Parishioners at St. John Catholic Church in Westminster are ** making the new, 700-page "Catechism of the Catholic Church" user-friendly.
"Pope John Paul II intended this book as a gift to all of us, a gift to pass on to our children," said Joseph Cinquino at a study session on the new instructional guide to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.
"If you scratch the surface, you will want to go deeper," he said.
Mr. Cinquino was among the nearly 100 adults who attended the first of 18 seminars on the book Wednesday.
Study of the catechism will lead to "understanding of ourselves and the great church of which we are a part," said John Hanson, a parishioner.
A speaker will lead each session with an overview of successive chapters of the catechism. Reflection and discussion will follow. The Rev. Joseph Breighner led the series with "The How and Why of the Catechism."
"Catechism puts us in touch with the living God," said Father Breighner, who writes weekly for the Catholic Review. "It gives us words to lead us beyond the words."
He called the first new catechism to be published in 400 years "a real challenge," and said, "I, too, am just another pilgrim on the road."
He gave the audience background and reasons for the book, which presents the essential beliefs and moral teachings of Catholicism.
Pope John Paul requested the new catechism after a conference of bishops in 1985 called for uniform guidelines to help interpret major reforms that the Second Vatican Council introduced in the early 1960s.
"After six years and many revisions, we have a compendium of what we believe as Catholics," Father Breighner said. "The catechism can bring us to better knowledge of Christian mystery and enliven the faith of Christian people."
Like Mr. Cinquino, most adults remember the old Baltimore Catechism. Many still can recite the lessons memorized in their youth.
"We had a firm anchor in the truth of the Baltimore Catechism, but the welter of change in the '60s and '70s marked its demise," said Mr. Cinquino.
Although the old book, used in Catholic schools and religious education classes, may have been "too legalistic, too black and white," he said he missed it.
"It was an accurate road map on my pilgrimage to God and salvation," he said.
The new book abandons the familiar question-and-answer format for chapters and contains many references to volumes available in the parish library. As he welcomes the new catechism as his "new anchor," Mr. Cinquino said the change in format has not meant a change in the basic tenets.
"I opened it and found nothing changed," he said. "The church and its precepts are still there. The Ten Commandments have not become the 10 guidelines. If we have any questions, the answers are going to be in there."
Father Breighner called the book "a springboard to develop thoughts."
He urged readers to "use the catechism as a center point to bring us together, not as a club to beat us over the head. All the words don't mean anything unless it brings us to meet the living Lord."
The Rev. Arthur Valenzano, pastor at St. John, said he hopes the seminars will make catechism "important in our parish."
The Rev. Isaac Karoor, associate pastor of the Westminster church, organized the seminars as part of the adult education program.
"The future of the church is in education," said Father Karoor. "The catechism can make Catholics proud of what they profess."
Other Catholic parishes in Carroll County have not yet planned similar classes. They are welcome to join the seminars at St. John, said Father Karoor.
St. Joseph Catholic Community in Eldersburg may form study groups on the catechism after the first of the year, said Diane Hild, administrative assistant for Christian formation.
The next session, "God in Revelation and Scripture," will be at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 5 in the Multipurpose Building on Monroe Street. Information: 876-2248.