‘Beautiful are the feet of the messenger’

RANDOLPH -- Religious educators from throughout the archdiocese gathered for the annual Catechetical Congress held Nov. 17 at the Lantana. This year’s theme was “Catechesis: Encountering the Living Christ.”

Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley opened the day’s events with a multilingual prayer ceremony. In his remarks he told the catechists they have a crucial role passing on the faith in a world addicted to celebrities and the beautiful people. “But, you are the beautiful people! Beautiful are the feet of the messenger and you are the messengers of Jesus Christ.”

The cardinal exhorted the participants to accept the Church and her mission as they nurture a new generation of disciples -- “Help them discover how much the Lord loves them.”

The Spanish-speaking catechists participated in a separate program which ran concurrently with the English-language program.

The keynote speaker for the English-speaking catechists was professor Thomas H. Groome, director of the Institute of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry at Boston College.

Groome opened his talk by asking for a show of hands from everyone who had seen the video of Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie’s “Hail Mary” pass against the University of Miami in 1984. “Well, I’m the one who taught him the Hail Mary,” he said.

Mixing poetry, readings from his own books and musings, Groome, a native of Ireland, explored the theme of encountering the living Christ, not only for the religious education students, but also for the catechists themselves. “Our task, called as catechists, is a unique and important one,” he said. “At the heart of catechesis we find a person, the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the only Son of the Father, both the Jesus of history and Christ of faith.”

Catholics are different from the agnostic who prays: “Loving God (if there is a God) save my soul (if I have a soul),” he said.

For many Catholics, the challenge of discipleship is too intimidating. One way of helping others approach this challenge is to go back to a better translation of the Greek word: apprentice, he said. “People say, ‘Well I can be an apprentice.’”

Groome said catechists should teach as Jesus taught by engaging people in their everyday lives, helping them see things in a new way, teaching the Good News with authority and inviting with conviction people to make the decision to follow Christ.

Susan J. Kay, of the archdiocese religious education office, said she believed the congress was a great success, particularly with having both Cardinal O’Malley and Groome participate. “I really felt the affection that the cardinal has for the catechists, especially when he told them that they are the beautiful people,” she said.

Kay said Groome’s speaking schedule takes him all over the country, but she was able to book him almost one year ago, partly because he lives in the Boston area and the congress was so close to Thanksgiving.

In the past, the congresses were held in different areas, such as the North Shore and South Shore, but it is better now to have everyone together in one place, said Lois Salenius, who worked in the archdiocese’s Religious Education Office for 18 years and has continued as a volunteer in the office for the last five years.

When the letters went out in September, the response was slower than in other years, she said. Then three weeks ago, the registrations came pouring in. There were more than 700 attendees, with roughly a dozen walk-ins.

The workshops offered included: “Retreat or Advance? Looking at the pro’s and con’s of retreat ministry with Kathleen Stebbins, the archdiocese’s coordinator of youth ministry and Stephen Colella, the operations manager of Catholic Appeals; “More Than a Teacher Manual and Class List” with John Collins, principal, Kane Elementary School, Marlborough; “Evangelization: Our Very Existence” with Jerry Galipeau, the worship resources editor at World Library Publications; “Catholic Teaching on Justice and Peace” with Father J. Bryan Hehir, the archdiocese’s secretary for social service; “Promoting a Culture of Vocations in Your parish” with Father Daniel Hennessey and Father Michael Harrington from the archdiocese’s Vocations Office; “Liturgy in a Multicultural Context” with Ken Meltz, pastoral associate at Burlington’s St. Malachy Church, Father O. Wendell Verrill, pastor emeritus, St. Mary Parish, Waltham; “Programs That Deal with Life, Love, Relationships, Sexuality and Chastity” with Deborah O’Hara Rusckowski, director, Respect Life Education Office; “The Strategies for Adult Faith Formation: A practical look at adult faith formation strategies for parishes” with Tom Zanzig, an adult faith formation consultant; “Religious Education with Ecumenical and Non-Christian Families” with Father Edward O’Flaherty, SJ, director, Office of Ecummenical and Interreligious Affairs and Father David Michael, pastor, St. John Chrysostom Church in West Roxbury; and “From Mental Illness to Spiritual Wisdom: A Father-Daughter Odyssey” with Tom and Barbara Zanzig.