The fifth world Synod of Bishops being held this month at the Vatican is highlighting many cultural influences on the ways Catholic teachings and the religion itself, are passed along in countries around the world.
The discussion of 204 prelates is being directed toward methods of "catechethics," that is, what to teach, how to teach, where to teach and who should teach.
The "where" and the "who" questions look as if they will provide nourishing fodder for controversy.
According to one line of thought, no longer is the catechism to be thought of as involving only a child and a parish priest or nun. Everyone should consider himself or herself a catechist. The whole Christian community, young and old, should be both catechizing and catechized.
And, the catechizing should go on, not just in the parish school, as in some locations, but in the school, the church, the home, "in the acclesial community by the acclesial community."
In the United States, said American Archbishop John F. Whealon, speaking for the U.S. Conference of Bishops, there is a "massive challenge" from children who "reluctanly receive catechesis celebrate first penance and first communion - and then disappear from religious instruction nad from mass.
He also said that though 3 million U.S. Catholic youths are receiving religious teaching, more than 6 million are receiving little or none.
Except in France, many of the problems outlined by European, Canadian and Australian bishops were similar to those described by the Americans. "Western apathy, agnosticism, and even atheism are perhaps a more insidious danger to the faith of young people than the Marxist philosophy," said Archbishop Derek Worlock of Liverpool, England.
In France, where deep opposition to the catechetical movement has been in evidence for years, an appeal was signed by a hundred well-known theologians and lay figures, complaining about deficiencies in the official catechist, the "National Center for Religious Instruction." The document was presented to the pope, asking him to put an end to the "serious weakness" of the French system of religious instruction.
The bishops from non-Western cultures had the most new information and problems to present, according to one observer.
The African bishops came to the synod well-prepared to insist on an "African way" for the teaching of religion. This, in summary, consists of concentration on small communities - that is, not on the parish or on schools but on groups that have been "influenced by ancient pagan culture as much as by the Christian Gospel."
The archbishop of Ho Chi Minlt City, formerly Saigon, the most Rev. Nguyen Van Binh described the problems of Catholics and Communists working together to build a "more humane" Vietnamese society. "There is the problem of co-existence and of the limits of collaboration with the Communists," he said in a speech to the group.
He said the church would have to adapt to a new situation in which all education would be dominated by Marxist ideology.