This is the third of four installments in a series on the work of the Office of Catechesis and the different models of catechetical instruction in the Diocese. 

By Dc. Tom Picciano | Contributing Writer

Father Ken Kirkman, pastor, gives the kids a grand tour of the church.

“We teach our children that Jesus Christ is in everyone. How we treat our neighbors is how we would be treating Christ,” said Sally Herceg, Coordinator of Faith Formation at St. Anthony of Padua and St. Joseph’s in Endicott.

“By performing service to others, we are serving Christ,” Herceg added.

In 2019, the two churches combined their Faith Formation program. It allows for many opportunities to reach out to people in the parish and community. Students are encouraged to take part in the programs at either church.

This school year, the younger grades made cards for veterans in November. Students in kindergarten through eighth grade were asked to bring in “care-bag” items for young children at the “Showers of Hope.” That’s a project that provides free showers, clothing and more for those in need.

Those in older grades form teams between January and March and put together projects according to their own interests. The list this year includes a bake sale for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, a bottle & can drive for Mom’s House, and assistance for the Humane Society and St. Anthony’s Food Pantry.

The Confirmation class has helped with Lenten fish dinners and ethnic food sales. There have also been faith projects, such as Stations of the Cross. Students also learned about the rosary with a visit to St. Joseph’s to see the stained glass windows. 

“I encourage any student to be involved and students can participate, at either parish, understanding the student’s schedules and strengths. Again building community,” said Herceg.

Last year at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Binghamton, the Faith Formation program and the Confirmation/Youth group received the Green Apple Award from the Dioceses of Syracuse and Ogdensburg. It’s based on Pope Francis’ “Laudato Si.’” The award is given to encourage steps to care for God’s creation and share these activities.

“St. Francis of Assisi’s faith formation program is always looking for opportunities for our youth to put faith in action,” said catechist Nora Bush.

“All faith formation kids are given a voice in the faith formation and confirmation classes.” Bush added,“The Director of Faith Formation for the parish, Maria Kirk, encourages her catechists to appeal to the children’s natural curiosity and desire to take their religion out of the classroom. She encourages building a bridge between the curriculum and real life.”

A father and daughter from St. Joseph’s/St. Anthony’s, Endicott, enjoy a “Divine Ice Cream Sundae” at their Faith Formation Ice Cream Party.

Bush, who teaches the seventh to ninth grades, notes that each year students take part in planting around the church. A couple of weeks ago, they were among a group of more than 40 people from several churches who planted trees at the nearby Port Dickinson Park. And there’s more.

“Last spring the seventh to ninth graders took part in a trash to treasure project. After taking part in a class that linked religion, science and Laudato Si’, they collected plastic water bottles and plastic coffee cans,” Bush said. “They converted the trash to bird feeders and flowerpots.”

Five years ago, confirmation students joined adult parishioners to plant a community garden that still supplies vegetables for the Catherine’s Cupboard food pantry.

 There’s also an intergenerational Climate Committee.

“Some of the youth on the committee thought that more people would ride their bikes to church (reducing carbon emissions) if the church had a bike rack,” Bush said.

A bottle and can drive will help pay for that.

There are projects inside St. Francis as well. Bush said students have made new missal holders and built a “reflection bench.”

Bush said one student has taught himself how to play the organ to help at Mass while another sang the Exsultet at the Easter Vigil.

“He is amazing!” she said.

Juliana Rice of St. Francis of Assisi Church, Binghamton, with a Trash to Treasure flowerpot.

There are many examples of faith inspiring service at parishes throughout the diocese.

Cindy Heath is Director of Youth Ministry and Confirmation at St. Joseph’s Church in Camillus. Heath said there’s been an “on-going service relationship” with confirmation students and the Brady Faith Center.

“Each year our individual classes spend a day at Brady for Mass, food, crafts. We have also done major projects like landscaping the center, painting, prepping Stone Soup Garden at St Lucy’s, prepping the fields at the Brady Farm,” she said.

Heath called it a “win-win” situation with Brady.

“But as much as we have helped them over the years, our youth are the ones that have gained so much more by learning and being present in doing and living God’s plan for us,” Heath said.

“We are the hands and feet of Christ,” said Marie Stoker, Faith Formation Coordinator for St. Joseph’s and St. Patrick’s in Oneida. Both churches are part of the six parishes that make up the Spirit of Hope Catholic Community.

“Projects are something the young disciple feels drawn to do. They are asked to examine their own talents and gifts to help another, emphasizing to go beyond oneself to give of time and talents,” she said.

“Project choices are to be based on our faith in living out the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy or should fulfill the Theme of Social Teaching,” Stoker said.

The sixth to eighth grade students did a Hot Chocolate Kit project prior to Christmas. They made a hot chocolate mix, filled mason jars and added candy canes and marshmallows. The 50 kits went to the parish food pantries.

The older students worked with a classmate, family or sponsor on projects.

Stoker offered highlights: First-year confirmation student Aiden Acosta worked with his dad for two days to cut, drill, sand and assemble 21 beds. They were distributed along with bedding, mattress and pillows to children in need in the New Hartford area.

Second-year confirmation students Lillian Gormley, Ethan Schmitt and Jack Capotosto put out flyers and ran a social media campaign for a food drive. They then picked up and sorted the food for the parish pantries—three car loads full. And they followed up with thank yous.

“Our young disciples write up a reflection on the experience with answering a few questions on how they made a difference, what was learned about helping others and what was learned of themselves,” Stoker said.

Live the truth in love: serving with a servant’s heart

Catechesis in the Diocese of Syracuse


Director, Office of Catechesis

  In his Pastoral Letter, In the Name of Jesus, Bishop Lucia outlines five ways we, as a Catholic community in the Diocese of Syracuse, witness love in the name of Jesus. This article focuses on how catechetical programs promote Faith and Service. As disciples, we are called to follow the example of Jesus and spread his message of love by both words and action.  Sacred Scripture teaches us that Jesus came to serve and not to be served. We are called to follow the example of Jesus and spread his message of love. The Church teaches that we are to serve others with mercy, both practically and spiritually through the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.

Catechetical (faith formation) programs provide children with opportunities to learn the ways Jesus cared for others. Young children in our parishes participate in simple, everyday acts of kindness as ways to share God’s love, e.g., sending cards to the elderly, setting aside their own allowance for Lenten Rice Bowls. Older children become even more engaged in service and awareness of social justice and Catholic Social Teachings. Hunger, racism and poverty are discussed, always promoting the  sacredness and dignity of  life. Catechists, who themselves witness a servant’s heart, foster a servant’s heart in our young disciples, emphasizing that we serve in response to the Gospel. 

  During their adolescent years, teens are encouraged to discern their own gifts and determine how they will use their gifts to serve. Many parishes encourage young teens to engage in a service project of their own choosing, working individually, or with a friend or two, family members or their sponsor. Catechists accompany and guide students as they work on aspects of their service project.

Service is not about hours. It is about fostering a servant’s heart, to see with the eyes of Jesus, to be his hands and feet, to love with the love of Christ. In addressing youth in 2013, Pope Francis said, “Dear young people, put your talents at the service of the Gospel, with creativity and boundless charity.” 

  Service is not restricted to the students in our catechetical programs. We are ALL called to discern our gifts and talents so that we may serve others in the community or in a parish ministry. As we approach Pentecost, take time to discern the gifts and talents you have been given. Pray with a discerning heart to listen to where God is calling you to serve. It may be serving the poor or those in need, it may be serving in a parish ministry, it may be to teach the faith to others. 

  May we all listen with a servant’s heart and respond with love and mercy.

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