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‘Family of faith-teachers’ gather for Catechetical Conference

Nearly 1,000 engaged in ‘difficult job’ spend a day learning from experts

FORT LAUDERDALE | If families come in all shapes and sizes, then this one stands out for both its size and diversity: a multitude of lay people, dozens of religious, a handful of priests, an army of teenagers, and a bishop.

The 37th annual Catechetical Conference brought a massive family of faith-teachers to St. Thomas Aquinas High School Oct. 24, all of them devoted to passing on the joy of the Gospel.

For many of the nearly 1,000 catechists, the majority of them lay volunteers, the drive to the Fort Lauderdale high school represented quite a trek.

“People were here from Homestead, from St. Joachim, from St. Ann Mission,” said Peter Ductram, director of the Office of Catechesis, which organized the conference with input from the Missions Office.

“The distance wasn’t a limitation,” Ductram said. “That speaks of their past experience. It’s a community of catechists that are coming together. It’s beautiful.”

The 2015 catechetical awards recipients pose in the chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas High School. From left: Rose Young, Esperanza Ginoris Award winner;  Adrian Dominican Sister Joan Leo Kehn of St. Gregory Parish and Vilma Angulo, winners of the Lifetime Catechetical Leadership Award; back row: Kim Pryzbylski, senior director of Faith Formation for the archdiocese; Msgr. Vincent Kelly, supervising principal of St. Thomas Aquinas High; and Peter Ductram, director of the Office of Catechesis.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

The 2015 catechetical awards recipients pose in the chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas High School. From left: Rose Young, Esperanza Ginoris Award winner; Adrian Dominican Sister Joan Leo Kehn of St. Gregory Parish and Vilma Angulo, winners of the Lifetime Catechetical Leadership Award; back row: Kim Pryzbylski, senior director of Faith Formation for the archdiocese; Msgr. Vincent Kelly, supervising principal of St. Thomas Aquinas High; and Peter Ductram, director of the Office of Catechesis.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski says some closing remarks to catechists at the conclusion of the conference's opening Mass.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Archbishop Thomas Wenski says some closing remarks to catechists at the conclusion of the conference's opening Mass.

Waiting on them at the school — literally and figuratively — were a small army of students who guided the catechists to the various workshop sites, boxed their lunches and even live-streamed the opening Mass.

It was the first time that had happened, and the Aquinas teens were the camera operators and producers of the webcast that people saw on their tablets or computers.

Ductram said a catechetical coordinator from St. Raymond Church in Miami had sent her teachers to the conference but was herself unable to attend. “She almost shed tears” when she found out she could be present at the Mass via the Internet, he said.

So what brought so many people out early on a Saturday morning and kept them there until late in the afternoon? The same thing that brings them out to their churches a lot of other weekend mornings and weekday evenings.

“I love to share my faith with the children. I really do. They’re just so open to the word of the Lord,” said Rose Young, who has been serving as a catechist at St. Anthony Parish and School since 1993.

Young received this year’s Esperanza Ginoris Award for being “a model for catechesis” in the archdiocese. She spends Sunday mornings preparing groups of third, fourth and fifth graders — some with special needs — to make their first Communion.

“It’s a blessing for me,” she said.

The other honorees were Vilma Angulo, now a bilingual catechetical consultant for William H. Sadlier Inc., and Adrian Dominican Sister Joan Leo Kehn. Both received the Lifetime Catechetical Leadership Award in recognition of “outstanding ministry, faithful service, joyful commitment and visionary leadership” in catechesis.

Angulo began her work as a catechist in the Diocese of St. Petersburg and continued it for 18 years in the Archdiocese of Miami, at St. Gregory Parish in Plantation and All Saints in Sunrise.

Sister Joan teaches religion at St. Gregory School and serves as co-director of the religious education program. She is also marking 60 years as a religious during this Year of Consecrated Life.

“I am very grateful for the most energizing day,” she wrote in an email afterward. “The place was the best! The service was the best. The students were very present and most helpful, too. They gave up their whole Saturday…”

Praise came from one of the keynote speakers as well, Sister Judy Gomila, a Marianite Sister of Holy Cross who is both a missionary and a catechist. She currently serves in New Orleans but has taught religion in Alaska, the bayou and the inner city.

She spoke to the catechists about the personal call to holiness. “They just got right into it. The enthusiasm was incredible,” she said.

Channeling Pope Francis, she added that “the call to holiness and the sense of humor go hand in hand, especially if you’re a missionary.”

Other keynote speakers were:
  • Father Robert Schreiter of the Missionaries of the Most Precious Blood, who has authored 19 books and delved deeply into the topics of forgiveness and reconciliation. He spoke about the Church’s “expansive sense of mission” and “the face of mercy,” especially during this upcoming Year of Mercy.
  • Nelly Lorenzo, who directs the formation of lay ministers and permanent deacons in the Archdiocese of Chicago. She spoke about the Church’s compelling mission to evangelize.
  • Father Gabriel Naranjo, a Vincentian priest from Colombia who has served on the Latin American Bishops Conference (CELAM) and as secretary general of the CLAR, the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Men and Women Religious. He delved into Church documents on evangelization, including the Vatican II Decree Ad Gentes, Pope Paul VI’s Evangelli Nuntiandi and St. John Paul II’s Redemptoris Missio.
  • Joe Paprocki, national consultant for Loyola Press in Chicago and a catechist who blogs about his experience at www.catechistsjourney.com. He spoke about the way the Apostles proclaimed the Gospel, “with such zeal and lack of inhibition that people thought perhaps they were intoxicated.”

Another speaker, as well as exhibitor, was Ricardo Grzona, president and chief executive of the Miami-based Fundación Ramón Pané. At the behest of Pope Francis himself, the Pané foundation has just published a Lectio Divina for Families — an eight-week guide for families to read and study the New Testament together. (See accompanying story.)

Because this is the Year of Consecrated Life, the Office of Catechesis also recognized all the men and women religious who serve in the Archdiocese of Miami. They took up a whole section at the front of St. Thomas Aquinas’ gymnatorium during the opening Mass, which was celebrated by Archbishop Thomas Wenski.

In his homily and in closing remarks, he praised the catechists for taking on a “difficult job.”

It is difficult, he said, because “today a lot of people are not attuned to the joy of the Gospel. And you have to wake them up.”

Archbishop Thomas Wenski hands out diplomas to catechists who have completed their certification coursework.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Archbishop Thomas Wenski hands out diplomas to catechists who have completed their certification coursework.


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