DOCAT, “spicy peppercorns” and the Pope’s dream

An interview with Bernhard Meuser, editor of the original German edition of DOCAT.

Augsburg (, August 16, 2016). In 2011 Pope Benedict XVI presented YOUCAT to the young people in Madrid. Pope Francis has followed suit. His present in Krakow was DOCAT. Today [the Youth Catechism] YOUCAT is the most important book about the faith for young people all over the world. And we can assume that DOCAT too will be a success worldwide. asked the project manager, Bernhard Meuser, about the background of the book. What is hidden behind the abbreviation “DOCAT”?

Meuser: DOCAT comes from the English verb “to do” and “catechism”. It is therefore a sort of “how-to-do-it” book for young Christians, a guide to action, an ethics. The idea for the name originated with young Americans who had taken YOUCAT back home with them from Madrid and e-mailed: “YOUCAT says what we should believe—now it would be important to know what we should do…. So make a DOCAT!” So YOUCAT presents the theory—and DOCAT the practice?

Meuser: That would be oversimplifying a little. It would be better to look at the two Popes. Pope Benedict will go down in history as the great teacher of his Church; I can think of no deeper theologian than him among all the popes. His gift was: YOUCAT—a major appeal to reason: “You must know what you believe!” 

But even though Pope Francis is still in office, we can already say today that his charism is social action; the passion with which he travels to a conflict zone for the poor and the marginalized is breathtaking. I would not be surprised if he is mentioned someday in the same breath with Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. His gift is: DOCAT—a major appeal to the heart: “Nothing else will change the world but people who with Jesus devote themselves to it, who with him go to the margins and right into the middle of the dirt.” In the Foreword Pope Francis calls DOCAT “like a user’s manual that helps us to change ourselves with the Gospel first, and then our closest surroundings, and finally the whole world”. Isn’t this idea a bit naive? 

Meuser: The idea is not naive at all. The Pope’s next sentence is decisive: he goes on to say: “For with the power of the Gospel, we can truly change the world.” Well, what about it—do we still believe that? Or do we not believe that any more? Have we degenerated so much by now that we take Jesus’ words for ancient blather and the Gospel for an inscription on a monument?

I like this Pope for his simplicity, his tremendous faith that the world could look different, if a great part of the Christian world were not so timidly getting along with the surrounding bourgeois society. Pope Francis: “The world cannot continue down the path that it is taking now. If a Christian in this day looks away from the need of the poorest of the poor, then in reality he is not a Christian.”

Yes, this too is from the original Francis soundtrack: “A Christian who is these times is not a revolutionary is not a Christian.” DOCAT is sprinkled with quotations from Francis in more than eighty passages—as though with spicy peppercorns. It sounds rather leftist….

Meuser: Pope Francis always refuses to accept such labels. Now he is a liberal who is selling off the doctrinal silverware; now he is an arch-reactionary who springs the devil on you like a jack-in-the-box, and now he is a crypto-socialist. “I feel like a bug in an insect collection,” he once said. I find that Pope Francis is none of these things; he is radical—and that is a very good thing, “radical” comes from radix (root). He goes to the root of the matter every morning in Saint Martha’s when he meditates on the Gospel of the day and then speaks, whether it is in season or out of season. If you look more closely at DOCAT, it is a sort of simplified textbook of Catholic social doctrine…. 

Meuser: “Textbook” sounds rather off-putting. But if you take away all the stick figures, color photos, breezy quotations from Marilyn Monroe and Mark Twain, that is what it is: Someone who has studied DOCAT from start to finish is, to put it flippantly, on top of social doctrine. And that is very important. Christians like to talk about social change, about justice, peace, love and mercy. But they are being dilettantes: they lack a solid basis. Friar Hans Stapel, O.F.M., the charismatic founder of the Fazendas da Esperanza spoke once about a “fundamentalization of mercy”—everybody chatters about it and no one has a plan. The fact is: We do have a plan; it’s just that nobody knows about it. Are you talking about the social doctrine of the Church? 

Meuser: Exactly. Catholic social doctrine is the best kept secret of the Church. And German scholars in particular, like the unforgettable Oswald von Nell-Breuning, S.J.—who died in August 1991 at the age of 101—made decisive contributions to it. The grandchildren of Nell-Breuning, so to speak, collaborated on DOCAT, renowned social scientists like Peter Schallenberg, Ursula Nothelle-Wildfeuer, Arnd Küppers…. How were the young people integrated into the project? After all, that is one of your stated principles….

Meuser: In various ways. First, we were able to recruit young scholars to collaborate, and then we were able to organize a workshop lasting several days (through the sponsorship of the KKV [Katholisch Kaufmännischer Verein, League of Catholic Merchants]). Then again DOCAT was illustrated by young people; there was an international photo contest. Young people were the ones who told us: “Hey, there absolutely has to be an app….” So in every phase of production young people participated by their advice and their active help. We should also mention that all the participants—from the famous professor to the young photographer—volunteered their work. That brings us to an exciting point: The book is certainly making money. Who then gets to be “Goldfinger” as a result?

Meuser: Well, hopefully the book will earn a lot of money in Europe and America, because from donations alone we cannot cover the tremendous costs. At the moment DOCAT is translated into 32 languages, into 15 languages on the Indian subcontinent alone. Someone has to pay for that. Fortunately we are a non-profit organization under the umbrella of Aid to the Church in Need International—that is one of two Pontifical relief organizations (the other is Cor Unum). Pope Benedict gave young people a book… how old-fashioned. Pope Francis gave them an app…?

Meuser: Yes, that is exciting. As it was clear that Pope Francis wanted to give DOCAT as a present, we consulted with sponsors about how we could finance it. In doing so we also mentioned the young people with their dream of the app. “Then do it!” said one of the sponsors—and he did not bat an eyelash when we mentioned the costs. “Hire the best,” he said. That is how we came to collaborate with Saatchi & Saatchi, one of the largest agencies internationally. The Pope therefore invited the young people in Krakow to download the DOCAT app free. Until August 10 the download was free of charge. Ten thousand young people made use of it. And what about this campaign “One Million for the Pope”?

Meuser: That is a worldwide youth campaign. It is based on the Pope’s dream that he mentions in the Foreword to DOCAT: “When I invite you all now really to get to know the social doctrine of the Church, I am dreaming not just about groups that sit under trees and discuss it…. My dream is of something greater: I wish I had a million young Christians, or even better, a whole generation, who are for their contemporaries ‘walking, talking social doctrine’.” Now that is saying something. A million! Together with young people from Croatia, Ireland, Brazil, Indonesia, the Philippines, the United States and India we said to each other: We will get that million together! already reported on that story…. Thank you very much, Mr. Meuser.

(Translated from German by Michael J. Miller)

• Related on CWR: “DOCAT, a catechism for youth of Catholic social doctrine, introduced at World Youth Day” by CWR Staff (July 27, 2016)

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