The cardinal had been described as a traditionalist with a boring personality, mostly stiff and out of touch with real life issues. Angry and defensive in his speech, his reputation preceded him as one who “cracked the whip,” with no patience for anyone who would dare break the rules.
The man I met, however, was nothing like this fabrication. Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria was gentle and kind, patient, pastoral and humble. A faithful servant of the Church, working in various capacities including that of being president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments, Cardinal Arinze continues to be an advocate for all things Catholic as he lives out his retirement years.
In his comments during his visit to the seminary where I was previously assigned as vice-rector, Cardinal Arinze hailed the Catechism of the Catholic Church as “the best articulation of the Catholic faith in our times.” He told the seminarians that, after the Bible, the next book they should have in their possession is the catechism. He told the gathering of mostly future priests that when preaching or giving a lecture, one need only “go to the index of the Catechism to find information on a topic.” With the Catechism’s basis in Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium, the Cardinal said that any reader can be sure to be on “solid ground” in utilizing the catechism “as a basic statement of our faith.”
As a resource for priests, pastoral ministers and catechists, the catechism has become a necessary instrument for evangelization, with its teachings on formation of conscience, respect for human life and the dignity of persons.
Containing 2,865 paragraphs, the catechism opens with a prologue made up of 25 paragraphs. The remaining 2,840 paragraphs, divided into four major sections, comprise the substance of the catechism. Like the Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent, our present catechism follows the same format. As I quote from the paragraphs of the catechism throughout this series I shall use the abbreviation “ccc” which means Catechism of the Catholic Church (with the addition of the appropriate paragraph number).
The four major parts, referred to as the “four pillars,” were described by Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Constitution promulgating the Catechism, as the “four movements of a great symphony.” They are 1) the Creed or Profession of Faith (the Faith Professed), 2) the Sacraments (the Faith Celebrated), 3) the Commandments (the Faith Lived) and, 4) the Our Father (the Faith Prayed).
The prologue sets the context for what follows by focusing on the fact that God always takes the initiative toward humanity. Out of “sheer goodness” the catechism’s opening paragraph states, our “infinitely perfect” God “freely created man” so that humanity could have a share in the “blessed life” of God. Calling human beings “to seek him, to know him, to love him with all their strength,” in the fullness of time, “God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior” inviting humanity to become “his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.” (ccc. 1).
The second paragraph explains that in order for this initiative to grow and prosper, Christ commissioned the apostles to “resound [this call] throughout the world” through the proclamation of the Gospel. Paragraph 3 tells us that in addition to being “faithfully guarded by their successors,” all of “Christ’s faithful” are summoned to hand down the gift of faith “from generation to generation” as well. How?  By “professing the faith, by living it in fraternal sharing, and by celebrating it in liturgy and prayer.” In short, “to know and love God” is the reason human beings were created. This summarizes well the 1965 Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes, 12, 13, 18) from the Second Vatican Council.
What follows in paragraphs 4-25 is the history and meaning of the catechism, the rationale for having a catechism, more on the structure of the catechism and practical directions for using the catechism.
Among the practical benefits are the summaries following each major topic. “These IN BRIEF summaries” are meant to offer catechetical resources for catechists “that could be memorized.” (ccc . 22).
Extensive footnotes throughout the catechism also point to relevant Scriptural passages, Church councils and other appropriate references that help explain the history of the topic.
As well, “numerous cross-references in the margin of the text (numbers found at the end of a sentence referring to other paragraphs that deal with the same theme), as well as the analytical index at the end of the volume, allow the reader to view each theme in its relationship with the entirety of the faith.” (ccc. 18).
Finally, paragraph 23 points out, the Catechism “… seeks to help deepen [the] understanding of faith … oriented towards the maturing of that faith, putting down roots in personal life, and … shining forth in personal conduct.”
Quoting from the Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent, the prologue concludes by recalling the pastoral principle stated in the Roman Catechism:
“The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love.” (ccc. 25).
As for Cardinal Arinze, he exemplified this love throughout his stay with us. On the evening following his talk, for example, he stayed throughout the evening speaking with seminarians, faculty and staff, remaining until all who wished to speak with him or have a photo taken with him were given the opportunity to do so.
Father John G. Hillier, Ph.D., serves as Assistant Chancellor to the Bishop and the bishop’s liaison to persons with disabilities.