Youth Catechesis Symposium focuses of transformative power of the Gospel

RANDOLPH -- Jesus Christ should be at the center of Catholic catechesis professor, Catholic speaker and musician Bob Rice told participants at this year's Symposium on Adolescent Catechesis.

On April 7, the Office for the New Evangelization of Youth and Young Adults hosted its third annual symposium at Lombardo's in Randolph. The conference was attended by about 100 catechists, youth ministers and directors of religious education in parishes around the Archdiocese of Boston.

"It's valuable because you're bringing in an expert on the topic and you're bringing in different disciplines involved in catechesis and youth formation together to be edified, strengthened, inspired and enlightened in how to more effectively work together to form young people in the Gospel," said Father Matt Williams, director of the Office for the New Evangelization.

Father Williams said that it's not just about learning the most effective practices, but about bringing people together in order "to learn from each other and work more together as the Body of Christ so we can form a system of faith where no one falls through the cracks."

Stephen Colella, the assistant director of the Office for the New Evangelization, said the annual gathering was started as a way to localize the National Symposium on Adolescent Catechesis. Colella and Father Williams attended the gathering a few years ago sponsored by the National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministers and wanted to develop a program for local audiences.

"The national symposium was designed to have us all look again at what was going on so we can upgrade how we pass on the faith to young people," Colella said.

Bob Rice, professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, as well as a musician, author and youth ministry leader, was the main speaker for the event. Rice's talks focused on the importance of placing Christ at the center of parish catechetical efforts.

Rice said that catechists need to be more focused on transformation than simply education when teaching about Catholicism. He also pointed out that catechists must first be witnesses to the faith and live out what they experience through the Catholic faith before they can teach it.

"Christ is the image of the invisible God, the second person of the Trinity made flesh," Rice told The Pilot.

"There's no greater way God could reveal himself than coming among us," he continued.

He also made the point that effective catechesis must be Christocentric, systematic, organic and kerygmatic.

During his afternoon talk, Rice said catechesis must be focused on Christ, and must be done in a way that the information flows together, similar to how a school curriculum is structured. Catechesis becomes organic by showing what unites the various topics together.

"Prayer is that organic connection that doesn't make it stale doctrine, but that makes it living and connected," Rice said.

He also said effective catechesis is kerygmatic, beginning with the Gospel message and engaging the learner in the Gospel message's beauty.

Rice performed some of his recent songs, and had some of his CD's and books available for purchase. Among the books was his latest work, "Between the Savior and the Sea," a novel about the lives of St. Peter and Jesus' other apostles.

"My hope was to show how exciting it was to follow Jesus Christ, and how frightening it was because nobody else in the Gospels has a more detailed conversion than Simon Peter," Rice said. "He seems to stand head and shoulders above everybody else."

Attendees said they appreciated Rice's insights.

Kathleen McKenna, 42, is the director of religious education for grades 1 through 6 at St. Joseph Parish in Kingston. She recalled the catechesis she experienced as lacking a systematic presentation and placing great focus on God's love for us and forgiveness of all our sins.

"There's a world of information we missed in our generation," she said.

"Our generation was taught God forgives everything, God forgives everything so there was no accountability for your behavior because God is going to forgive you anyway," she added.

Michael Kiessling is a religion teacher at Monsignor James J. Haddad Middle School in Needham. He said he tries to focus on explaining the reasons for the Church's beliefs and helping students learn how to pray.

"He's pointed out some really good things to do in terms of integrating prayer, getting kids to know God and to see everything we've learned as a way to love and be loved by God," said Kiessling.