Fr. Fessio, the founder and editor of Ignatius Press, was recently interviewed by Sean Salai, S.J. for America magazine about DOCAT, the follow-up to the popular youth catechism YOUCAT. Focused on the social doctrine of the Church, DOCAT was officially released by Pope Francis at World Youth Day in July. Here are some of Fr. Fessio’s remarks on the genesis and contents of DOCAT:
What inspired Pope Francis to publish a youth catechism on Catholic social teaching and how did you get involved?
Actually, if Pope Francis was inspired, it was post factum. Docat had already been planned, and the writing had begun, before his election to the papacy. However, it is certainly a happy providence that the Docat aligned so well with his interests and priorities.
My involvement in the Youcat and now the Docat has an odd pre-history. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn and I have been friends since we lived together in the Schottenkolleg (at the time the diocesan seminary) in Regensburg in 1973-74 as students of then-Professor Ratzinger. In the 1990s he asked for my help in the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. After the publication of the Catechism he was making a presentation in his Archdiocese of Vienna and during the Q&A period a woman stood up and said, in so many words, “This is wonderful. But it’s for adults. What about the children? They need a catechism too.”
Cardinal Schönborn responded by agreeing with her, but saying it needed to be a catechism not only for but also with the participation of young people. The woman organized two summer youth programs to work on adapting the Catechism for young people. She was joined by Bernhard Meuser, a German editor and youth catechist. From this the Youcat was born.
How did Ignatius Press become English-language publisher of the Youcat and now the Docat?
When Bernhard contacted me to see if Ignatius Press would be interested in being the publisher of the worldwide English edition, I assumed it was because of Cardinal Schönborn. That was not the case.
I had been invited to give a talk in Torun, Poland, and while I was there I was interviewed by a journalist working for a German Catholic magazine called Vatikan. He asked me about the origins of Ignatius Press. I explained that during my theology studies in Europe I had not only made the acquaintance of theologians like de Lubac, von Balthasar, Bouyer and Ratzinger but also for the first time had begun drinking wine (in France) and beer (in Bavaria).
Upon my return to the United States, I had my first taste of American beer. I spat it out and said, “If this is going to be called beer, I need another name for what I drank in Bavaria.” (This was in the days before the microbrewery revolution.) Later, as I was giving a retreat and quoting de Lubac, Balthasar, et al., a sister asked me if there were any great American theologians. I told her the beer story and said that while there were some very good theologians in the United States (I mentioned Avery Dulles, of course), still, if we were going to call them theologians, we needed another name for the giants I had studied in Europe.
I concluded the interview by saying that Ignatius Press was founded in 1979 so that the writings of these theologians could be accessible to an English-speaking readership.
How is the Docat a successor to the Youcat in spirit and content?
The spirit, the collaboration of young people, and the appealing language and graphics are just like the Youcat. But the Docat focuses on the church’s social teaching and expands the Youcat’s treatment of it.
Where did you get the acronym “Docat” and what does it stand for?
It’s from the Germans, whose popular culture includes a lot of borrowings from the United States. Youcat was a contraction for “Youth Catechism.” (Sounds much more appealing to young Germans—and everyone else—than Jugendkatechismus.) Docat is a back formation from Youcat: “Do” (as in moral and social obligations) and “Catechism.” …
What is the message of this catechism?
Do good and avoid evil. With a little more detail and practical help, of course.
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