends! More please!"
and my favourite,
* "This is the real faith, for real people"
Students are already looking at enrolling for new courses like Christian Prayer, Vatican II for Today, and Music, Media and Evangelisation, which will be offered in Term Four of 2004.
Our plan is to offer the majority of these courses again in 2005, together with planned new units including Getting more from the Mass, Saints and Seasons, What is the Church? and Teaching the Faith.
Of all our students, the correspondence students have been most vocal in their appreciation for the courses. Importantly, the correspondence mode of study makes these excellent courses available to everyone within Australia. This is good news for people who are eager to build up their faith so they can really live it, and bring life to their world.
One group of correspondence students meets weekly to listen to recordings of the lectures together and compare notes as if they were in class. Others take the classes in their study or lounge room and one lady confessed she takes the CDs with her on her nightly walk. (I remember thinking at the time that exercising to Scripture classes brings a new meaning to the term "power walking").
Taking Christ to the world
While it is gratifying to hear that people are happy with our courses, it is the lay people and priests of Australia to whom the thanks should go. We do work hard, truth be told, but we cannot reach your neighbourhood or your parish. Nor is it our task to do so. You are the ones taking Christ to the world. The best we can offer is some refreshers in the faith and some training for the mission. It has been the students who have taken Christ into their parishes and communities.
This is an exciting time in the Church's history in Australia, with the future of our neighbourhoods and even of our nation in the balance. There is every opportunity to shape the future - and I continue to meet good Catholics doing wonderful things. As Pope John Paul II said: "The future is in your hearts and in your hands".
Anyone interested in these Adult Faith Education courses can obtain more details on www.caec.com.au or from CAEC on 02 9643 3660.
Peter Holmes is Manager, Courses of Study, at Catholic Adult Education Centre Sydney, and lectures in Scripture, evangelisation and Christian leadership.