BRISTOL – “Sometimes I say that our national motto is not really ‘In God We Trust,’ but that our national motto today is ‘Nobody’s gonna tell me what to do.’”
Reflecting on the frequent call of Saint Paul to the obedience of faith, Archbishop Leonard P. Blair shared the thought in a homily he preached at the opening Mass of the Faith and Evangelization Congress on Nov. 7 at St. Paul Catholic High School.
The archbishop was the principal celebrant of the Mass for the day-long event.
“We live in a world in which people pride themselves on their autonomy,” the archbishop said, “And you and I know that in the world today, ‘obedience’ is not a popular word.” His words were met with murmurs of agreement throughout the auditorium.
Sponsored by the Office of Religious Education and Evangelization (OREE) of the Archdiocese of Hartford, the event was attended by 400 catechists and evangelists from parishes throughout the archdiocese.
The archbishop commended those in attendance for their commitment to the “great and essential work of evangelization and catechesis, to these important missions of the church today.”
Citing Pope Francis, he said, “It’s about us being willing to go out to the peripheries in order to evangelize, in order to catechize, to be a missionary disciple, to be a field hospital for the wounded in today’s world. It’s about being open to the periphery.”
And about those in such places the archbishop said, “We hear about cafeteria Catholics, and we know about the people we try to catechize and how often there can be resistance to what is taught.”
In planning the event, the OREE recognized the increasing presence and needs of the Spanish-speaking population in the archdiocese. This year’s event, under the theme “One Flock, One Shepherd – Un Solo Rebaño, Un Solo Pastor” expanded Spanish learning options with both English- and Spanish-language keynote addresses and a wider range of topics in the more than 50 workshops, many in Spanish.
Representatives from archdiocesan ministries and other organizations distributed information on numerous educational and spiritual outreach programs. Hallway exhibits displayed recently published catechetical materials and products that support the mission of the OREE and archdiocesan catechesis and evangelization.
In her keynote presentation, Ela Milewska, director of the Office of Youth Ministry of the Archdiocese of New York, challenged attendees to consider and act upon the reality of recent national polling data that confirm an alarmingly diminishing Catholic population.
She had participants engage with seatmates to discuss the statistics in terms of the gradual drift away from the church that is being measured among certain demographics. “The reasons why they leave contain the reasons they return,” she proffered.
Ms. Milewska closed with a challenge: “Go forth and look at one thing differently, do one small thing differently at a time, to transform your ministry, to transform faith.”
Several catechists from the Torrington Cluster of Parishes who attended Ms. Milewska’s presentation agreed upon the importance of accompaniment in building or rebuilding a faith community. Donna Puzacke and Mary Ann Seiser said that it takes a lot of one-on-one work to promote and remind people about programs.
Catechist Marlene Stoeckert-Carrier, who was with them, said, “And it’s really all about the encounter with Christ. It’s all about Jesus. It’s about getting them out for that.”
This year’s program included the new workshop “An Introduction to Pastoral Planning,” which presented the mission, vision, guiding principles and strategic priorities of the pastoral planning process that is taking place within the archdiocese. Father James A. Shanley, rector of the Cathedral of St. Joseph Parish and vicar of the Office of Pastoral Planning, said some attendees, including those from the Torrington Cluster, were from parishes that have undergone pastoral planning changes in recent years.
Another new workshop this year focused on the imminent start of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Father Alex Avendaño, parochial vicar at St. Joseph Parish in Bristol and a chaplain at Saint Paul’s High School, said, “We are all catechists and have to be formed, trained and reminded of the importance of our mission and of the need for mercy.”
Mark Cerrato, director of religious education (DRE) at St. Francis in South Windsor, said he attended the congress for several reasons.
“Even the basics, you need to be reminded of them. And the thing that I got out of it the most today was an overview of the different parts of and the importance of the Year of Mercy,” he said.
Mr. Cerrato said messages from the congress apply to every parish.
“It doesn’t matter where your parish is. As the keynote speaker illustrated, the church is shifting, church populations are shifting and we have to shift what we do in order to meet these needs.”
Maria Guadalupe Avila, coordinator of the Hispanic religious education program at Most Holy Trinity in Wallingford, traveled to the congress with 18 others from the parish.
She said the workshop titled “Catequistas que son!Vivos en Cristo!” was very helpful for their program of 230 students.
“Our number one mission is to get the parents involved. I love to see other DREs and hear what new projects they are working on and I love to see the catechists be moved by the Holy Spirit to do more in their families, classrooms and community.”
She said she appreciated the many Spanish-language offerings.
“Regardless of the language we teach in, we are reminded that we are ‘One flock, un rebaño.’ We are called to serve ‘one shepherd, un solo pastor.’”
First-year catechist Thiri Soe, of St. Joseph Cathedral Parish, in Hartford, attended “Here I Am Lord, Please Help!” She said she learned that crafts can draw young students into participation.
Dominican Sister Aurea Torres, is DRE and youth coordinator at St. Anne-Immaculate Conception in Hartford. She attends the congress every year with catechists and some of the students.
“It’s so important to rebuild the family in our society, especially in our location where there are drugs and we have violence,” she said.
Father Christopher M. Tiano, director of the OREE, complimented the OREE staff who coordinated the event, and thanked the catechists and evangelists on hand for caring deeply about the faith.