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Archdiocese's 'Project Nazareth' offers family-based faith formation

Cover art from the Archdiocese of Boston's new Project Nazareth initiative. Pilot photo/courtesy Secretariat for Evangelization and Discipleship

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BRAINTREE -- At a time when school and community activities have been disrupted and families are considering remote learning, the Secretariat for Evangelization and Discipleship is offering a free catechetical resource, "Project Nazareth: Faith Begins at Home," to families with children in preschool through fifth grade. This program is meant to enable parents to have a more active role in their children's faith formation, and also to give parents the opportunity to continue their own formation.

Unlike curriculum programs that dedicate one hour a week to covering a lesson, Project Nazareth invites families to take five to 10 minutes each day to "pray, listen, act, and ponder." Focusing on one topic over the course of each week, Project Nazareth offers age-appropriate learning objectives for younger children and older children, utilizing scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church to explain the Gospel, the weekly Mass readings, and other themes.

The secretariat hosted a webinar on Aug. 19 to share ideas for implementing Project Nazareth in a parish setting. The speakers explained the structure of the program, the importance of formation for adults as well as children, and the roles of parish ministries, parents, catechists and volunteers.

Father Paul Soper, the cardinal's cabinet secretary for evangelization and discipleship, said Project Nazareth is "not principally a response" to the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, the program had been in development for almost two years.

"What changed with COVID was that we greatly accelerated (it and) set aside other projects in order to get this into your hands for this fall, since it seemed as though it might be helpful," Father Soper said.

He said the initiative "had its own rationale" even apart from the pandemic.

"The idea of putting faith formation as much as possible in the hands of families is an idea that's important in the life of the Church, regardless of the epidemic," he said.

Father Soper said he thinks the present time is "the hour of the domestic Church."

Patrick Krisak, director of faith formation and missionary discipleship, moderated the webinar and offered remarks. He said Project Nazareth can be integrated with various ministries within a parish, but that doing so would require coordination.

"The important thing here is that we're inviting the family -- as a family, and as a collection of individual persons -- into relationship with Jesus Christ, that they're exploring together, and that we're supporting them in exploring, and that they're journeying together, that they're growing in faith just as Jesus and his family grew together in Nazareth, and just as Jesus walked with his disciples, we as parish and diocesan leaders are walking with and accompanying families," Krisak said.

The other speakers during the webinar were archdiocesan evangelization consultant Melissa Kalpakgian and family life consultant Michael Habeeb.

Habeeb emphasized the importance of meeting with parents -- whether in person or virtually -- and helping them understand what makes Project Nazareth different from other faith formation programs: it brings the Church into the home, and it is not limited to a certain time or place.

"The program is not a textbook. It's designed to develop organic conversations. It's a much more natural and free-flowing discovery of the faith," Habeeb said.

He said that conversations about the topics covered in Project Nazareth can take place wherever they fit into a family's schedule, such as at mealtimes or bedtime.

"Any quiet moment can be a moment of faith formation," Habeeb said.

Kalpakgian spoke about the necessity of having volunteers to help catechists and directors of religious education implement Project Nazareth. She pointed out that communicating with adults requires different skills than working with children.

"The role of these catechists is going to be different than we're used to because they're meant to be companions along the way," she said.

She said that communication and accompaniment through personal relationships are an important part of the process.

"If we're going to grow in our spiritual life and help others to grow, we need accompaniment. We need one another. That's how God designed it. Jesus did not raise himself, he had Mary and Joseph. So (it's) the same thing. We need community," Kalpakgian said during the question-and-answer session at the end of the webinar.

The secretariat plans to release the first set of Project Nazareth resources in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French for Haitian Creole speakers. More information about the program, including sample lessons and the dates of upcoming webinars, can be found at www.bostoncatholic.org/project-nazareth.

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