Journey of Faith explores the true mission of a catechetical life

By Jennika Baines
SUN Assoc. Editor

To a packed room at the 15th annual Journey of Faith in Syracuse’s OnCenter on Sept. 26, the keynote speaker Carole Eipers shared one of her best jokes:

A couple was struggling to maintain control over their troublesome young sons. So they sent the youngest to see their parish priest. The priest sat the boy down and said, “My son, where is God?” But the boy didn’t answer. The priest said again, “Tell me, where is God?” and again there was no reply. So the priest asked a third time, “Where … is … God?” at this, the little boy lept from his seat and ran home to hide in the closet. His older brother found him there and asked how it went.

“Oh we’re in for it now,” the little boy replied, “God is missing and they think we took Him!”

Eipers told those gathered that with the war, failures, cruelty and hopelessness that plague the world today, everyone might ask, “Where is God?”

Throughout her speech, Eipers, vice president and executive director of catechetics for publishing company William H. Sadlier, Inc., used jokes and stories to enliven her message for the audience. That message was to diligently read and meditate on the Gospels and to bring its message to others not only through catechetical work, but also through a life lived according to the Gospel’s principles.

“You and I are to be transformed by the word of God so that our voice becomes the voice of Christ in the world,” Eipers said. “Our role — anyone’s role — in the transformative process in the word of God begins with our own transformation.”

Journey of Faith is a day-long conference for personal faith development and assistance for those taking part in any area of ministry. The event draws hundreds of people from across the diocese, and this year’s conference attracted a standing-room-only crowd of nearly 400. The day concluded with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert J. Cunningham.

During her talk, Eipers asked the catechetical leaders to make the Gospels relevant and alive for their students. She also urged those gathered to read scholarly explanations of the Gospels whenever possible so that a fuller understanding of the contexts and meanings of the stories can be gained.

“The Gospels are to transform us, we are not to adapt the Gospel to fit our lifestyle,” she said.

Dressed for comedic effect as a Biblical shepherd with a rope around her waist and a long headdress, she gave some examples of stories or phrases that have lost their meaning over the centuries.

“It’s like if someone came to this country … who had never heard of baseball, and went into a local pub … and sees a bunch of guys coming in and saying ‘Boy, that’s great, two men died on third’ or ‘Wasn’t that terrific he caught a fly.’ We have to know the situation in which the Scriptures were written to understand what God is saying to us.”

Eipers also stressed the importance of catechetical work, promising that in many different ways, this work saves lives. “We’re all stand-ins until the real teacher comes again,” she said.

She said religious workers of all kinds should try to proclaim God’s word in a way that speaks to other people.

“How do we allow God’s word to permeate our lives that we might more effectively go proclaim it to others?” Eipers asked.

After Eiper’s speech, a parishioner of St. Mary’s and St. Peter’s Church in Rome was honored with the Bishop Thomas Costello Award for precisely this selfless devotion to spreading God’s message of love and compassion to those most in need.

Toni Belmont has worked for over 20 years in the four correctional facilities of the Mid-State prison system.

Belmont has implemented the “Residents Encounter Christ” weekend that takes place in the correctional facilities during the second week of Lent. During that time, she and about 10 others facilitate a weekend for the inmates that includes prayer, sacred reconciliation and Mass.

Bishop Costello said that he has seen first-hand “evidence of her ability to connect with them, to mother them, pray with them, to listen to their stories with respect. …Their response has been trust.”

“Jesus said, ‘When I was in prison you visited me.’ Toni does that and much more,” Bishop Costello said. “She’s heard the Gospel and she lives it.”

Accepting the award, Belmont told those gathered of the “men in green” she works with, who are hungry for a kind word, a hand extended in friendship, and a listening ear. “These men are hungry for Christ,” she said.

Speaking of the weekend encounter experience, she said that “For three days at least, the world is as it should be, one family in faith putting aside all differences.”

She said one of the people she has worked with described the experience as being like an oasis, “a place of peace where you would least expect it.”

Belmont invited those gathered to consider taking part in this ministry as well. “I guarantee you, you will have the ride of your life!”

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