Looking back and looking ahead, diocese marks Year of Faith
By Claudia Mathis and Katherine Long
In his 2011 apostolic letter Door of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI (now Pope Emeritus) issued “a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord” by declaring Oct. 11, 2012 to Nov. 24, 2013 as a Year a Faith (Door of Faith, #6).
“It will be a moment of grace and commitment for an ever fuller conversion to God, to strengthen our faith in him and to proclaim him with joy to the people of our time,” the pope said in his homily announcing the special year.
Know it, live it, share it
Since the Year of Faith’s opening, Catholics in the Diocese of Syracuse have been called to “know, live and share” their faith.
“I think the hope for the Year of Faith is that we would approach it in four different ways: as individuals, in our families, in our parishes and in the diocese as a whole,” said Danielle Cummings, assistant chancellor, diocesan director of communications and member of the diocese’s Year of Faith Committee. Across the diocese, people and parishes have participated in missions and Bible studies, processions and pilgrimages, service projects and workshops. Large and small, efforts have been made to develop a deeper relationship with Christ and to spread the Good News. In Binghamton, for example, faith formation students and their families at St. Patrick’s and St. Thomas Aquinas Parishes have strengthened their faith by participating in several Year of Faith activities designed by Jeanne Higgins, director of faith formation for both parishes.
One such activity is called the Prayer Box. Higgins filled a cardboard box with a candle, a small angel or cross statue, rosary beads, a book on how to say the rosary, a family prayer book and a journal in which to write prayer requests and answers to prayers. Each student took the prayer box home for one week. The students were instructed to set up a prayer table at home where they could gather together each day to pray and to find a time in which every family member would be available for the prayer activity.
“My hope was that they would start the habit, if they hadn’t already, to pray together as a family as often as possible,” said Higgins. “Each night of the week they were asked to let a different member of the family say the prayer or lead the rosary.”
Ann Saroka, a parishioner at St. Patrick’s who participated in the activity through her three children, said the project enhanced their prayer life. The activity, she explained, reinforced the ritual they had already put in place — that of praying at dinnertime and at bedtime. “My children liked the activity,” she said. “My youngest son, Daniel, even wrote a poem.”
Higgins was happy to know that the families were getting together to pray. “Families are so busy today,” she said. “I was grateful to have something visual to remind them to pray. It was a wake-up call for many.”
St. James Church in Syracuse has also provided numerous opportunities for parishioners to come to better know, live and share their faith.
Father John Manno, pastor of St. James, said the parish kicked off the Year of Faith by selling copies of the Bible and the Catechism. Father Manno also led an eight-week series on prayer called Oremus, or “let us pray,” which attracted about 50 people, he said.
Father Manno and Father Christopher Seibt led a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville, N.Y., with pilgrims from more than 10 parishes in Onondaga County. St. James is also hoping to plan a pilgrimage to the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., Father Manno said.
In addition to offering retreats, monthly Year of Faith holy hours and continued opportunities to serve those in need through its Emmaus Ministry, the parish is also working to “promote ourselves and market our faith,” Father Manno said. Those driving on the highways in the Syracuse area may see billboards inviting motorists to St. James Church. Father Manno said he’s seen 10 to 15 new faces at Mass every weekend, and that “many people have said it was the billboards that attracted them.”
Diocesan ministries also provided resources in support of the Year of Faith and beyond. Bob Walters, director of the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, said his office supplied every youth minister with a copy of the YOUCAT, the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church, and also sold copies to parishes at a bulk rate. His office has given youth ministers a YOUCAT study guide for use in their youth groups, and he plans to soon introduce ministers to the VCAT, a video Catechism developed by the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, W.Va, he said.
The Office of Faith Formation’s four regional Resource Center Administrators developed rcfaithquest.weebly.com, a website that provides information on a variety of Catholic topics and highlights resources and materials available in the regional centers. The office also worked with catechetical leaders to organize workshops and lectures in each of the regions, said director Cathy Cornue.
Cummings’ communications office spearheaded the local “The Light is On for You” campaign in March, which invited Catholics to Confession on Reconciliation Monday. The positive response to that campaign has led the diocese to schedule two more Reconciliation Mondays, Cummings said, one on Dec. 16 during Advent and a second one on April 14 during Lent.
The calendar end of the Year of Faith will see the publication of a pastoral letter by Bishop Cunningham entitled Faith: A Gift Received, a Treasure to Be Shared.
The letter “is the result of a number of people asking me, within the context of the Year of Faith, what I see as the major issues or priorities that the diocese needs to face. After listening to a number of people and after personal reflection, I identified three areas that I think would require concern,” Bishop Cunningham said.
The first area is Sunday Mass. “For me, Sunday Mass is a very basic obligation of the believing Catholic,” Bishop Cunningham explained. “We know that the percentage of those who attend Sunday Mass is not what it once was and we have to get back to increasing attendance —because it’s at Sunday Mass where we hear God’s word in the Scriptures, where we’re nourished by the reception of his Body and Blood in the Eucharist and where we receive the grace and strength for daily living.”
The second area is handing on the faith. The letter speaks to the important roles of Catholic schools and parish faith formation programs in reinforcing the lessons and values young Catholics are being taught by their families. Adults are also encouraged to continue their own formation and to reach out to brothers and sisters who have fallen away from their faith.
The third area is vocations. “We are a sacramental church. We need priests,” Bishop Cunningham said. “I’m very hopeful that a number of young people will listen to the voice of God and have the courage to respond in a positive way to the Lord’s invitation.” It’s not just the Lord who can invite someone to consider the religious life, however. “Most people today who are priests or sisters would say that while the thought might have been in their mind, they never acted upon it until other people recommended or asked if they had thought about such a vocation. And that mere asking was the impetus that prompted them to move forward,” the bishop said.
The letter closes with the bishop’s thoughts on how the faithful can continue to move forward in knowing, living and sharing their faith, topics Bishop Cunningham said he would discuss in his homily during the diocese’s Year of Faith Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Nov. 24. Copies of the pastoral letter will be distributed at the Mass; additional copies will be sent to parishes and an electronic version will be available on the diocesan website, www.syrdio.org.
Though the Year of Faith may technically be ending, “the momentum will continue,” Cummings said. That celebratory spirit will mark the Year of Faith liturgy Nov. 24.
“Every effort has been made to have the whole Church present [at the Mass],” Cummings said. “The liturgy will be representative of different regions, ethnicities and ministries. [The Church] as a community will pray together about this Year of Faith and the New Evangelization. It is meant to be the springboard to be energized to go out and spread the Good News.”
Praise and worship, led by Matt Scherr, Dan Warner and Larry Hagan, will begin at 2 p.m. Mass begins at 2:30 p.m. A light reception in the Cathedral’s parish center will follow the Mass. All are invited and encouraged to bring a friend. For more information, visit www.syrdio.org.