Gathering calls catechists to be ‘Stewards of God’s Gifts’

RANDOLPH — Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley called on catechists to be “teachers of prayer” in his open remarks at the Catechetical Congress held at The Lantana in Randolph on Nov. 20.

The congress, entitled “Stewards of God’s Gifts,” was a day of reflection and support for all catechists, youth leaders, directors of religious education and catechetical leaders of the Archdiocese of Boston. Over 650 people gathered for the bilingual event, representing the ethnic diversity of the archdiocese.

"We need to help our young people to make a connection with God," he said. "If Christians are not people of prayer, they will not succeed in their discipleship."

Addressing the catechists in both Spanish and English, Archbishop O’Malley thanked the catechists for their years of service during the opening prayer service. Petitions, prayers and songs were offered in both languages.

"What a blessing you all are to the Church," he said.

As part of the morning liturgy, the Sister Marion O’Connor Award was presented to two outstanding religious educators. The award, named in honor of a former member of the Office for Religious Education, was presented to Francine Bell from St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Bridgewater and Rafaela Pichardo from St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Lawrence.

For Bell, being awarded the Sister Marion O’Connor Award held a special significance because “she was my mentor and my friend.”

"It is a great honor for me to receive this award bearing the name of one of the finest religious educators I have been privileged to know," commented Bell after the ceremony.

"I am delighted to receive this award. To me it represents all of us bound together in the love of Christ."

Following the opening prayer liturgy, participants divided into English- and Spanish-language sessions. English-speaking workshops included “Managing Transition: Making the Most of Change,” “Adolescents, Confirmation and Youth Ministry,” and “Whatever Happened to Joy? Using Humor and Faith Sharing in Catechesis.” Workshops for the Hispanic community were held on topics such as “The Holy Spirit and the Evangelizer,” “Social Justice: We are Gifts of God for the Building of the Kingdom,” and “Strategies for a Multicultural Catechism.”

In addition, several vendors of religious-education materials were present throughout the day, offering the publications, videos and other resources for the participants to peruse.

The keynote speaker for both the English- and Spanish-speaking participants was Adele J. Gonzalez, assistant director of the Office of Lay Ministry in the Archdiocese of Miami and adjunct professor of theology at Barry University in Miami Shores, who urged Catholics to have hope, despite the Church’s current struggles. Her address was entitled “Now you are the light in the Lord. Well, then, live as children of light.”

Delivering her address first in English and later in Spanish, Gonzalez stressed the need to focus on the light rather the darkness.

"Darkness does not exist. Darkness is the absence of light," she said. "It seems to me we have been measuring darkness far too long."

Throughout Christian history the “light” or word of God has been “kept” in different ways, Gonzalez said. For many years official “keepers of the light” — priests, bishops and other Church leaders — protected it. As a result, it was shielded from the average “child of the light” — the laity.

Vatican II “opened doors,” “opened windows” and “let fresh air in” by providing the “children” with access to the light, she said.

Since then “the light has had bright moments and dim moments, but at least it was out for everyone to see,” she added.

But the change was too fast and too dramatic, Gonzalez continued, which meant that many people did not understand the change. The official “keepers” then lost an opportunity to advance understanding because of the abuse scandal. For their part, the children of the light were wrong for blaming all of the Church’s problems on its leaders.

"When I meet God, whichever way that happens, I'm sure He's not going to ask me how the keepers have done. He's going to ask me what I have done with the light," she said. "We are the Church. We are the keepers of light," she added. "We cannot continue cursing the keepers."

Gonzalez compared the Catholic Church to a cracked clay jar. The 2000-year-old Church brings with it “a lot of grace and a lot of sin, a lot of baggage” or “cracks,” she said.

These cracks were caused by the sins of both the “keepers” and “the children.” Even though the vessel has many faults, God can still overcome darkness by shinning His light through the cracks.

First, Catholics have to admit the mistakes and problems of the Church, Gonzalez said.

"I'm not okay. You're not okay. And that's okay," she said. "We do not have a crisis of spirituality or faith. We have a crisis of trust."

"I was very touched by the image of the broken clay jar," said Sister Celeste Burgos, MHSH, director of religious education for the Hispanic Community of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. "We, being the light, must generate that light, despite the negativity in the media. Regardless of the problems this archdiocese has faced, the Church must go on. It was a very beautiful image."

Elena Lewis, a religious educator from St. Mary Parish in Wrentham thought Gonzalez “said a lot of things that needed to be said, especially about the lay people just shrugging when we really need to come forward instead.”

During the afternoon session, nearly 300 Spanish-speaking congress participants gathered to listen to Father Alvaro Silva, an instructor at the Instituto de Formacion de Laicos — the archdiocese’s Spanish-language formation program for laity.

Father Silva began his talk, entitled “Collaborators with God,” stressing that “this is precisely the title of great nobility and dignity that you [as educators] have.”

"We live in a part of the country with hundreds of learning institutions. There are thousands of teachers, professors," Father Silva said. "You... are to me the most important people."

Being collaborators with God, “you deserve an applause from all the saints and angels and from the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

Using the image of Genesis, Father Silva urged the catechists to ponder the magnitude of the work they are called to.

"God the creator wants coworkers. This is a supreme mystery," he said. "When God creates, he doesn't say 'I'm bored with the son and the holy spirit so I'm going to go and make man.' God did not create us to be toys... He created us in His image and likeness."

"There is no one on the earth that respects us like God does," he stressed.

"God counts on us...and he knows that we make mistakes but so what? We do not need to be afraid to make mistakes," he said.

In order to be a true collaborator with God, we must understand that God calls us, said Father Silva. In addition, a true collaborator is one who prays.

"Prayer is indispensable. That catechist who does not pray is not collaborating with anything," he said.

"We must work well," he continued. "It's not easy, but it's well worth it."

Father Silva concluded his talk stressing that in order to collaborate with God, “we must collaborate well with others.”

Citing the Gospel, he reminded that audience that Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name — working with me in my field — there I am in their midst.”

"We are the people of God. We work in the God's field, in his ranch. Where there is collaboration, there is Jesus," Father Silva stated.

The Catechetical Congress is run by the Office of Religious Education for the Archdiocese of Boston. According to Sister Clare Bertero, OSF, cabinet secretary for education, this year’s Catechetical Congress was “structured differently than previous years.” Whereas other years the Congress has been held in school gymnasiums, the coordinators sought to find “a nice place that would affirm the value of our catechists,” she said.

Sister Clare went on to praise the “hard work” and “enthusiasm” exhibited by catechists throughout the archdiocese.

"By holding the Congress in a banquet facility, with a nicely catered meal, it's a small token of our appreciation for all they do," she said.

Pilar Latorre, assistant director for Hispanic Catechesis, also praised the catechists. “For me, the part of the Spanish population that is here in the Congress demonstrates a people prepared, committed and dedicated to educating others about God.”

"This is always a wonderful experience," remarked Father Terence Moran, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Lynn, who presented one of the workshops. "Everyone here is trying to serve God. It is truly inspirational."

Laura Mone, a religious-education teacher at Immaculate Conception in Stoughton, said she comes to the congress each year to gain new ideas she can share with her students and other teachers.

"I come yearly to be refreshed as a catechist," said Mone.