By Claudia Mathis
Building Bridges, a two-day conference held on Oct. 12 and 13 at Bishop Grimes Prep in East Syracuse, offered an opportunity to enrich one’s faith by learning more about it.
The event was an overwhelming success, according to Cathy Cornue, Diocesan Director of the Office of Faith Formation. “It was very well-received,” said Cornue.
Almost 800 people attended the annual event, which has replaced the Journey of Faith conference, an event that was initially created to offer ongoing formation for catechists and youth ministers.
Building Bridges was designed to reach a wider range of people — not just those in faith formation, but those in other ministries and all Catholics.
This year, the diocesan Offices of Faith Formation, Catholic Schools, Formation for Ministry, Liturgy, Youth Ministry, Respect Life, Social Justice, Catholic Charities and Family Life sponsored the event.
Forty workshops were offered which reflected the theme of this year’s conference, “Building Bridges … of Faith, Hope and Charity.” The first day of the conference, which served as an in-service for Catholic school teachers, offered seven workshops that focused on such topics as catechesis and collaborative ministry.
Barbara A. Smith, Diocesan Director of Catechetics and Initiation in the Diocese of Portland, presented an inspirational keynote address on Friday.
Smith holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from St. Joseph’s College in Emmitsburg, Md. and a master’s in theology from St. John’s University in New York City.
A former Daughter of Charity, Smith served as a parish director of religious education and initiation, a novice director and postulate directress, an elementary school principal and an elementary, junior high and high school teacher in Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York. She also taught on the college level at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish, Maine.
Smith resides in Scarborough, Maine where she is an active member of St. Maximillian Kolbe Parish. Smith has served on the board of Catholic Charities of Maine for the past four years and last year, she was appointed to the National Lay Advisory Council.
Smith had been summoned to replace the scheduled keynote speaker Bishop Gerald Kicanas of the Diocese of Tucson.
“I asked myself, ‘What would Bishop Kicanis have said if he had been here,’ because there are so many reasons to celebrate this year — the 50th anniversary of Vatican II, the canonization of Bl. Marianne Cope and the beginning of the Year of Faith?” Smith wondered.
Smith posed another question: “Why did the pope call for this Year of Faith?” She responded, “The day that he was installed as pope, he said that there was a need to rediscover one’s faith, so as to shed light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm in one’s encounter with Christ.”
Smith told those in attendance that catechists, Catholic school personnel, youth ministers, as well as lay leaders in the parishes are being called the agents of the New Evangelization.
She asked them how they planned to offer hope to those that they encounter. She advised them to consider their beliefs and actions on a personal level. “How do you treat other people?” Cornue asked. “Teachers make a world of difference in students’ lives. The New Evangelization should invite us to act as disciples of Christ.”
Smith said that she asked herself if there is a common thread that runs through all of the current celebrations. She answered, “The Eucharist is truly what sets our faith celebrations apart and calls us at the end of each celebration to go out into the world to do what our baptism ceremony said, to do the world some good, especially by serving others.”
Smith quoted some of the Eucharistic theology of St. Augustine. “Some of his most beautiful work is about the Eucharist,” stated Cornue. “He believed that God speaks to us through creation, Scripture and the events of our lives — that is a brief description of St. Augustine spirituality.”
Smith stressed the importance of the art of listening. “True listening is an act of humility,” she said. “One of the things we can do to improve our way of being an evangelizing person in our ministry is to become good listeners.”
She said, “St. Augustine believed that Christ would meet us in our lives, and that is why we keep repeating the experience of celebrating the Eucharist, so that we will learn to recognize Him outside of Mass in those we are called to serve.”
Smith concluded her presentation with a video of the song, “Give Us Faith, Lord” by Dan Schutte, which she felt was appropriate to celebrate the Year of Faith.
On the second day of the conference, the Bishop Thomas J. Costello Award was presented to Father John Schopfer, Pastoral Director of the Brady Faith Center. The award is given to an individual who has “witnessed to a vision of church and ministry as exemplified by Bishop Costello.” For the past 32 years, Father Schopfer has ministered to countless poor and disadvantaged residents on Syracuse’s Southside. “His physical presence to them is comforting and a real life demonstraiton of God’s love, compassion and concern for the poor and the often forgotten,” said Cornue.
The Saturday morning keynote presentation was given by Sister Maureen Sullivan, OP, PhD. Sister Maureen is a well-known scholar in the area of Vatican II and a professor of theology at Anselm College in New Hampshire, where she has taught for 23 years. A previous presenter at workshops and events in the diocese, Sister Maureen told the crowd that coming to Syracuse is “like coming home.”
Given the theme of “building bridges,” Sister Maureen offered her “bridges” between Vatican II on the occasion of its 50th anniversary, the New Evangelization and the Year of Faith. The three share similar goals, Sister Maureen said, focusing on renewing the life of the church and the faith of its people.
“The truths do not change,” she said. “We do. The Gospel doesn’t change; we have to find creative, dynamic ways to tell the story to a new generation.” All Catholics, especially those in ministry, must be able to give people enough information about the Catholic faith so that they fall in love, she said, and so individuals can move from a status of “mere membership” in the church to a “dynamic commitment as disciples.”
Some 33 workshops were offered throughout the day, on topics ranging from the Changing Face of the U.S. Catholic Parish, presented by Neil Parent of the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership project, to using the new YOUCAT youth catechisim in ministry, to various techniques for catechesis.
At the conclusion of the conference, those who had attended completed evaluations. “The presentations and individual workshops were highly rated,” said Cornue. “This has been the best year ever.”