My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
According to the USCCB National Directory for Catechesis, catechesis is an essential moment in the process of evangelization. It is important that each family set as a priority the passing on of the Faith. This, however, is often easier said than done, but we can never give up.
We are called by Pope Francis to be creative in our program planning and open to the working of the Holy Spirit, as we seek to better evangelize and catechize people of all ages and cultures. In light of Pope Francis’ The Joy of the Gospel, (Evangelii Gaudium), I created the new Secretariat for Evangelization and Catechesis in the Diocese of Brooklyn as a response to the many joys we have experienced: the annual increase of families in parish programs of religious education, the thousands of catechists participating in Living and Leading by Faith Catechist and Catechetical Leader Formation Program and the thousands of participants in ARISE, the need to supervise the many new initiatives in small faith sharing groups, and the 80 or more parishes that are participating in the Catholic Youth Ministry Initiative. We have much to celebrate, but also much to still do.
This is the third year of our diocesan Evangelization and Renewal Plan, The Joy of Encountering Christ – The Family’s Hope. One main goal is to enhance participation in parish life and religious education. Several ways to address this goal have been employed during the first two years and have met great success. The diocese has made a concentrated effort to assist parishes as they plan to register new families in parish programs. Retention of families in religious education programs continues to be a priority as well as attention to ensuring a kindergarten through grade eight or possibly grade 12 program in each parish instead of a basic sacramental preparation program, and working to motivate families to participate in Mass, parish life, and catechesis for all. As Saint Pope John Paul II, “The way the family goes, so goes the Church.”
In the Diocese, there has been an increase of over 10,000 children and teens in our parish religious education programs during the past five years, thanks to the dedication and hard work of all those involved in the catechetical efforts – parents, grandparents, and our parish/academy/school catechists. Many new programs and initiatives were adopted or developed to meet the various needs of all. In regard to Special Needs Religious Education, new programs and initiatives are being developed to better serve families who face many challenges.
There are also various resources available, in multiple languages, for parents to use at home with their children. Ted Musco, Secretary for Evangelization and Catechesis, just attended an international conference sponsored by the Vatican Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization that dealt primarily with the need to ensure that our parishes and schools provide quality Catholic religious education for all people. At our Annual Catechetical Summit, it was noted that parishes can choose from a variety of programs for religious education and youth ministry, so that as many people as possible may learn about the Faith. One option is a summer Intensive Religious Education Program. Used in other dioceses with good results, the program is two weeks, six hours a day, plus at least one family meeting with the parish catechetical team monthly during the school year. Other programs meet once a month in a four-hour program including Mass for the family, a meal, and family centered catechesis. Weekly online learning for students can be led by parents at their convenience; this option also includes a face-to-face monthly meeting with the family, catechist, catechetical leader, parish priest, and youth minister. This, too, has had excellent results when done with guidance and care.
In collaboration with My Catholic Faith Delivered, materials are now available which are used throughout the USA and internationally – they generally consist of a weekly 60 minute or longer session that allows parents and students to learn about the Faith together. Already, we have heard wonderful stories from parents and students. We need to attract more families to active parish participation and to our religious education programs. We need to employ new ways and means of passing on our Faith. We can all help by making an invitation to those in our families, schools, neighborhoods, businesses, and others. We must model good Christian behavior, by serving as missionary disciples. We also need to be open to sharing the joy that comes from encountering Christ.
Parents, and extended family members, are the primary educators of their children in the Faith. In his weekly audience on Aug. 26, 2015, Pope Francis said, “There are children who have not learned how to make the sign of the cross!” He continued, “You, mother, father! Teach your children how to pray, how to make the sign of the cross!” The parish and Catholic school is called to cooperate with the family; the Church is a privileged teacher, however, it is not the primary teacher. Parents and family members are urged to participate in our many events; go to www.meetmein.church for event details and registration information.
Religious Education programs are no longer just for children; many of today’s programs are meant for adults. This past June, we established the new Secretariat structure which gives greater prominence to major areas of parish life: adult faith formation, the mission and support of the family, marriage, respect life education, youth and young adult formation, children’s catechesis, and areas yet to be developed.
Within the Department of Adult Faith Formation, The Holy Spirit Institute for Service and Leadership is organized to address the particular parish desire to educate volunteers and professionals to serve the various parish needs. Upon completion of the Institute, a formal certificate or degree will be granted from an approved university, such as Fordham, St. John’s, St. Joseph’s Seminary, or the Catholic Distance University. Graduates become leaders in parish catechetical or other programs. In this inaugural year, we have already witnessed the outpouring of the graces of the Holy Spirit in that 45 people enrolled in the Parish Lay Leader Volunteer Track of the Holy Spirit Institute and 12 people enrolled in the Professional Degree Track.
This is very important, as the Church needs to consider its primary task of the preparation and formation of catechists. The Living and Leading by Faith Catechist and Catechetical Leader Faith Formation Program, now in its eighth year, serves as a model program for other dioceses in the U.S. and serves us exceptionally well here. Courses are provided in traditional classroom sessions and online. One can register at www.bqonlineformation.org. A group of 40 or so qualified instructors, all with at least master’s degrees, teach the local courses. The courses are offered in multiple languages.
I am very happy to say that many opportunities exist for adult faith formation, and I urge everyone to take advantage of these opportunities. Please check your parish bulletin and websites of our parishes, academies, and schools. Also, please go to www.meetmein.church, the diocesan central location for all events and activities, for updated information. Visit our diocesan website, www.dioceseofbrooklyn.org, click on Get Involved, and explore the Secretariat for Evangelization and Catechesis.
We have put out into the deep with the development and enhancement of a variety of excellent programs. We have a perfect opportunity personally to put out into the deep. By participating, we will undoubtedly experience the Joy of the Gospel with family, friends, and neighbors who join us on this journey of Faith.