The Catechism is not a dry textbook; it’s an invitation to relationship
Three young Catholics — a catechist, a marketing guru and a seasoned digital content creator — are embarking on a mission to inject life into a book that, to most readers, seems like 3,000 paragraphs of rules.
Real + True is a newly launched project funded by OSV to draw digital natives’ attention to what its founders say is an untapped treasure of evangelization — the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
“The Catechism is seen as this textbook set of rules. But what it truly is is something that leads you to someone,” said Edmundo Reyes, director of communications at the Archdiocese of Detroit and one of Real + True’s co-founders.
Reyes was inspired by Tim Mackie’s BibleProject to recast the 30-year-old Catechism of the Catholic Church into digital natives’ mother tongue — internet videos. He, along with his two co-founders, are transforming the Catechism into short, accessible, state-of-the-art online videos.
“We take the section of the Catechism and recreate it for a digital native audience in a relatable tone of voice. It’s not just an academic translation,” said Emily Mentock, who also works at Detroit’s archdiocesan communications office and is one of Real + True’s co-founders.
Launched at the beginning of September, Real + True, is a new initiative by Reyes, Mentock and Edmund Mitchell to drum up interest in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Their digital evangelization effort is unique in focus but follows a broader trend. As more and more people flock to the digital world — Facebook has 3 billion users, more than 6 billion people have access to smartphones, and people in the United States spend an average of two hours a day on social media — the Church is working on grabbing some of their attention and turning it toward Jesus.
Reyes said the Church needs to get serious about presenting high quality products in the digital realm if they want to get young people’s attention.
“People give the Church a pass,” Reyes said, “but we used to build cathedrals. Our work should stand up next to any work that is out there.”
There’s a lot of noise online. And the Gospel — or any message — will get lost in it, Reyes said, unless it’s presented in a way that communicates excellence.
How it came to be
“The three of us actually met at the Catholic Creatives summit in Dallas in 2018,” said Emily Mentock. They stayed in touch — Reyes even brought Mentock over to work at the Archdiocese of Detroit.
“It was really about a year ago, we were talking and sort of dreaming, feeling called to do something that would be a gift from the Church,” Mentock said.
During their conversations in the midst of the pandemic, Real + True began to take shape. But its seeds of inspiration were planted half a decade ago.
Six years ago, Reyes came across the work of the BibleProject, an Evangelical Christian digital initiative.
The BibleProject, much like Jeff Cavins’ Great Adventure Bible study, tells the story of salvation in Scripture as one unified story arc of God’s saving action.
“I was just captivated by their work,” said Reyes. He flew to Portland to meet the founders and learn more about how they break down “complex ideas into ways that people can receive the truth.”
Reyes was impressed. He thought that he would love to do something similar. One day, he was watching the BibleProject’s series of videos on the Wisdom books in the Bible. His children slowly began to gather around his computer with him.
“I got three of the four children on the couch watching these videos on the little screen,” Reyes said. They were transfixed.
“And as one video ended, they asked me to play the next one. And then the next one at the end.”
Their fascination with the videos spoke volumes to Reyes.
“My son said to me, ‘Dad, I’ve learned more from these videos than at all my years of religious ed,'” said Reyes.
Reyes saw the power this medium had to proclaim the Gospel to young people, people who he views as speaking a different, digital, language.
“Nowadays, my sons learn a lot of things just by watching YouTube videos,” said Reyes. For the curious, there’s no end to opportunities to learn. He wants to harness that.
“I saw that if we are able to present the truth and beauty of our faith in a way that is compelling, beautiful, captivating, attractive, it has the power to change people — it captures people’s imagination,” said Reyes.
Real + True aims to harness the power of those videos to help young people understand their faith and the person of Christ. Reyes said the project is spurred by these questions:
“Can we create beautiful, captivating, relevant content for the next generations? Can we use video and digital content to unlock for them the truth of our faith and by doing so, help them encounter Jesus?”
|Fishing for digital natives|
|“We’re not just digitizing the Catechism — we’re trying to transform it into a living voice for the modern world.”
Emily Mentock works as the associate director of strategy at the communications office at the Archdiocese of Detroit. She’s a veteran of the digital content world.
From her work at Verily Magazine, Grotto Network and various diocesan communications teams, Mentock has learned that principles of good marketing are a great fit for the process of evangelization. But, she said, the message of the Gospel always comes first.
“I have a heart for the mission of the work that we’re doing,” she said. “A lot of it’s just taking best practices that we see for effective marketing and communication in the world and then applying those to ministries — but never trying to make ministry or evangelization fit into something phony or fit into something of the world.”
Rather, marketing best practices become a vehicle for their mission of catechesis and evangelization. Using the best tools available to spread God’s word is a pretty ancient Catholic tradition. And Real + True is asking Catholics to think about how they can creatively spread Church teaching using digital technologies.
“How do we as the Church use some of these best practices in a way that still points to Jesus?” Mentock asks.
It’s not about catching social media clicks for the sake of brand reputation, but more so, Mentock said, asking, “how do we use these tools of social media or digital publishing in a way that actually brings people closer to Jesus?”
The Real + True team is excited to use these tools to draw people into the Catechism. Dynamic, engaging online video content doesn’t exist yet for the Catechism, Mentock said. And, rather than engaging in lifestyle content or questions like some other Catholic media outlets, Mentock said their work deals with something more existential. “Real + True is grappling with bigger questions that the Catechism has the answers to,” said Mentock
“Real + True is actually created with digital natives in mind,” she said, “Its content is optimized for the channels we hope people will find them on.”
And she believes this unique project has the potential to unlock this sometimes-daunting book for young people. So, they’re casting out their nets into YouTube and Instagram and fishing for digital natives.
How it works
The Real + True team has broken down each of the four pillars of the Catechism — creed, sacraments, morality and prayer — into 12 sections, which they call a unit. Each section will be made into three videos and a podcast. Mentock said they’re aiming to complete each of the four pillars over the course of the next four years. That’s 36 English language videos a year. They’re currently translating the videos into Spanish, Portuguese and French, although they hope to add more.
If you’re keeping track, that comes to 144 5-to-8-minute videos per year. They’re aiming to complete the first unit in time to celebrate the Catechism’s 30th anniversary in October 2022.
Turning the four pillars of the Catechism into 144 videos is a challenging creative problem: They are tasked with summarizing a lot of dense theology, expressing the heart of the message and sparking viewers’ curiosity.
|How to Get Started|
Maybe this catechism project has piqued your interest. Well, don’t let that interest fade. Here’s a few ways to dive right into the new content that is constantly being created by Real + True.
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Where it’s going
“We anticipate that the Church will have a period of renewal of catechesis,” Mentock said. Earlier this year, Pope Francis instituted the ministry of catechist, a position men and women can serve in at parishes.
But, Mentock said, their focus is not on providing parishes with materials but on speaking directly to young people online. “Our target audience is millennials and Gen Z — people who identify as Catholic, but who maybe haven’t had an encounter with Christ yet, or aren’t living yet as intentional disciples,” she said.
Mentock sees a lot of resources for those interested in deepening their faith. “But what resources do we have for actually reaching out to people who haven’t yet had that encounter?” asked Mentock.
The videos they hope will spark this encounter are gently animated videos — sort of mini-TED talks — emphasizing the universal nature of the human quest for love, for meaning, for truth. But they use the language of the Catechism to speak directly to those fundamental human questions.
Along the way, the podcasts and videos emphasize continually the essential relationality of this book and its potential to spark encounters with Christ.
“We believe that the heart of the Catechism is Jesus,” said Reyes.
So, what do Reyes’ children think of Real + True? Reyes chuckles. His teenager was impressed. “Dad, this looks like Vox Media,” she told Reyes. Her father was flattered. “I take it as a high compliment,” he said.
Real + True’s slick website and vibrant Instagram feed covered with short videos is hoping to catch the attention of teens just like Reyes’ daughter scrolling through their phones. And they hope to draw them off their phones into something more.
“If we do catechesis well, that will result in people encountering the love that never ends — Jesus,” said Reyes.
Renée D. Roden writes from New York.
|Falling in love with the Catechism|
|Edmund Mitchell graduated from Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. After a stint in youth ministry in Toledo, Ohio, he moved to a parish in Dallas to direct their catechesis and evangelization efforts. Doing ministry at a parish really means being a jack-of-all-trades, said Mitchell. So, it wasn’t a stretch when he left the parish a year ago to create a full-time marketing agency, Bummer + Lazarus.
“I like teaching myself things. And, when you work in parish ministry, you teach yourself how to do things,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said that graphic design is pretty much second nature to him. “Being a millennial, I always dabbled in graphic design and video editing and marketing,” Mitchell said. And so, it’s been natural to pivot into this sort of design and strategy work.
But his heart is rooted in ministry. Most particularly in what he calls evangelical catechesis. Evangelical catechetics isn’t just presenting simple statements or the back-and-forth answers of the Baltimore Catechism.
“It’s a way of asking, ‘How do we present the Faith in a way … that people would respond?’ It’s not just intellectual formation,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell brings this enthusiasm for encounters with Christ to their work at Real + True. Mitchell believes they’re unique in that the intellectual formation of the Faith is readily available, particularly around the Catechism — the sacraments, morality, prayer and the creed. But he wants to inspire believers and seekers with something new.
Viewers may be surprised by Real + True, he said. It may not fit their idea of what a catechism is or how catechesis works.
“A lot of people hear the word ‘catechist’ and think intellectual formation, but catechesis is about intimacy with Christ and our response,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said he found the Catechism while searching for what’s essential in the Catholic faith.
In college at Franciscan University, he turned to the Catechism to clarify the many voices and books he was reading. He began to pray with it and learn about how it was crafted.
“I was like, oh my gosh, I thought this was just like a textbook. I’ve been thinking about it wrong.”
He said after a few years in ministry, he “fell back in love” with the Catechism. “I started praying and praying with just one small section and being like, man, I just want to understand the doctrine and have it change me.”
He believes the clarity and relationality of the Catechism help empower the laity in the way Vatican II hoped for.
One of the key questions of the Church since the French Revolution has been how the Church is to interact with the world. Vatican II sought to open the doors of the Church to the world.
And Mitchell sees their work as part of this current of catechetical and charismatic renewal in the Church. “How do we present the Gospel to modern man who has lost all context of Christianity?” he asks.
As Real + True its their doors to seekers in the digital sphere, Mitchell is cognizant of the differences.
“We can’t take for granted that they have faith in a personal God at all. We need to propose, not presuppose the Faith,” said Mitchell, quoting Pope Benedict XVI.
|Why the Catechism?|
|“When I was in college, I knew the Faith intellectually, but I had never been presented it where every stage was about Jesus and my relationship with him,” said Edmund Mitchell. “And that blew my mind.”
The more he learned about its structure and intentionality the more he wanted to help people understand it.
“Most people are like, ah, Catechism, that seems like some dictionary thing. But it’s this massive gift for the Church we haven’t had in hundreds of years. I would say it’s one of the biggest gifts the Church has given us.”
From weekly Mass obligations to indulgences, the Catechism, Mitchell said, points to our relationships to Jesus. And they’re hoping people encountering their videos will see this as well.
There are nearly 3,000 paragraphs in the Catechism.
And those thousands of paragraphs are divided into four sections or pillars: creed, sacraments, morality and prayer.
Real + True has parsed each of those four pillars into 12 units. The material in each unit — anything from the Holy Spirit, freedom, the sacrament of Baptism — will be presented in three videos and a podcast episode.
The videos and podcasts will summarize and communicate the core message of the section. Mitchell said that prayer leads the way and that they follow the path the Catechism has structured — it’s already a roadmap for evangelical catechesis, Mitchell said.
Their plan is to release a new unit each month so that one pillar will be constructed over the course of one year. At this pace, they’ll complete the project in four years. They’re trying to finish the first pillar — the creed — by October 2022, which will be the 30th anniversary of the Catechism promulgated by John Paul II.
“That would be really cool,” said Mitchell. “I mean, any excuse we have to go shake the pope’s hand would be awesome.”
|A relational resource|
|“Parishes don’t need this.”
While the program can support small group study, the ultimate goal, Mitchell said, is that Real + True’s videos reach directly to internet denizens who can share with friends and family. They hope they’ll spark conversation, answer questions and maybe even prompt them to crack open a Catechism.
“There’s no one silver bullet or one resource that can do everything,” Mitchell said. He’s very familiar with the cornucopia of resources and materials that exist for parish catechetical programs.
But he sees Real + True content as operating more relationally.
“The ultimate goal is that this content would exist out there and people could share with their friends in the stage that it’s appropriate for them to be receptive to,” Mitchell said.
Although he stresses that these videos are not a program or curriculum, Edmundo Reyes said that they have free resources for formal catechists. He defines a formal catechist as “people that either full time or part time are in the business of communicating the Faith” — youth group leaders, deacons, pastors, religious education directors. He thinks that these videos could be complementary resources. But, ultimately, it’s for informal catechists — that is, any everyday Catholic.
“We’re not trying to do the whole process of evangelization. We just feel like this content should help people accompany others and have a really interesting way to present the Gospel,” Mitchell said.
|What will you see in a video?|
|The final video of the first unit, “The Desire of the Human Heart,” is a six-minute folksy conversation between Emily Mentock and Edmund Mitchell. Mentock describes her 7-year-old nephew’s questions about puppies. And how his questions never stopped. Her nephew’s natural childish curiosity kicks off a discussion about the searching and questioning of human beings. Their dialogue is illustrated with primary-color animation that spins between the concrete — a purple puppy — to more abstract concepts — truth, beauty and goodness as illustrated by colored spheres.
Mitchell cites the Catechism several times, prompted by Mentock’s questions and clarifications. It’s like overhearing a smarter-than-average conversation between two friends about big questions that listeners might not have also felt but not yet articulated.