Spanish-language program addresses challenges, necessity of catechizing

RANDOLPH -- “Who do you say that I am?” This question that Christ posed to His Apostles was also placed before religious education teachers as the theme for the Catechetical Congress held Nov. 18 at The Lantana.

With a variety of workshops, such as “Jesus and the 12 Apostles” and “The family, domestic Church,” as well as two keynote speakers, more than 325 Spanish-language catechists, religious education directors, youth ministers and catechetical leaders were inundated with messages of faith and hope for their lives and their ministries.

Though the topic was different in each of the workshops, one message was common among them all: although at times catechizing is difficult, it is vitally important.

During her morning workshop, entitled “Let us prepare for an encounter with Christ,” Sister Luz Vera, director of religious education at St. Patrick Parish in Lowell, spoke of the need for the catechist to “practice Christian virtue” in order to “not just bring the students to class, but to be a sign that encourages them to continue living close to the Church for years to come.”

“We must not only know, but live, the fundamental truths of the Church,” she stressed.

In another workshop, entitled “Tell the adults to come to me,” Hosffman Ospino, coordinator of Hispanic ministry programs at Boston College, urged catechists to consider year-long Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) programs.

“The catechumenate is a process,” he said. “The pastor and the catechists should accompany the catechumen,” he continued, but all too often the process is far too short.

“In most parishes once you have been received into the Church, there seems to be nothing else,” he said. “It’s as if they say, ‘OK you’re a disciple now. Good luck.”

Ospino spoke of the need to continue supporting the newly baptized. “There should be a series of catechesis that should last 45 to 65 years,” he joked, adding that in our society now the need for a catechumenate is great.

“Look around,” he told the catechists. “You will be surprised at how many people in your neighborhoods are not baptized.” g his keynote address on the congress’s theme, “Who do you say that I am?” José Planas, associate director of religious education for the Hispanic population in the Archdiocese of Newark, told the audience that “every Christian must answer to this fundamental question during his lifetime.”

“If I were to ask us, Catholics of the 21st century, maybe some of you would answer something theological, or perhaps, He’s Mary and Joseph’s son, or maybe He’s one who does what I want, or maybe He’s just a guy there on the cross waiting for me, or perhaps a prophet,” he mused. “But really deep down, how do you answer?”

Planas then began asking the catechists to examine their own relationships with Jesus.

“At home, do you pray?” he asked. “When you ask and don’t receive, do you think that perhaps God took a vacation?...Are you living the life He asks? Are you happy that we have a God who is a Father?”

To be able to answer the fundamental question, he continued, the catechist must submerge himself in the Scripture, must focus his attention to God, and not be “distracted” by earthly things.

“When the word of God is being proclaimed, be still,” he stressed. “If you walk out of a church and don’t remember the homily or the word of God, it’s because you heard, but didn’t listen.”

He went on to urge catechists to live the Catholic faith that they hand on to their students.

“Have you thought that this Jesus who asks you, ‘Who do you say I am’ has given you seven ways to get to know Him better?” Planas asked, referring to the seven sacraments.

“This Christ you proclaim must become a lived experience for yourself and for your students,” underscored Planas.

“We must try to enter into the word of God,” he continued “to learn of the Bible, because you cannot teach what you do not have.”

He then chose volunteers from among the catechists to proclaim different Gospel readings, each one illustrating a different aspect of Jesus’ life and ministry -- calling the Apostles, counseling, correcting, weeping, curing the sick and the sending out of the Apostles.

After each of the six readings, Planas briefly elaborated on the importance of that aspect of Christ, then made a short prayer, and invited the assembly to sing a brief song.

Planas concluded his address encouraging the catechists to “create the Church of the future” with love.

“Go to Mass not out of obligation, but to go to Mass,” he said. “Go to teach not because you have to, but because you want [to].”

For Wanda Aviles, a religious education teacher at St. Patrick Parish in Roxbury, the keynote address, “was just what I needed to hear.”

“I wish people in the Church would hear this,” she remarked. “But the sad truth is that people won’t come.”

Tomasa Jimenez, a religious education teacher from Most Holy Redeemer Parish in East Boston was equally moved by the day’s events. However, she too noted that the difficulty of reaching the average parishioner is growing.

“Every year it seems more difficult,” she said. “People are more incredulous, more unconvinced, but then it is our responsibility to teach them, to reach them.”

Following the keynote address, the congress continued with another session of workshops. The day concluded with an address given by Father Alvaro Silva, an instructor at the Instituto de Formacion de Laicos -- the archdiocese’s Spanish-language formation program for laity, in which he analyzed Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” from a biblical perspective.

“For me the book was unremarkable,” he told The Pilot prior to his address. “However, more important than the book is the need for a catechist to read more, to be involved in the cultural life of the world around them.

“Too often I think Catholics get stuck in only wanting holy water,” he joked. “But seriously, there is a true advantage in being a cultured Catholic -- one who is aware of the literature and the reality of the times.”