BRISTOL – The annual gathering formerly known as the Religious Education Congress lived up to its new name, Faith and Evangelization Congress, with help from a keynote speaker who focused on building the Church.
Ryan Hinton, assistant director of the archdiocesan Office of Religious Education and Evangelization, which sponsored the event on Nov. 9, noted that the gathering was open to all parish ministries, including directors of religious education, catechists and youth ministries.
“But we hope to include ‘John and Jane Catholic,’ to welcome them into deepening and sharing their faith. [The event] is about evangelization and spiritual growth,” he said.
To that end, keynote talks and workshops on faith formation were held in both English and Spanish and drew upon a variety of religious educators.
Education and evangelization were manifested in the keynote address by Celia Sirois, adjunct professor of sacred Scripture at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Mass.
Prof. Sirois focused her talk on the conference theme, “Building the Church.” As someone currently in the midst of having a house built, she said she could relate to the topic personally and provided several scriptural examples related to building.
She emphasized building a “firm foundation” by relating the Old Testament story of David’s desire to build a temple to God adjacent to his palace. He runs this by the prophet Nathan, who is directed by God in a dream not to build the temple. God instructs Nathan to tell David to build a dynasty. Prof. Sirois pointed out that the Hebrew word actually can mean either “house” or “dynasty.”
“God underwrites the House of David,” Prof. Sirois noted. “This theme makes its way through the sacred texts into the New Testament.”
She said that in Matthew 16:13, Jesus changes the disciple Simon’s name to Peter, indicating, “On this rock I will build my church.” Peter or “petras” means rock, and Jesus was referring to the Church as a community, not a building, she said.
The foundation stone is prominent in all of the Gospels, according to Prof. Sirois. “Luke calls attention to the theme of hospitality, which is the foundation of community; it must be welcoming. Same in Acts, the community is increasingly inclusive, open to all. A small Jewish group becomes a universal community.”
Prof. Sirois, who also teaches at Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass., considers the apostle Paul as the “master of metaphors in the New Testament.” His building imagery serves two functions: building as a construction project, a collaboration of many working together; and building up members of a community, or edification.
She described the faith community as “residents in God’s house of many dwelling places; we’re living stones to be built within the Church.”
She added, “As religious educators, we’re the realtors. Someone has to broker the deal.”
Prof. Sirois left the audience with five tasks: “Know what we’re selling in the handling of our own faith. Love what we’re doing; we convert by being something irresistible, not impossible. Know our clients’ needs in order to serve well. Be ready to help them with the hard things. Extend to all in our ministry hospitality and evangelization.”
Father Christopher Tiano, OREE director, said that 600 graduates of the Catholic Biblical School, which his office runs, are potential resources for parishes looking for someone to lead Bible study groups.
Earlier, he commented that the Faith and Evangelization Congress is “a great event, a great spirit.”
He said, “It’s a bond that unites, imparting and teaching the faith and Jesus to the parishes.”
Information about the OREE is available at www.orehartford.org.