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Faith formation essential, catechists told at congress

Janet Benestad, right, the archdiocese’s Secretary for Faith Formation and Evangelization together with a group of attendees, participate in the opening prayer service at the Catechetical Congress at Lantana’s in Randolph Oct. 24. Pilot photo/Robea Patrowicz

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RANDOLPH -- Prayer and continued faith formation needs to be central to the life of a catechist, both on a personal level and in teaching their students about the Catholic faith, speakers at an Oct. 24 archdiocesan conference on catechesis told participants.

The Archdiocese of Boston’s Office of Religious Education hosted its annual Catechetical Congress at the Lantana function hall. The conference attracted over 600 attendees, many of whom are involved in faith formation of young people and adults through their roles as catechists in parish faith formation programs, youth ministers, and Catholic school religion teachers. The meeting was bi-lingual, offering separate keynote addresses in both English and Spanish, and separate breakout sessions for speakers of both languages.

The conference opened with a multi-lingual prayer service led by Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, which offered prayers in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Portuguese, and Creole. Following the service, English and Spanish speakers adjourned to attend separate sessions.

Susan Kay, the assistant director for catechetical leadership in the religious education office of the archdiocese, presented the winners of the 2009 Sister Marion O’Connor, RC Award for Excellence in Catechetical Leadership. The winners were Frances Taylor, the religious education director at Sacred Heart Parish in Lynn and Sister Elisette Signor, MSCS, of the Brazilian apostolate at St. Anthony Parish in Allston.

The conference also honored Cardinal O’Malley for his 25th anniversary of his ordination as a bishop.

Joe Paprocki, a national consultant for faith formation for Loyola Press, a Catholic book publisher, was the keynote speaker for the English session. He has also published several books on catechesis and religious education. Paprocki is also an eighth-grade catechist at his home parish in Illinois.

Father Carlos Flor was the keynote speaker for the Spanish session. He is parochial vicar at Immaculate Conception Parish in Revere.

This year’s conference encouraged catechists to continually grow in their own knowledge and love of the faith, as well as use prayer in their personal lives and with their classes.

“To be a catechist is to know the faith, to love the faith, and to speak about the things of God with every opportunity -- to speak of God with faithfulness and love,” Cardinal O’Malley said in his opening remarks. “It’s not a matter of transmitting information but helping people to be part of a family. The role of a catechist is to be a mentor. It presupposes a message that is real.”

In her remarks, Janet Benestad, the archdiocese’s Secretary for Faith Formation and Evangelization, encouraged catechists to continue to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church and pray.

“No matter what we do, if we do not do it in prayer, it will not be the love of Christ that is communicated,” said Benestad.

“Religious education is something we are all called to do, that we as adults have an obligation to continue our own faith journey and our own adult education,” added Susan Abbott, Director of Religious Education for the archdiocese. “No one has learned everything yet and that goes for the knowledge of the faith and growing in the wholeness of life in prayer.”

“You’re a better painter when you paint a lot. You’re a better teacher when you learn a lot. You’re a better prayer when you pray a lot,” Abbott continued. “If we immerse ourselves in the culture of learning, praying, and faith, if it’s a part of the air that we breathe, and if it’s truly who we are, then we will certainly be better teachers.”

Paprocki echoed the importance of prayer in his own remarks.

“Prayer is such an important part of what we do as catechists,” he said. “Without it, our teaching can be rather vacuous, and it reduces teaching to a subject. You and I don’t teach a topic. We teach people.”

Paprocki said he spends 15 to 20-minutes of each 75-minute class leading his students in a reflection.

“It’s extremely helpful to them to have the quiet time,” he said. “It’s interesting. They fight it. On the other hand, they can’t sit still, so I have to quiet them down, but they love it too. They like that quiet time alone.”

In his classes, Paprocki said he attempts to connect the word of God to the lives of his students.

His address entitled “Show ‘em the door: Catechesis that enters through their door but leaves through your door,” discussed six cultural characteristics of today’s youth, and explained how and what catechists need to teach today’s students given the world in which they live.

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