This summer, Father Chris Bazyouros will succeed Sister Edith Prendergast, RSC, as director of the Office of Religious Education of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Father Bazyouros, who currently serves in Adult Education in the Religious Education department, grew up as a parishioner of St. Francis of Rome in Azusa. He attended their parochial school, Bishop Amat High School in La Puenta, Cal Poly Pomona and then St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo. He was ordained in 2003.
Father Bazyouros sat down with The Tidings’ J.D. Long-García to share more about his background and his vision for religious education in the local Church.
JD: Let’s start with an easy question. Who’s your favorite saint?
Father Chris: I don’t know if that’s an easy question. I think it’s a tie right now between Sts. Luke and John. I’ve been working with the Catholic Bible Institute, and I’ve always enjoyed those two accounts, and so they’ve always been very powerful in my own spiritual life and I identify with the parables. Both of those accounts have been very profound in my own life journey.
Scripture seems to be a pretty central part of your faith. Can you tell me more about that?
I love reading. I love the stories. So Scripture has always been a part of my life. And so when I came to this particular position of Adult Faith Formation (in the Office of Religious Education), and one of my responsibilities was guiding the Catholic Bible Institute, I was really excited.
It’s been amazing to be reintroduced to these passages and to continue to hear some amazing people talk about their passion for scripture, and to help people understand it, so that they can also share that passion with others.
This is where we meet Christ. We meet Christ in the word. He’s the Word of God. It all began with the Apostles telling the story of Jesus. Their experience of Jesus Christ. And through that sharing, people came to faith.
There are many beautiful aspects of the Religious Education Congress. What stood out for you the first time you went?
Just being around so many people who share that faith, and they are seeking to become better at living it and expressing it. So many people drawn together and celebrating our faith, celebrating all the different varieties of the way our faith expresses itself. It’s just a very positive energy — coming together as people of faith. I think that’s probably, for me, one of the earliest impressions that I had about what Congress was like for me.
When the Baltimore Catechism was more commonly used, there was a certain approach to religious education. How have we as a Church adapted our religious education throughout the years?
With the Second Vatican Council, we were reacquainted with the ancient way that the Church brought people into the faith, which is through the catechumenate process. We’re still trying to understand a lot about how impactful that process can be.
So in the General Directory on Catechesis — which is a document that had been propagated from Rome — the catechumenate model is the basis of all catechesis. Learning how to bring people into the faith by journeying with them. Opening their experience to an encounter with Christ is a key component of that.
The issue is, I can’t make you meet Christ. I just have to give you these opportunities and help you be open to it. And when you have the experience, to walk with you as you try to make sense of it and what God is doing in your life. That is one of the most powerful components, but it’s one that, you know, I can’t schedule it. [laughs]
That is what is exciting about being in catechesis right now … we’re trying to explore all the ways that we can help people encounter Christ. Pope Francis’ talk about a ministry of encounter resonates with people.
When you meet Christ, in some ways, it’s beyond words. I hear that. When that moment takes place, and that person does have their encounter with Christ, it’s on God’s time. Is that right?
We’re just trying to help people be aware that God is present and God wants to interact with each person: wants to enter in this dialogue with each person, and with us as a community. How do we help people be open to that?
But that’s only part of it. The second part is, when someone has had this experience with Christ. Then our job is to just help them learn how to articulate that … to articulate how to integrate this experience into our faith journey.
I can’t encounter Jesus and not be transformed. I can choose not to let the transformation go deep. And see, the catechist helps the person to not be afraid to let the transformation go deeper.
That’s beautiful. That’s exciting work.
It is exciting work! It’s amazing. And so all of us in the Office, we’re excited about learning how to do that in ways that can help parishes take this on. And parishes understand, and the catechists especially, how to best create this environment. And it’s not just religious ed programs. It’s not just confirmation programs. We need to help parish communities create this experience, create this environment where people are given the opportunity to encounter Christ.
You’re reaching out to people at different age groups. Do you think there will be a time when we don’t do adult faith formation? If we did the children’s catechesis perfectly, would that be sufficient?
This is the crux of it. Jesus called adults to be his disciples. You know, the human person has an extraordinary capacity for growth and development. It’s only we at a certain place [who] say, “Well, I’m an old dog, I can’t learn any more new tricks.” And then you see this person who’s 80, running marathons and taking university courses and earning degrees. Where is the real barrier?
Our faith is not something we just get. It’s a living relationship. And I always call people to think about a relationship with a significant person in their life — like a parent or a sibling. And can you tell me that such relationships haven’t changed from the time you were 5, 15, 25?
It can’t be, because we grow and we become who we are. Those relationships grow. It’s the same with God. God is that living reality, that person. And so there won’t be a time when you won’t have to [grow]. There’s always something more. The Greeks had the sense that because God is infinite, you can never stop deepening your relationship with God. And so even some theologians from the Greek school would say that even when you get to the Kingdom of Heaven, you’re going continue to move deeper and forward in your relationship with God.
What are you looking forward to as director?
From my standpoint, coming in as a new director, is that there are so many wonderful things that we are doing. There’s a great spirit of cooperation and collaboration in the office. And to be able to continue that, but also to be able to discern where God is leading us now.
How does Pope Francis’ papacy affect your approach to religious education?
It reaffirms that catechesis is a holistic integration of faith. It’s not just that I know what my Church teaches, but I live how my Church lives. I speak how my Church speaks. And we’ve been focusing on institutions a lot, but a lot conforms to Christ.
The power of attraction that Christ had was the complete and holistic sense that people could perceive of God’s presence with him. There was nothing hidden. He simply was. He spoke and he acted and he was always doing what God asked him to do. What he was meant to do.
I think people have a similar view when they look at Pope Francis. They see someone who not just talks about caring for the poor, but is asking to have showers put in the bathrooms in the Vatican, so that homeless can go in and get a shower and feel clean. And so it reminds us in our office of what Blessed Paul VI said: Modern man does not believe teachers anymore. He believes witnesses. And if a modern man believes a teacher, it is because the teacher is a witness.