Looking Ahead

Feb. 9-15, 2006
VOL 125 NO. 5
Looking Ahead
By Connie Cissell/ SUN editor
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Building Stronger and More Faithful Servants

Disciples. Ministry. Evangelization. Catechesis. Conversion.

All of these terms and more are tossed about often these days in diocesan offices and parishes. But what exactly do they mean?

Sister Katie Eiffe, CSJ, diocesan Director of Religious Education, could spend hours, days even, discussing them if time warranted. As it is, she spends most of her time making sure catechetical programs that function smoothly are implemented with help from the regional directors of religious education. She has two main goals among many. Sister Katie would like each and every person who teaches a religious education class in the Syracuse Diocese — no matter the size of the class — to be trained properly in catechesis [“an education of children, young people and adults in the faith of the Church through the teaching of Christian doctrine in an organic and systematic way to make them disciples of Jesus Christ.” Catechism of the Catholic Church]. And, she wants to proclaim to all adults that they have a responsibility and a right to continue faith formation throughout their lives. She faces a tall order, but along with the women who serve with her as directors in the Northern, Southern, Western and Eastern Regions of the diocese, she’s not about to take the challenge lightly.

It was at Sister Katie’s insistence that a dozen or so leadership members from the Syracuse Diocese traveled to Long Island in December to attend Heralds of Faith IV: A Symposium on the National Directory for Catechesis (NDC). The event was attended by members of nearly every diocese in New York. Those who didn’t attend were prevented by the weather. Those who came to Heralds of Faith were bishops, auxiliary bishops, chancellors, financial administrators, catechetical leaders, youth ministers, administrators of offices of liturgy and others.

The new document was just one facet of the conference. The crucial message of the day’s speakers and workshops was evangelization [“the proclamation of Christ and his Gospel by word and the testimony of life, in fulfillment of Christ’s command.” Catechism].

“This is a word [evangelization] many people think is a Protestant term,” Sister Katie said. “When you evangelize you share what you believe and invite others to see or experience God rather than tell people what they are supposed to believe.”

The event expanded the idea of evangelization and caused those who attended to consider seriously what their roles are within the diocese, their community, their family, the global family, their own workplace and beyond. The directory itself is supposed to serve as a resource and to provide inspiration for all catechesis in the U.S., paying attention to the particular culture and social fabric of the country. Its contents led to interest in how catechesis is presented, when it is presented and why.

“There are wonderful things going on in classrooms,” Sister Katie said. “But is it all we can do? How do we engage the whole family? The whole parish in faith formation?” The conference was so powerful that those who went from the Syracuse Diocese gathered again in January to rehash what they had heard in Long Island, and to share it with others who couldn’t make the trip. Sister Katie led the discussion of more than a dozen people that day. She reminded the group that they have a responsibility: that as baptized Catholic Christians “we are all called to witness to others, through catechesis or through whatever our vocation or role is.”

She is noted for bringing discussion back to the center — to Jesus Christ. “All of us must grow in understanding that all ministry [“the service or work of sanctification performed by the preaching of the word and the celebration of the sacraments by those in Holy Orders or in determined circumstances, by laity.” Catechism] is evangelizing ministry. Jesus Christ must be at the center of our ministry no matter what ministry it is,” Sister Katie said.

Sister Lois Barton, CSJ, is the Regional Director of Religious Education in the Southern Region. She was inspired by the conference and spoke at the January diocesan meeting. “The way we transmitted faith in the past doesn’t work anymore,” she said. “We need to bring people into relationship with the person of Christ. Confirmation students aren’t the only question. How do we help people married 25 years reinvest in the faith?”

The NDC states that creative methods are needed to address negative aspects of U.S. culture, such as moral relativism, religious indifference, alienation from institutional religion or marginal association with the Catholic Church. The document reinforces Sister Katie’s belief in lifelong faith formation.

The Committee on Catechesis at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote in the NDC: “The contemporary situation in our nation demands ongoing catechesis for all members of the Church, to ensure continuing conversion [“a radical reorientation of the whole life away from sin and evil, and toward God. This change of heart or conversion is a central element of Christ’s preaching, of the Church’s ministry of evangelization, and of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.” Catechism] to a Christian way of life so that we may live by values compatible with the Gospel and reject those contrary to it.”

Sister Lois said that culture is a pervasive atmosphere rather than a system. “Culture is never neutral. To renew faith we have to renew our vision. Some of us hold onto what we used to have but that’s not where our culture is today.”

Danielle Cummings, Director of Communications and Assistant Chancellor for the diocese, was at the diocesan meeting. She said the media message includes many different aspects of culture. “We need to learn how to use media. How many of us know the top songs today, the top television shows? We have to know the culture first.” The Heralds of Faith review session included an overview of the workshops that were attended that day. Sister Germaine Hilston, CSJ, is Regional Director of Religious Education in the Northern Region and she attended a workshop about passing along the Gospel message. She said it centered mostly on RCIA as a template. “The talk began by saying that the RCIA model should be the model for all catechesis,” Sister Germaine said. The RCIA program accepts people in light of their experience now and allows them to ask questions, Sister Katie explained later, “Then you share what the Catholic Christian community believes.”

Part of the challenge the religious educators face is the old language of faith formation from years ago — like the example of all those who still refer to religious education programs as “CCD” programs. “You wouldn’t go to a doctor who uses medicines from 100 years ago,” Sister Katie said. And, Sister Lois quoted John Paul II, saying, “Seeds of faith and piety do not grow in the desert of a memory-less catechesis.”

Bishop Thomas Costello, who also attended Heralds of Faith, said that CCD was a great movement with a noble history, but he acknowledges the importance of forward thinking and the significance of the way Catholics view evangelization — a word Bishop Costello defined as “Proclaiming the Gospel. Sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.” And, he said, “You can’t share what you don’t have.”

Bob Walters is new to the diocese as the director of Youth Ministry. Heralds of Faith raised questions for him, he said. “It inspired dialogue between our departments and offices and it has offered us opportunity to collaborate. And, it gave me a deeper understanding of evangelization,” Walters stated. After the conference, Walters discussed what he heard in relation to his own ministry. He said after the conference he realized more than ever the need for the youth to have a personal relationship with Christ, and also the need for those who work with youth to have the same.

Jesus calls all the faithful to be disciples [“those who accepted Jesus’ message to follow him are called his disciples. Jesus associated his disciples with his own life, revealed the mystery of the Kingdom to the disciples and gave them a share in his mission, his joy, and his sufferings.” Catechism] Scripture repeats time and time again Jesus’ words of discipleship: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” “Follow me.” “You are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you…” “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

The enormity of what those words mean lay heavy on the minds of the people from the Syracuse Diocese who attended the conference. The terms highlighted above and sprinkled liberally throughout conversation in chanceries and offices in all dioceses become fresh and new when they are looked at under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Those who attended the conference and those who met afterward were revitalized with hope and renewed by similar words. They were moved to action. The people who went were not all clergy or religious, they were also lay men and women who take their ministry within the diocese seriously. They don’t just “work” for the diocese; their jobs are their ministry.

Father Joseph Scardella is diocesan Director of the Office of Ministerial Formation and Liturgy. He leads the Formation for Ministry Program, one of the adult education programs of the diocese. He sees empowering lay people for ministry as one of the most important challenges facing the church today. “We don’t train lay ministers because we don’t have enough priests,” Father Scardella said. “We train them because it’s their rightful place. Even if we did have a thousand priests in the diocese, we should still be training people for ministry.”

That is what a good catechetical program does, according to Sister Katie. Now she is looking forward to affirming what the diocese has in place and developing what it does not have.

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