Monday Message, January 30, 2023

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Where does time go? We are nearly 1/12 through the year. You know what that means? Only 329 days until Christmas. Now that you are totally depressed, here is what’s happening this week.

You can learn more about new features in LEAD by joining Carmela (Zoom link) and her next open office hours on Wednesday at 2:00 pm.

Save the date. Ministry Day – Saturday, September 30th – All Saints School. Suggest workshop topics or presenters here.


Reimagining Faith Formation – The WHO

Now that we have looked at how faith formation can engage the head and the heart in a lifelong transformation (see previous Monday Messages), let us explore our final aspect – the people who can help make this a reality. It bears mentioning again, we are very grateful for the men and women who have given countless hours of their time to share the faith they love so dearly. The points below highlight transformations needed to the overall structure to accomplish Bishop Caggiano’s vision.

Everyone from parish leadership to parents play a vital role in sharing the faith. Let us enter in with open minds and hearts to reimagine ways we can do this more effectively:

From the Director of Religious Education to Parish Catechetical Leader

Many parishes have a DRE or CRE – a director or coordinator of religious education. For years, this has been the title given to the person who coordinates a parish school of religion. This man or woman recruits catechists, chooses textbooks, facilitates registration, assigns classrooms, and generally manages the program.

A Parish Catechetical Leader, on the other hand, is one who has updated knowledge of theology, Scripture, Liturgy, catechesis and catechetical methodology, educational psychology and theory, and administration, as well as some practical catechetical experience with adults, youth, and children.[1]

The language, shifting from DRE to PCL, changed in the United States in the 1990s. It is time for that change – and its implications – to happen in the Diocese of Bridgeport. If our children and their parents are going to have faith, the structures we put in place must reflect this urgency. Gone are the days when one person can fill this role; a team is required because children and parents have different needs and one person cannot answer them all.

From Siloes to a Team that Accompanies

Reimagining faith formation goes beyond the catechist and the parish catechetical leader; it involves the entire parish team. If we stay in our proverbial lanes too much, we tend to become myopic, only caring about that which is in front of us. The bookkeeper has just as much ability to be the face of Christ as the catechist. The one who proclaims the Word at Mass has just as much of a chance to set a good example as the person who answers the phones in the parish.

It takes a team to run a parish and that team should come together, like any family, and pray together, study together, ask difficult questions together, and create opportunities that lead others to encounter Christ.

From Catechists to Witnesses

More than 2,000 people volunteered to be catechists in this diocese before the pandemic. Now, it’s just above 900. Attrition has happened in every ministry and it is not altogether a negative outcome. In some parishes, it gave the opportunity for those whose hearts were no longer in it to walk away. In others, it opened the door to new leadership.

In every parish, as we make this great shift, we must invite those who still serve as catechists – and those we will invite – to reexamine their role. Are they prepared to hand on the faith, or just keep order in the room? Are they willing to serve as witnesses with the example of their own lives, or are they volunteering just until their child ages out?

Welcoming parents or retired teachers is wonderful. However, we must not take just anyone. Bishop Caggiano reminds us, “You cannot give what you do not have.” All catechists need to be committed to lifelong learning about the faith themselves. This new paradigm means new and ongoing formation for catechists too.

From Drop Off Parents to Engaged Parents

Ask any faith formation leader what troubles them most and parents who drop off their children and then head to the supermarket or the gym, returning just in time to pick the child up will surely be on the top of their list. This is not to put blame on the parents. If the parish does not offer a reason to stay, dropping off for faith formation makes the most sense. What can we do in our parishes to engage mom and dad? How do we engage them socially? How do we engage them emotionally? Another workshop or having them sit next to their child while someone reads from a book is not the answer.

St. John Paul II called the family “the domestic church.”[2] So central is the family that Pope Benedict XVI stated that the New Evangelization depends largely on the family;[3] yet Pope Francis has noted that within the family itself, there has been a breakdown on how the faith is practiced and passed down to the younger generation.[4] The parents are the first and most prominent catechists for their children, but for the parents to fulfill their central role as catechists for their children, their catechetical needs must also be met.

Now that we have covered a variety of topics to adjust our approach to faith formation, let us do a quick recap and look forward at the next steps to build this new Catholic culture, rooted in community, where everyone has encountered and fallen in love with Jesus Christ. In the reimagined vision, we move away from individuals running classroom-based religious education, full of head knowledge about Christ, with Confirmation as ‘graduation’ to lifelong faith formation that engages the heart first, then the head, nourished by the entire parish community and at home. We all grow in faith, together, in perpetuity.

Taking all of this in can be very overwhelming. You are likely thinking, “this sounds great, but how do we get there?” As stated throughout the Bible, “do not be afraid.” Change takes time and no one expects this to happen overnight. We must simply move forward in faith and take one step at a time, supporting each other. The first tactical steps forward on this journey are the upcoming Parish Leadership Meetings. Please be sure to attend one of the following to enter in our transformation to lifelong faith formation together:

Parish Leadership Meeting Schedule:

For all Parish Catechists: (Each catechist is asked to attend only one of these meetings)

  • Saturday, February 4, 2023: 9 am to 11 am Site: St. Catherine of Siena, 200 Shelton Road, Trumbull
  • Saturday, March 18, 2023: 9 am to 11 am Site: Our Lady of Fatima School, 225 Danbury Road, Wilton
  • Saturday, April 22, 2023: 9 am to 11 am Site: All Saints Elementary School, 139 West Rocks Road, Norwalk

For all Lectors and EM of Holy Communion: (Every minister is asked to attend one of these meetings)

  • Saturday, February 25, 2023: 9 am to 11 am Site: Mater Salvatoris College Preparatory School, 926 Newfield Avenue, Stamford
  • Saturday, March 4, 2023: 9 am to 11 am Site: Mater Salvatoris College Preparatory School, 926 Newfield Avenue, Stamford

For all Parish Ambassadors and Synod Delegates:

  • Saturday, March 25, 2023: 9 am to 11 am Site: Our Lady of Fatima School, 225 Danbury Road, Wilton

If you serve in multiple capacities, you only need to attend one session. Sign up in LEAD.

One final word – Pope Francis is directing us to move away from an uninspiring and perfunctory way of living and teaching the faith; the renewed focus goes for the heart, in how we live the faith and in how we bring others back to the faith.[5] Pope Francis also admits that there are inherent risks in forging ahead with new methods of catechesis and evangelization.[6]  Mistakes will happen and we may fall well short of perfection, but we need to continue to press on and grow, together with and for Christ.[7]

[1] National Directory for Catechesis, sec. 54.5.

[2] Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan, p. 38-42.

[3] Disciples Called to Witness: The New Evangelization, p. 13.

[4] Evangelii Gaudium, sec. 121.

[5] Living as Missionary Disciples, p. 5

[6] Mahon, “Serving the New Evangelization,” p. 24.

[7] Evangelii Gaudium, sec. 121.