Catechists encouraged to share faith at annual congress

RANDOLPH -- “We have to give our children the joy of being Catholic,” said Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley in his opening remarks to both English and Spanish speaking religious educators from across the archdiocese gathered for the annual Catechetical Congress Nov. 19.

“This is our task, to help new generations discover who God is,” he said. “Our job is to share this treasure with our children.”

Switching seamlessly from English to Spanish, the archbishop called on the more than 730 attendees to leverage the teaching power of the traditional hymns, especially Christmas Carols. “Teach them to reflect on the content of those songs,” he said.

Cardinal O’Malley left the catechists with two specific charges. First, he said, children must regain a sense of personal vocation or call to holiness. “Everyone has a calling.”

It is troubling that fewer and fewer people enter marriage, religious life and the priesthood, he said.

Second, children need to feel a part of a communal mission, said the cardinal.

“People will say, ‘I am very spiritual, but I don’t belong to a church,’” he explained.

“This is humbug. Jesus came to found a Church,” he said. In Spanish, the archbishop used “absurdo” for humbug.

The theme of this year’s congress, set by the national bishop’s conference, was the question Jesus’ posed to the Apostles: “Who do you say that I am?” said Sister Clare Bertero, OSF, the archdiocese’s director of religious education.

Sister Clare said the theme was a great excuse to bring keynote speaker Brother Michael O’Neill McGrath, OSFS to speak to the congress because so much of his art deals with different ways to see the face of Christ.

“Brother Mickey is a truly gifted artist, a fantastic artist,” said Susan D. King, the assistant director of religious education and friend of the artist, who helped arrange Brother Mickey’s appearance. “He loves to explore, and helps others explore, the relationship between art and faith.”

“He had to be booked in January,” Sister Clare said. Brother Mickey’s most recent book of illustrations, “At the Name of Jesus,” was released this fall.

The congress is a combination of general sessions in the grand ballroom of The Lantana function hall and breakout workshops, she said. Participants also had the opportunity to mingle in the lobby with representatives from religious textbook and software publishers as well as archdiocesan pro-life and vocation programs.

Many of the workshop topics are the result of the feedback and evaluations from participants, such as a focus on art and music, she said. Some subjects are brought back every year, such as workshops on how to build on the Jewish/Catholic dialogue.

This year, Celia Sirois, the co-director of the New Directions Project, led a workshop called, “The Jewish World of Jesus of Nazareth,” on how Jesus’ Jewish culture shaped His message, she said.

The gathering is also an opportunity to recognize outstanding members of the religious education community, King said. Since 1998, the Office of Religious Education has presented the Sister Marion O’Connor Award to leaders in both English and Spanish religious education.

The 2006 recipients of the award were Patricia O’Connor, St. Mary Church in Randolph and Deacon Marcio and Lesly Fonseca, St. Ambrose Church in Dorchester, King said.

Sister Clare said this year’s congress was a great success. “We really sold out.”

The response this year was much higher than in past years, she said.

King said after the challenges of reconfiguration, parishes closing and new parishes forming, she was excited by the upbeat tempo of this year’s congress. “People are maybe in a better place now.”