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Archives Prepared to share the faith in different ways

Sept. 16, 2020

By Darcy Fargo

OGDENSBURG – As catechetical leaders prepare to overcome unprecedented challenges, they continue to look for new and engaging ways to share their faith with others.

“September 20 is Catechetical Sunday,” said Sister Ellen Rose Coughlin, SSJ, Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Ogdensburg. “It is an annual event that highlights the importance of catechesis and faith formation in a variety of forms. It highlights the important role catechists play in handing on the faith.”

This year, Catechetical Sunday is focused on the theme, “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.”

“The theme describes beautifully what a catechist or catechetical leader does when engaged in faith formation,” said Sister Ellen Rose. “It is about their encounter with Christ. This relationship is the heart of what they received. They are passing on their faith. They are passing on their relationship with Jesus.”

This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, catechists and catechetical leaders may be passing on that relationship differently than they have in the past.

“Very often, Catechetical Sunday marks the start of parishes’ Faith Formation programs,” Sister Ellen Rose said. “Certainly, Faith Formation programs are going to look differently this year. At this point, we can say there will be some in-person programs. Many of the smaller parishes are able to accomplish this. For some of the larger parishes, if they offer in-person programs, they may look differently. For example, grade levels might be divided into two groups that meet on alternating weeks.”

Some parishes are also planning to use virtual and/or home-based models or hybrid models that combine home-based programming and in-person events.

“Some are planning to have the primary instruction be in the home, but they are hoping to plan events that will bring families together and that conform to the safety guidelines currently in place,” Sister Ellen Rose said.

“Some parishes are also holding the sacramental preparation classes in person and using home-based models for the other grade levels,” added Anita Soltero, assistant director of Faith Formation for the Eastern Region.

Parishes planning to conduct in-person programming will be required to follow all Department of Health guidelines and safety protocols.

For at-home instruction, parishes are using a variety of programs, said Catherine Russell, assistant director of Faith Formation for the Western Region.

“Many of our parishes are using the Pflaum Gospel Weeklies,” she said. “A lot of the parishes were already using that program in their classroom instruction. The program follows the Sunday liturgy readings. There’s an online component to it, and there’s accountability built into the program. We’ve been trying to stress to our catechetical leaders and pastors that at-home programs should have an accountability component.”

“All the major publishers – Pflaum, Our Sunday Visitors and others – have developed virtual resources, and many of those resources have been more carefully developed since March,” added Sister Ellen Rose. “If parishes were using one of those publishers prior to the COVID pandemic, they may very well turn to that particular publisher for online resources for families.”

Soltero and Russell said catechists in their areas are excited to integrate families more fully into catechesis.

“We’ve been trying to stress the importance of families in passing on the faith,” Soltero said. “Now is a great opportunity to get them more involved.”

“The family should be the primary educator,” added Russell. “We’re giving back some of that responsibility.”

Soltero noted that both families and catechists may have some concerns about their role in faith formation.

“At the moment when we are faced with a challenge, we think, ‘How am I going to do this? This is not going to work,’” she said. “Once we get over the initial shock, we put our minds to work, and we find new ways to move on. And so it is now with our spiritual lives. It wasn’t quite the same participating at Mass virtually, these past months, but it was the only way for a while, and it was certainly better than nothing. It will be the same with our Faith Formation programs – something is better than nothing. Our need for God does not end because we can’t worship in person, and our need to share our faith with the youth of our diocese is still there as well, as is their need to grow in their faith life. So, by whatever means necessary, be it smaller in-person groups, or less frequent in-person meetings with additional learning obtained virtually, that process will continue. It may look and feel a little different, but the end goal is the same – sharing our faith with all those that God puts before us, in whatever way we need to make that happen.”

Sister Ellen Rose also noted that parishes have been advised to be aware that families, many of whom may be participating in online education already, have a lot to manage already.

“If they are educating virtually, we have encouraged them to keep it simple,” she said. “We know experts are saying youth cannot endure endless virtual learning. The amount of time they are virtually learning has to be considered, and if there is more than one child in the family, that has to be considered, too. We need to give families simple tools to use. We need to keep it simple and manageable.”

In programs that are being run virtually, Sister Ellen Rose said catechetical leaders have been encouraged to involve catechists in supporting families.

“Nothing replaces the living witness of the catechist,” she said. “Our catechists pass on their experiences and encounters with Jesus and what that means in their lives. We don’t want to lose that. With parents more involved, this provides us an opportunity to support and form the parents. So often, parents are shy about their faith or feel inadequate sharing their faith. Our catechists and catechetical leaders can provide parents the support they need to do that.”

With all the challenges and opportunities, the diocesan Faith Formation leaders say they’ve been impressed and inspired by the hard work and creativity that is going into planning parish programs.

“The good news is that so many of our parish catechetical leaders and pastors are committed to finding the ways and the means to have Faith Formation programs,” said Sister Ellen Rose. “It’s really encouraging. In a recent presentation, Bishop (Terry R.) LaValley used the expression ‘we can’t put faith formation on pause.’ We are not putting it on pause. Instead, we are coming up with new elements and new ways of doing things that may last even after the COVID crisis ends.”

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