Tuesday, December 12, 2017

December Greetings!

This year, our third-grade teacher, Jeniffer, wanted to involve the whole school in the Nativity.  She turned the social hall into the town of Bethlehem and each class took a part in the Gospel narrative.  As you can see the pre-school classes and the lower grades were angels and sheep.  The middle schoolers were the townspeople and their children.  The high schoolers were the major characters:  Mary, Joseph, Gabriel, shepherds, Kings, Herod, Caesar, etc.  Of course, we always have a baby in the parish to be Jesus!  It was a great success and families filled the hall to watch!

We have been using FORMED with our high school youth.  They particularly responded to the "What Am I Here?" segment.  We followed up with a PowerPoint Presentation on Choices and Commitments.  We also talked about their most important values that they carry through life.  

Here are the presentation and the values worksheet:
Choices and Commitments
What Are Your Values?

For keeping current on what is happening in our church today, I recommend subscribing to Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly (www.osv.com/OSVNewsweekly).   The December 10th article is entitled, "How to engage children in the faith," by Sarah Dickerson.  She gives age-appropriate tips to help keep our children involved in everyday prayer life.  

Thursday, October 26, 2017

October Notes

This is the season for Penance/Reconciliation preparation.   
Below are three presentations for sacrament/mystery preparation that can be used in your parishes. At the same time, we struggle with the events across the world with episodes of violence and how our children react with faith and hope.  I am attaching a PowerPoint presentation that can be used and adapted for older children and adults. 




We are experimenting with the YDisciple part of FORMED (www.formed.org) with our high school group.  We started with the "Follow Me" segments and they really responded to the third segment on friendship.  I will try to keep you posted.  If anyone else is using the program, please respond to me by email.  The biggest drawback that I can see is that you must have adequate Internet access in your facilities to use the program. 
For a wonderful outline of the FORMED program, please read this article from Saint Louis Gonzaga Church:

Here is October's "Going Deeper In Our Spirituality" article:

God is Realistic
By Dr. Anne Borik

As we continue to explore the book authored by Fr. Jacques Philippe entitled Interior Freedom, I would like to suggest a simple ABC approach that will help us understand more fully this concept of Interior Freedom.

A: Accepting Ourselves
What often blocks the action of God's grace in our lives is our failure to accept our own weaknesses. We must accept ourselves just as we are, if the Holy Spirit is to change or transform us. According to Fr. Philippe, accepting ourselves is one way to "set grace free" in our lives, thus paving the way for deep transformation leading to interior freedom.

B: Be available to God
One of the most important things in our lives is not so much what we can do as leaving room for what God can do. Jesus said, "Apart from me, you can do nothing." We must have the humility to recognize that we cannot change by our own efforts, it is a gift of God's grace. Interior freedom results when we accept this gift and let God act by being available to Him.

C: Consent to what we are
According to Fr. Philippe, "People who hate themselves cut themselves off from God." This attitude or behavior is offensive to our Father. It is important to accept ourselves or consent to what we are with all our deficiencies and limitations in order for God to change and transform us. Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. In other words, happy or free are those that consent to the fact that they are nothing without God.

In conclusion, Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest." There is no better form of "relaxation" or interior freedom than to rest in the tenderness of a Father who accepts us as we are, who wants to be available to us if we allow Him and who loves us unconditionally if we give Him our consent.

Sister Theresa Maria, MSCL, recommends this link to other spiritual resources and articles which you might like to explore:

Monday, September 4, 2017

Catechist Materials for 2017!  Please take a look at these documents!
2017 Poster
What is Evangelization?
Catechetical Certificate
2017 logo
Christian Discipleship
Catechist Prayer Card
Taking the First Step
By Their Fruits You Will Know Them
Catechesis and Church's Commitment to the Family
New Evangelization and Social Justice
Letter to the Pastors

2017 Table of Contents
Go & Make Disciples
Accompanying Youth and Young Adults on Their Journey

Sister Therese Touma sends us another  Going Deeper Article

While recently visiting my favorite beach I was grateful to feel the powdery soft sand on my feet once again and hear the familiar sound of the ocean waves breaking at the shore line. As my mind wandered, I began to reflect upon God’s awesome love and generosity in creating and sharing such natural beauty with each one of us. As the days passed I became much more aware of the presence of God around me.  Whether in the picture-perfect sunsets or the natural flowers, which covered many of the green spaces, it was easy to find God in all things through the eyes of gratitude.
One might say that although it is easy to find God in the beauty he has created, the greater challenge in life is finding God in difficult situations. Pain and suffering, loneliness and isolation are not situations where one expects to find God easily. Rev. Edward Slattery has written:

“Suffering is neither holy nor desirable in itself, yet when we glimpse the presence of God in the suffering, as that which sustains us in the midst of our sorrow, then we begin to find consolation in our deprivation, peace in our heartache, solitude in our loneliness, for we begin to identify ourselves with our Beloved suffering Christ….in short, suffering opens us up to God.”

In these difficult circumstances we can also experience God’s presence and movement in our lives just as real, perhaps even more real, than the beauty of the beach and sunset. The only conditions required are that we also listen with humility and openness, and willingly accept his grace into our hearts. We may be able to find that God walks right beside us in all things, if we are just open to, and aware of, his presence and love.

Vivian M. Akel

Monday, August 14, 2017

Preparation Time!

August Preparation

It’s almost time for school to start!  This thought always brings on a little anxiety with the excitement each year.  What needs to be done for our religious education program?  What will make it a successful year for teachers and families?
  1. Create a religious education schedule for each semester.  Include special programs, such as extra classes for Reconciliation and First Communion preparation, children’s liturgies, etc.  Publish the schedule in the bulletin and online.
  2. Take a look at last year’s enrollment numbers to see how many classes you can predict.
  3. Consult with the pastor and recruit teachers for those classes.  It is better if the pastor asks them to teach.  You have to clear them with him first anyway!
  4. Require the teachers and substitutes to attend a child abuse prevention class, like VIRTUS, before they begin teaching and ask them to continue their online training if there is any.  A background check may be required as well.
  5. Have several Sundays of registration before Catechetical Sunday.  You may even want to do an online registration form.  
  6. Update all contact information.  Don’t forget to get emergency contact names and numbers and allergy information, especially if you serve any food at all during your program.  Save the information to make registration easier in the future years.
  7. Once you have a good idea of this year’s numbers, order the Faith of the Mountain books for each child.  They come with Activity books.  The books and activity books are inexpensive.  If you have to combine classes, you can decide which level to order.  Please look at the Maronite Faith Formation tab and click on the Pacing guides.  They will tell you the themes in each level.
  8. Set up a Teachers and Substitutes meeting. Give them a brief training session. Show them this blog so they can use some the PowerPoints or activities in their classes. Find mentors for your new teachers so they can continue to receive advice, wisdom, and support.  
  9. Make sure each classroom has enough supplies: a Bible, textbooks and activity books, paper, markers, pencils.  

Some of the parishes in the eparchy are using the new website FORMED to enhance the information they get from the Faith of the Mountain program. This year I will pass on how we use it in our programs.  Do a walk-through of the textbook before you begin the year.  Also do a walk-though the activity book and pick out the best ones for your class.    Don’t forget to look at the suggestions your teacher’s book gives you.  Look for additional online resources from FORMED or other Catholic sites.

You are the face of the Church to your students and their parents.  You have the responsibility of showing them who Jesus is.  Think about what your ideal first day would be like.  What will a successful class look like and feel like?  Make sure you tell your students why you are teaching.  Share with them what you want them to experience.  Learn their names and create a loving culture in the classroom first. Use icebreakers (https://www.thereligionteacher.com/catholic-ice-breakers).  Show them how excited you are about your topics.  Share what and why you are teaching with your parents, too.  Write notes and emails to them, especially when students are missing from your classes.  All the activities you do in class should point toward your goal.  Have a wonderful beginning!

Check out the previous three posts for inspirational articles from the USCCB, from the Pope, and for links to catechetical materials to prepare for the start of the new religious formation season.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

From the USCCB

Accompanying Youth and Young Adults on Their Journey as Missionary Disciples

"In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples..."
Pope Francis, Evangelii  Gaudium # 120
There is a deep hunger in youth and young adults-a hunger for love, for truth, for meaning, for belonging, and for purpose that the culture cannot satisfy.  This hunger is satisfied in friendship with Jesus Christ—a friendship that leads to community in his Church and to fruitful sharing of love and care with those in need.  Another way to describe this friendship is the invitation to become a missionary disciple of and for Jesus Christ. Youth and young adults begin their discipleship journey in baptism and continue on that journey when they come to love Christ and follow His ways. They become missionary disciples when they seek to witness and serve those most in need, beginning with those closest to them.  Our engagement with youth and young adults should help young disciples encounter Christ. Accompany them, promote belonging in the parish community, and lead them to missionary witness.
The Changing World of Youth and Young Adults
The world is rapidly changing in response to global secular trends such as the increased use of technology, global mobility, instant communication, and rising atheistic scientism. Likewise, the religious landscape of the United States is being reconfigured by long-term, fundamental changes. For many years now, surveys have increasingly indicated that members of the youngest generations in the United States are far less likely than older Americans to be religiously affiliated. The Pew Forum Studies of 2007, 2012 and 2015 for example, noted marked differences between the generations; in how youth and young adults wish to be involved in religion and the means by which they seek answers to their spiritual questions. Amongst the Millennial generation, only 16% of Catholic young adults identify with Catholicism according to Pew Research from 2015, the lowest percentage for any generation studied.
Young people are full of life, are experiencing many transitions, and have incredible gifts to offer parish life.  Unfortunately, this is a group which has become increasingly absent from our parishes. For some youth, the declining religious participation of their family and the struggles of adolescence can distance them from parish life. For some young adults, their pursuit of higher education pulls them away from both the locality and their parish church. For others, it is a busy career and the demands of a growing family.  The young people of our parishes are the most mobile and diverse people in our congregations and communities. Ethnic identity and culture can be an important ally in our quest to empower youth and adults in discipleship.  This is especially important because youth and young adults are more culturally diverse than our overall Catholic population. 
Millennials and youth in Generation Z place a high value on tolerance and acceptance. If we start with rules and doctrinal concepts they may tune us out, ignore us, or they may argue with us.  Instead, we begin with relationship and the encounter with the person of Christ! We invite youth and young adults to deepen their friendship with Christ and participate deeply in Mass, attend adoration and frequent the Sacraments, to engage with God's Word and take time for retreats, prayer and service.
"I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least openness to letting him encounter them…"
Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, #3
Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, young people are often filled with questions. They long to encounter Christ, and they want to have someone to walk with them in their questioning. They want a first-hand experience of God, and they want that experience to be connected to their everyday life. As the late Cardinal George stated so eloquently: "[Pope Francis] wants bishops to be part of this culture of encounter — encountering Christ and therefore encountering those that Christ loves. Once you have the relationship, then the ideas make sense. Otherwise, it's a debating society. So you don't start with the idea. You start with a person and relationship."i
Young people encounter God in the sacramental life of the Church, in prayer, community, in the Word, nature, service, witness, friendship, acts of kindness, hospitality, silence, creativity, art, and music. How can we rethink our ministries with youth so that we are providing a series of encounters and opportunities to reflect on these experiences? How can we become architects of encounter for young people?
The Church will have to ini­tiate everyone—priests, religious and laity—into this 'art of accompaniment' which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3:5).  
Evangelii Gaudium, 169
Walking with youth and young adults means meeting them where they are. A large part of the young person's life is centered on questions such as, "Who am I?" "What is my life's purpose?" "Who am I to others?" and "How can I contribute to society?" Authenticity and accompaniment go hand-in-hand.  Youth and young adults are interested in making connections with their peers and forming lasting relationships. Deep pastoral listening is the starting point for accompanying young people in their journey of discipleship.  Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre remarks that "we are called to listen." If we are to help young people discern God's plan for their lives, we might ask: what are they looking for? They are looking to be heard. Earlier I mentioned the idea of accompaniment, which implies going to them and being with them. To this, we add listening to them. Listening is an important element of discernment.  Pope Francis said: "I think that in the pastoral ministry of the Church many beautiful things are being done, many beautiful things... But there is one thing that we must do more, even the priests, even the lay people, but above all the priests must do more: the apostolate of listening: to listen!'"ii
Maggie Melchoir, a young adult in the Diocese of Green Bay stated, "Relationships are in many ways the nexus of young adult life. Young adults are looking for connections in their life to link them to a local and broader community. Successful ministry includes natural ways for young people to meet and develop friendships."  Providing mentoring opportunities for youth and young adults represents an opportunity for parish ministry. Mentoring involves not only helping young people to understand the faith but to model what a lived faith looks like. In this regard, mentoring equips young people for mission. "Catechesis encourages an apprenticeship in Christian living that is based on Christ's teachings about community life. It should encourage a spirit of simplicity and humility, a special concern for the poor, particular care for the alienated, a sense of fraternal correction, common prayer, mutual forgiveness and a fraternal love that embraces all these attitudes."[iii] Guiding young people to identify moments in their life when the Holy Spirit is moving helps to equip young people for evangelization and for witness.
"Jesus leaves us the Eucharist as the Church's daily remembrance of, and deeper sharing in, the event of his Passover."  
Evangelii Gaudium, # 13
Helping youth and young adults to see the parish as a place of community begins with welcoming them into an environment where they feel at home, where they share and dialogue about their ideas and questions, where they can share gifts in ministries, service and leadership. In the parish community, young people see disciples living their faith in witness and service. This engagement forms youth and young adults to appreciate the essence of what it means to be a Catholic community: we are people of the table, people of the Eucharist. Sharing in the Eucharist is an encounter with Christ that immerses us in the sacrificial death and resurrection of the Lord, deepens our relationship with the community and sends us forth to bring Christ's healing presence to the world.
Sharing at the table of the parish echoes the experience of gathering at the table of the home. Youth's experience of the home as the domestic Church is foundational to their formation as disciples. Parishes have a rich opportunity to inspire and engage parents by building relationships and providing crucial support for families. The Church community can build a network of disciple-building families by equipping them to pass along the faith to their children, by providing quality formation opportunities and by helping them through times of transition, sadness and loss.
"To be evangelizers of souls, we need to develop a spiritual taste for being close to people's lives and to discover that this is itself a source of greater joy. Mission is at once a passion for Jesus and a passion for his people." 
Evangelii Gaudium # 268
Mission is inseparable from discipleship. At the heart of discipleship is a relationship with a person-the person of Jesus Christ, whose mission is to bring us to the Father through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. We are disciples not of a program or a process but of a person. We are not chosen for something but for someone.  As disciples on the pilgrim path, we are called to walk with others on their journey of faith and lead them to Christ. In order to create a culture of witness, helping young people to discern God's movement in their own lives is important and necessary. Many ask the question "how can we encourage all of those young people out there, to join us here in our parish?" Instead, mission asks "How can we get all of the people in here, out there sharing the Good news?" Let us be missionary in our outreach, in the kinds of questions that we ask, and in our work to intentionally form missionary disciples.
Connecting with Youth and Young Adults
"Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: 'We have always done it this way'… I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities." 
Evangelii Gaudium #33
The key that music is played in profoundly impacts the way we hear music.  The same tune can be joyous or sad depending upon the tempo and the key in which it is played.  The same is true for our ministries. We are challenged to minister to youth and young adults in a missionary key, which means that we must bring a brightness, openness and newness to the way that we engage young disciples. To connect with young people, we will need to employ fresh strategies that are as diverse as the group we are attempting to accompany and serve.
Many parishes struggle with the challenge of building youth and young adult "programs" instead of ministries. They struggle to get young people engaged and connected with the parish community and become frustrated with poor attendance and low engagement. The goal of youth and young adult ministry is not to form clubs or groups that gather.  Such groups might be a result of developing ministries around specific needs such as service groups, youth sports, communities preparing for a sacrament, young mother's group, men's bible study, Hispanic young adult ministry, and others, but these groups are not the end goal. Small faith-sharing communities can be the catalyst for relationship building within the parish but the overall goal of youth and young adult outreach is to integrate youth and young adults into the life, mission, and work of the parish and the Catholic Church. To accomplish this, parishes must dialogue about how to facilitate encounters with Christ, how intentionally invite, welcome, and include youth and young adults in parish life, and how to sustain these connections by accompanying youth and young adults for mission.
In many parishes, much of the effort put into youth and young adult ministry focuses on participation and promoting education in the faith, with the transmission of information rather than accompanying young people on their journey of discipleship. Dr. Christian Smith, in his work Young Catholic America, identified specific pathways for Catholic youth who remain committed and practicing. These youth were "well formed in Catholic faith and practice as children, whose faith became personally meaningful and practiced as teenagers, whose parents (reinforced by other supportive Catholic adults) were the primary agents cultivating that lifelong formation."iv His work emphasizes the importance of religious experience (encounters) as well as the development of the skills that are needed to participate in the communal practices of faith. Young people will continue to practice their faith as young adults when they are accompanied by other well-formed adults passionate for their faith and can contribute personally to the community. Youth who never become skilled at participating in liturgy or being part of the faith community will likely not continue as young adults.  Dr. Smith notes that "…Catholic youth who become more adept at being Catholic, like attending Mass or Sunday school more, will continue to engage in these behaviors during the transition to emerging adulthood."v
This research points the way to renewed ministry in forming young disciples intentionally that goes beyond getting them to show up while they experience energized performances that lack imagination and depth.
Young people are looking for the adventure of a lifetime. As Church, we can propose the challenge and adventure of missionary discipleship!
Persevere and Remain United In Me
In this age of uncertainty and increasing cynicism, the Catholic Church offers the person of Jesus Christ as balm for weary souls where the thirsty can drink at the fountain of pure love, mercy, and goodness. We must seize the opportunity to reach out to the marginalized, the searching, and the hungry and to renew our commitment to evangelizing and engaging young people at all stages of the life cycle -- in fresh and new ways. Studies from Gallup and the Pew Forum indicate that there is a widespread spiritual hunger in our society – a quest for meaning and for a deeply personal experience of God and of community. The Catholic Church has the answers to their questions and to their longings- the person of Jesus and the support of the Body of Christ who will walk with them on the journey. Youth and young adults will face a variety of challenges, discouragements and even persecution as they live and grow in faith. Disciples remain in Christ and remain in His body, the Church. Disciples keep doing what disciples do: pray, learn, heal, serve, and witness.  For youth and young adults, and those who work with them, discipleship is not always an easy road to walk but the Scriptures tell us that "...By your perseverance you will secure your lives." (Luke 21:19) The Greek word for "persevere" is closely related to the word used in the Gospel of John when Jesus says, "remain in me." It can be understood as "don't depart when others do..." or "hang in there, even under pressure." We must persevere; support one another as a community of missionary disciples striving to reach all youth and young adults for Christ!
Practical Principles to Guide Accompaniment of Youth and Young Adults
  1. Look broadly at the youth and young adult populations and develop targeted ministries for different segments. Some youth, and young adults are looking to go deeper and become more engaged in formation and service. Other young people need deeper prayer experiences. Some young people are anxious to come to weekly gatherings and join communities; others resist this kind of participation but are longing to have someone to talk to about their faith. We need a differentiated approach that begins with the variety of young people in mind.
  2. Engage families and see parents as part of our ministry. Parents need to be inspired and equipped to take the lead in the spiritual formation of their children. This looks different when children are youth and young adults.  We can help families make this transition.  What can we do to strengthen and support families as they share faith across the generations?  For families that are struggling with faith and active practice in the community, our work with youth can be a spark that evangelizes the whole community.  Families with young adults often face different challenges.  We can support parents as they continue to foster the faith life of emerging adults. 
  3. Look broadly at our community and engage lots of disciples who are willing to spend time with youth and young adults. Notice we didn't say "recruit more ministry leaders." Discipleship is about developing the practices of being a disciple of Jesus which is something we learn in community and in relationship with other disciples. Who are the youth and adults in your community from whom you want young people to "catch" faith?
  4. Focus on spiritual growth and attend to youth and young adults in a comprehensive way. Youth and young adults are more than just a family member or learner. Our ministry responses and faith formation need to address and engage each young person and assist them in taking the next step in their journey. It is especially important to invest time in helping youth and young adults who are evangelized to take the deeper steps toward accountability, witness, and engagement in mission.
  5. Help young people do what disciples do and get good at it! Our ministries could focus less on participation and learning information and more on the skills and practices of being a disciple. When youth and young adults are good at praying on their own, reading the Bible, participating in Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, engaging in service, and witnessing to their faith, they will continue to do these things and seek communities and relationships that support them in being disciples.
  6. Touch their hearts and make it personal. Young people yearn to belong and to relate to people who care about them and value them as individuals. To build this relationship, we need to learn names, know youth and young adults, and provide ministries that move, inspire, and engage. 
  7. Provide multiple contact points. Youth and young adults grow in commitment through a variety of relationships. They benefit from hearing different voices that provide an echo of faith.
  8. Listen and include the youth, young adults, families, and leaders from among the diverse cultures within the community. Dioceses and parishes are learning new ways to come to know and include the needs and gifts of people from various cultures in developing authentic and inclusive ministry responses. The Bishops of the United States are calling ministry leaders to develop intercultural competencies so that we have the capacity to listen, welcome, include, and be formed by people of many cultures.  These resources are an important part of our accompaniment of young people. See http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/cultural-diversity/intercultural-competencies/
  9. Go where the youth and young adults are, including online. The roots of youth ministry are to go to the corners where youth hang out. Young adult ministry has a similar history. To do this today, we should be proficient in social media, and use technology as a means to draw them towards gathered participation with the faith community.
  10. Engage youth and young adults in ministries that help them belong, believe, and share their gifts. These elements address fundamental human needs that profoundly shape the youth and young adult years. Ministry that addresses these elements develops the commitment and identity that are foundational to formation as growing young disciples.
  11. Don't treat young adults like youth. A starting place for any young adult ministry is to treat them as adults, not post-high school youth. For example, don't list them under parents' names in the church directory. Give them their own listing. Another important point to remember is that most ministry with young adults will be conducted by young adults themselves, in a peer-to-peer manner.[vi]
  12. Empower them to make a difference. Young people welcome and value opportunities that empower them to make a difference in the world. To put individuals in situations where their involvement truly affects another person is at the heart of faith.  Ensure that ample opportunities are given to perform service and ministry that directly impacts the life of another.
  13. Be action oriented. Young people value instant communication, respond quickly to action, and are adept at multitasking. They would rather participate in service than talk about it. If you decide to invite a young person to a parish committee, make sure that your committee is action oriented. Youth and young adults do not respond well to sitting around talking about ministry; they prefer to make a difference now. Long, drawn out meetings without a clear focus are certain to make your committee a youth-and-young-adult-free zone!
A Prayer for Those Who Accompany Young Persons
Heavenly Father,
You call people from all walks of life to You.
You have called me to walk with young people and accompany them on their journey of faith.
Nourish me by your Body and Blood.
Sustain me through your Body the Church
Encourage me through Your Word.
Help me to be your hands, feet and voice to all young people I meet.
I ask this in the name of your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

i Cardinal George, The Chicago Tribune, Interview on December 19, 2013.
ii Papal Nuncio to the United States of America, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, November 14, 2016 – Pope Francis, June 11, 2016.
iii United Stated Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Directory for Catechesis, 2005, #20
iv Dr. Christian Smith, Young Catholic America – Emerging Adults In, Out of, and Gone from the Church, (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2014), page 186.
v Ibid, p. 197.
vi United Stated Conference of Catholic Bishops, Sons and Daughters of the Light-A Pastoral Plan for Ministry with Young Adults, 1996, pages 37-38.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Pope Calls Catechists To Be Witnesses

Bishop Gregory Mansour shares the following article with all catechists of the Maronite eparchies!
Pope Calls Catechists To Be Joyful, Creative Witnesses Of Christ 

By Elise Harris

Vatican City, Jul 12, 2017 / 02:18 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a message sent to catechists from all over the world, Pope Francis stressed the need to not only make Christ the center of their lives, but to be creative and adaptable in finding ways to reach the people in their area.
“The catechist is creative; they search for different means and forms of announcing Christ,” the Pope said in his July 12 message.
Believing in Jesus is “beautiful,” he said, because Jesus is the way, truth and life “who fills our existence with joy and gladness.”
“This quest to make Jesus known as supreme beauty leads us to find new signs and ways of transmitting the faith,” he said, noting that while the means might be different, what's important is to imitate “the style of Jesus, who adapted to the people he had before him in order to make them close to the love of God.”

To change and adapt oneself in order to make the message closer to the people is necessary, he said, but stressed that at the same time, the message being transmitted is “always the same, because God doesn't change, but renews all things in him.”
Pope Francis said that in the quest of making Jesus known to the world, “we must not be afraid because he precedes us in this task. He is already in the man of today, and there awaits us.”
The Pope sent his message to participants in the First International Symposium on Catechesis, which is taking place July 11-14 in Buenos Aires.
The event is being offered through the Faculty of Theology of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina (UCA), and is organized by the Episcopal Commission for Catechesis and Biblical Pastoral Care.
Pope Francis opened his message, sent in Spanish, by referencing a quote from his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi.
He noted that at a certain point, when one of St. Francis' followers asked to be taught how to preach, the saint responded by saying: “Brother, when we visit the sick, help children and give to the poor, we are already preaching.”
“In this beautiful lesson is enclosed the vocation and task of the catechist,” he said, explaining that catechesis is not simply a job or a task external to the person of the catechist.
Rather, “their whole life revolves around this mission,” he said, noting that to be a catechist is “a vocation of service in the Church, which is received as a gift on the part of the Lord and must in turn be transmitted.”

To do this, one must return to the first encounter with Christ that changed their life. This moment, Francis said, is “the fundamental announcement that must resonate again and again in the life of the Christian, and even more in the one who is called to announce and teach the faith.”
The Pope then pointed to the importance of respecting popular piety in the people, saying it's important to “care for the potential of piety and love that popular religiosity holds so that they transmit not only the contents off the faith, but a true school of faith is created which cultivates the gift of the faith that has been received.”
A catechist is also someone who journeys both from and with Christ, he said. “They are not a person who starts from their own ideas and preferences, but who allows themselves to look to him, to this gaze that makes their heart burn.”
The more that Jesus is the center of our lives, the more he teaches us to go out of ourselves, Francis said, adding that we are then “decentralized” and able to be close to others.
“This dynamism of love is like the movement of the heart,” and Jesus himself gives us an example of how to live this when he retreats to pray, and then “immediately goes to the encounter of those who are hungry and thirsty for God in order to heal and save them.”
“From here arises the importance of the 'mystagogical' catechesis, which is the constant encounter with the Word and with the sacraments, and not something merely occasional prior to the celebration of the sacraments of Christian initiation,” he said.

Pope Francis closes his speech by thanking catechists for their work, “above all because you walk with the People of God,” and encouraged them “to be joyful messengers, guardians of the good and the beauty that shines forth in the faithful life of the missionary disciple.”

Don't forget to email me (cathysgeorge@gmail.com) if you would like to be on the Inter-Eparchial Committee for Religious Education.   
We need directors, teachers, media specialists, and others from both eparchies who are willing to work on a unified effort to improve and disseminate our Maronite faith to our children and their families.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

July Conversations - Looking Forward!

Inter-Eparchial Committee:  Would you like to volunteer?   Bishop Mansour and Bishop Zaidan are looking for writers, DRE’s, and teachers to serve on a committee to assist with resource materials for religious education.   Please email Cathy George: cathysgeorge@gmail.com if you are interested.

At the NAM Convention, I attended Father Vincent Farhat and Father George Hajj’s session:  A Pastoral Approach to the Catechesis of the Maronite Church in the USA; Practical Resources and Challenges.   It was great to see representatives from both eparchies attending!  Father Hajj defined catechesis as the study of what we believe.  He said that we need to take these materials and the realities of the Catholic faith and put them into practice.  This is evangelization.  Father Hajj said that our students are catechized but not evangelized.  He and Father Farhat pointed out many realities in our parishes:
  • We have some teachers who have been teaching for many years and refuse to try anything new.
  • Sometimes teaching is done during liturgies, so children are not attending.
  • For some parishioners, the most important thing is learning prayers in Arabic.
  • For some parishes, they have to offer Arabic classes to bring them to religious education classes.
  • Many go to sports instead of church on Sunday.
  • Religions education programs from Latin churches are available online.
  • Those who are enrolled in Catholic schools, often do not go to Maronite religious education programs.
  • Volunteers do not have all the training they need.
  • Parents often pull their students out after First Communion or after sixth grade instead of allowing them to go through high school.

Father Hajj and Father Farhat stressed that the first education in our parishes should be at Baptism for the parents and godparents.  They should receive the education to enable them to take the role of spiritual guides for the children.  The Faith of the Mountain series is available and is based on grade and subject levels.  Help is need for parishes that need to combine grades.  What are the ramifications of having it online?  The Divine Liturgy is another source of education for our families, especially the Hoosoyo - a source of the catechism.   

Several suggestions were made:  
  • Implement the Maronite “Commitment to Christian Life Service” in the high school senior year.
  • Have a parent religious education session at the same time as the children’s.   Have sessions on “How to parent your teens.”
  • For high school students, use the YouCat (a Youth Catechism) and Kahoots (https://kahoot.com) to supplement the high school program.
  • Emphasize the Maronite iconography, the lives of the saints, children’s liturgy, prayers, liturgical year, art, parts of liturgy, scripture, and how we are connected, Syriac language.
  • We need an online resource center with Maronite Arabic videos translated into English.  
  • Access http://maronitefaithformation.blogspot.com/ for suggestions and lesson plans.
  • Creating our own vacation Bible school events:  one church adapted the Good Shepherd catechesis and made vestments as their “armor of God.”   

The session concluded with the proposal of an Inter-Eparchial Committee to work on materials for religious education.

Catechist Materials for 2017!  Please take a look at these documents!
2017 Poster
What is Evangelization?
Catechetical Certificate
2017 logo
Christian Discipleship
Catechist Prayer Card
Taking the First Step
By Their Fruits You Will Know Them
Catechesis and Church's Commitment to the Family
New Evangelization and Social Justice
Letter to the Pastors

2017 Table of Contents
Go & Make Disciples
Accompanying Youth and Young Adults on Their Journey