Ask Alice about Catholicism
What's the difference between catechesis and evangelization?

We've got a lot of big words in our religious vocabulary. Each one is quite specific in the territory it covers. Catechesis is basically religious education. It's rooted in the Greek word for "echo," and its intent is to nurture the Christian life through imitation in word and deed. Obviously catechesis involves learning the "faith facts" that enable us to speak meaningfully about what we believe.

But catechesis is not only about transferring information from one generation of the church to the next. We need to echo the faith of our mothers and fathers in a spirit that is awakened, nourished, and developed. That is why we've heard so much in recent years about "whole community catechesis" and "adult faith formation." Religious ed isn't only for children anymore, and it goes far beyond religion class and sacramental preparation. Catechesis is a lifelong process that seeks to deepen the echo of faith so that it reverberates through every corridor of our lives, relationships, and decision-making.

Catechesis is important, but it can't go anywhere without the work of evangelization. This word also has Greek origins and means "proclaiming good news." Where Christianity is concerned, that good news is contained in the gospel. We should recall that, just as catechesis doesn't mean memorizing rote facts about faith, evangelization isn't the same as shouting scripture verses to passersby in hopes that the gospel will "take" in their hearts. We can think of evangelization as creating the spark that ignites the fire and catechesis as the work of tending the flame once it's established.

Regretfully, some folks who practice religion their whole lives long were never properly evangelized and so their faith remains unenlivened and burdensome, all obligation and very little illumination. In the same way it's possible to really hear the good news of Jesus and believe it—but lack the follow-up of catechesis and so remain like spiritual children, immature in understanding. When they work hand in hand, however, evangelization and catechesis can make saints out of us, bringing us to faith and then to holiness, inch by inch.

Luke 1:1-4; 4:16-21; John 1:1-18; 3:16-21; Romans 10:6-15; James 2:14-18; 1 John 1:1-4; 2:12-17

Online resources
Article from VISION magazine: "Ten great things about being Catholic" by Alice Camille
Pope Paul VI's Evangelization in the Modern World (Evangelii Nuntiandi)

Days of Deepening Friendship: For the Woman Who Wants Authentic Life with God by Vinita Hampton Wright (Loyola Press, 2009)
God for Grownups by Virginia Smith (Thomas More, 2002)

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Alice L. Camille
Alice Camille is a gem among contemporary writers on scripture and Catholic teaching. She has received numerous awards for her books, columns, and exegetical reflections. She received her Master of Divinity degree from the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, where she also served as adjunct faculty in ministry formation, preaching and proclamation. Alice is an author, religious educator, and parish retreat leader. Learn more at

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