Journey of Faith

Sept. 9-15, 2004
VOL 123 NO. 31
Journey of Faith
By Kristen Fox / SUN  Staff Writer
Over 500 people in the religious education ministry from across the diocese will convene in Syracuse on Saturday, Sept. 25 for the 10th Annual Journey of Faith. The theme of this year’s conference, which is sponsored by the Diocesan Religious Education Office, is “Stewards of God’s Gifts.” The two-day event will be an opportunity for participants to celebrate their faith and to enrich themselves both personally and in their professional ministry.

The Journey of Faith weekend will kick-off with a concert by Marty Haugen on Friday, Sept. 24 at Immaculate Conception Church in Fayetteville at 7 p.m. The next day, Sept. 25, Sister Maureen Sullivan, OP, will present the keynote address at the OnCenter in Syracuse. Participants will be able to attend several of 20 different ministry workshops and nine interactive sessions on topics ranging from embracing multi-culturalism to faith formation for older teens and environmental justice.

“Primarily, Journey of Faith is a day which nourishes, inspires, educates and enriches our faith,” said Sister Katie Eiffe, CSJ, diocesan director of religious education. “When our own faith is deepened, our ministries are better.” The roots of Journey of Faith can be traced back to 1991. At that time, under the leadership of Gerrie Kaluzny, who was then diocesan director of religious education, the Diocesan Religious Education Office sponsored a two-day “Religious Education Congress” at Le Moyne College in Syracuse. It was the first catechetical congress in the diocese since 1976. Incorporated in the congress was the Bishop (Frank) Harrison Institute, which was an annual one-day professional updating for parish directors of religious education (DREs) and catechists. In their evaluation of the event, participants overwhelmingly suggested that a similar event be held every year.

In 1995, Journey of Faith was born. Sister Katie explained the significance of its title. “It represents the idea that our faith is always growing,” she said. “Faith is never static. God is always inviting us to go deeper.” The first conference was held at Le Moyne. The theme was “Tending the Fire” and Bishop Thomas Costello was the keynote speaker. Twenty-four workshop sessions were offered. Journey of Faith transitioned to its current home of the OnCenter in 1995. The venue allows plenty of space to hold the event. This year’s conference will be similar to previous years. There will be a blend of speakers present from both the diocesan and national levels. In honor of the 10th anniversary of Journey of Faith, the Religious Education Office has invited Haugen and Sister Maureen — two of its most popular presenters — to return. “We are excited to be bringing back to Syracuse by popular demand two presenters who have touched the hearts of many of us in the past,” said Sister Katie.

Haugen, who was first featured as concert artist and keynote speaker for Journey of Faith VI in 2000, is a composer of liturgical music. Many of his hymns, such as “Gather Us In” and “Shepherd Me, O God” are favorites among parishioners. For the past 20 years he has presented workshops and concerts across North America and in Europe, the Pacific Rim, Asia and Central America for church musicians and anyone interested in the renewal of liturgy. “Marty’s music is so familiar and uplifting,” remarked Sister Katie. Sister Maureen is an assistant professor of theology at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. and serves as a national theology consultant for William H. Sadlier Publishing, Inc. She has recently authored Vatican II: 101 Questions and Answers. She was the featured keynote speaker for Journey of Faith V in 1999.

Sister Maureen said that she is excited to be coming “home” to Syracuse. “I am not from Syracuse but every time I visit I feel like I am going home,” she said. “I have come to know so many wonderful men and women who are doing the work of Christ in the area.” During her keynote speech, which will begin at 2:15 p.m., Sister Maureen said that she will discuss the theme, “Steward’s of God’s Gifts.” “As teachers of the Word of God we have been given a great privilege and an awesome responsibility,” said Sister Maureen. “We have to make sure that we are good stewards.” Sister Maureen will also present a workshop titled, “Vatican II: 40 Years and Counting.” The year 2004 marks the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council document Lumen Gentium. Sister Maureen believes that this document had a tremendous impact on the religious education ministry. She said that it shifted learning about Roman Catholicism from an education-based model to one which she calls “more fun.”

“Over the last 30 years or so, those of us in religious education have dropped the ball. There is no content in teaching about our faith,” she explained. “We make learning so much fun. There’s lots of heart but no head. Students should come out of class knowing something.” For the past 20 years, Sister Maureen has been helping dioceses work towards addressing this concern. She travels across the U.S., giving lectures and leading discussions on different models of religious education. According to Sister Maureen, events such as Journey of Faith are key to promoting solid teaching and catechesis. “Every diocese should attempt to address the need of ongoing Catholic education,” she said. “You need to constantly be rethinking, ‘Where did we come from? Where are we going?’” Though there is heavy emphasis on religious education ministry, Journey of Faith is not geared exclusively to the catechetical community, said Sister Katie. There are workshops for those who minister in all aspects of parish life, including music, pastoral ministry, social justice ministry, RCIA, family life and youth ministry.

“We try to respond to everyone’s needs,” said Sister Katie. “Journey of Faith is broad enough to appeal to lots of people with different ministries.” The event also includes an exhibit area where national and local vendors can display their materials. Father John Fenlon, pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Cortland, makes the annual trip to Journey of Faith with his catechists, as well as parishioners from other church ministries. He said that he is impressed with the variety of topics and presenters that Journey of Faith offers. “Journey of Faith is the high point of the year,” he said. “The keynotes are always top quality. There are a wide variety of workshops and topics. Something can be found for everyone.” As Sister Katie reflected on 10 years of Journey of Faith, a huge grin spread across her face. “It is always so thrilling to see the people of God in Syracuse coming together and celebrating,” she said. There is one memory among many that particularly stands out in Sister Katie’s mind. Journey of Faith 2001 was scheduled to take place at the OnCenter two weeks after 9-11. “We kept asking ourselves; Should we do this?’” Sister Katie said. She said she grappled with the idea of canceling the conference until she received a touching phone call –– one which she remembers as if it were yesterday. “The event coordinator at OnCenter called me and said, “‘Sister, I hope you don’t cancel. Your event is so wonderful. It is what we need.’” That comment what just Sister Katie needed to encourage her to go ahead. This story shows the bigger picture of the importance of the Journey of Faith, said Sister Katie.

“It is an important weekend for so many people,” she said. “It leaves them feeling so good about their faith and ministry.” A special addition to this year’s Journey of Faith is the presentation of the First Annual Bishop Costello Award, which will be given to a person who has ministered with courage, with vision and in a collaborative style. The award has been instituted in honor of the bishop’s Golden Jubilee. The first recipient is Jim Krisher, director of the Spiritual Renewal Center in Syracuse. There is another aspect of the program that makes this year’s Journey of Faith unique. It will include several interactive presentations. Though shorter than the other workshop sessions (which run for an hour and a half), the interactive sessions are designed to facilitate more conversation between participants and presenters. “We want people to participate,” Sister Katie said. “Come bringing your ideas.” Pam Peters, DRE at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Vestal, will be making her seventh trip to Journey of Faith. Each year, she takes along with her a group of catechists along with her. “It is a great way to start a new catechatical year,” said Peters. She said the conference energizes those in the religious education ministry. “By the time the end of the catechetical year comes around, teachers can be very drained. Unfortunately in our ministry sometimes you get the feeling that you are the only one doing something. Families and kids today have so many obligations that religious education can fall to the bottom of the totem pole,” Peters explained. “The weekend of Journey of Faith gets us enthused.”

Peters added that Journey of Faith provides a good opportunity to network with other catechists. “It is really a unique opportunity to network with fellow catechists,” she said. “You can get some great new ideas from each other.” Sister Maureen praised the Diocese of Syracuse and its Religious Education Office. “Syracuse is doing a good job,” said Sister Maureen. “They are dead serious about religious education. They bring in every opportunity they can to teach their catechists and enrich the catechetical ministry.”

For more information, registration or concert tickets, contact the Diocesan Religious Education Office at (315) 470-1431.

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