“And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of new beginnings.”
— Meister Eckhart
It’s no secret that we, as a diocese, are undergoing many changes. Like many others in the Northeast, our population has diminished. Many of our priests are being called upon to serve multiple parishes. Mass attendance has dropped. Families are pulled in many directions and the number of children and teens attending faith formation programs in parishes is down. This has led us to explore new ways to reach out to our community of faith. It is a time to re-imagine possibilities. Change can be unsettling, in some respects, but it can also be exciting, especially when we let ourselves be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit.
That Spirit-filled change is happening in the Office of Faith Formation as we develop an expanded vision of how we might more effectively live out our mission statement: “We, the Office of Faith Formation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse, inspired by the life and mission of Jesus, and embracing the opportunities of our time and culture, commit ourselves to educate, evangelize and empower others through lifelong and ongoing faith formation.”
Supporting this ministry in parishes has always been foundational to the Office of Faith Formation, and this year, the Regional Directors have begun a new venture: parish visits. Our goal is to enter into a personal conversation with the pastor and catechetical leader in each parish, so that we might hear what is working well, what they want to strengthen and how we can better support their parish faith formation programs. We will also discuss any possible needs, including technological equipment and/or training by our staff — from Google forms to creating an online course for students.
Technology for faith formation, you ask? Absolutely! In his pastoral letter, Bishop Cunningham noted, “the New Evangelization calls us to announce the Gospel with enthusiasm and ardor in the circumstances of our day, using the most effective methods available to us.” Our dedicated faith formation staff has already been moving forward as curators of digital resources and have spent a great deal of time learning how to make these resources available to parishes.
One example of this was developed during the Year of Faith, when the five Faith Formation Associates from the four regional offices put together an outstanding website, http://rcfaithquest.weebly.com/. Catechists, catechetical leaders, RCIA team leaders, youth ministers or any interested person can come to this site and be assured that the material on it has been curated: that is, researched by knowledgeable staff that viewers can relate to and trust, who have expertise, real-life experiences, and the ability to filter and share good Catholic resources. This site is continuously being updated, providing pertinent information throughout the year. In addition, viewers can contact any of the resource staff from that website for more information, to brainstorm ideas, or to plan a visit to one of the regional offices for further assistance. We realize that not everyone is ready for the digital world, and the entire staff continues to work with parish catechists, catechetical leaders, pastors and parishioners to provide print, video or digital resources that are user-friendly and effective.
Our regional directors meet on a regular basis with parish catechetical leaders, helping them to grow in faith and skill for this ministry. This year, we asked them to help their catechists understand the “Scope and Sequence” of the faith formation program in the parish. Our dedicated catechists are guided by this outline of what is to be taught at each grade level, ensuring that all topics are covered. At the first meetings in September, we discussed how to evaluate student learning in a variety of creative ways. It is important that the students know their faith, if they are to live and share it!
The Faith Formation staff also provides courses for Catechist Certification, assisting these modern-day disciples to deepen their own understanding of our faith and providing them with basic tools for sharing it with their students. In-person courses can be scheduled at parishes, in consultation with the regional director, or catechists can choose to take the courses online, if that is more convenient. Registration for the online courses, as well as for a number of other events, can be found at http://faithformationevents.weebly.com.
Pope John Paul II reminded us that “the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ.” Working with the extraordinarily dedicated priests, parish catechetical leaders and catechists, we strive to assist Catholics of all ages to deepen their relationship with Jesus and to increase their knowledge of, and active participation in, our Catholic faith.
With trust in the Holy Spirit, who moved the disciples out of the comfort of what they had known, to the “magic of beginnings,” we will continue to discover new ways to be of service to the People of God in the Diocese of Syracuse and to live out Jesus’ instructions to “Go and make disciples.”