Friday, November 10, 2017
Jim Davis - Florida Catholic
MIAMI | Sure, those who attended the annual Archdiocese of Miami Catechetical Conference got instructional materials, tips on adapting to culture, teaching the disabled, partnering with parents, even how to get parents out of their cars and into church.
But the 1,300 conferees at the DoubleTree Convention Center got much more: inspiration, motivation, encouragement in their vocation of training the next generation of Catholics. They even found themselves strengthened by one another's company.
"I love this," said Juliana Diaz, a member of All Saints Church in Sunrise. "For me, this is like a retreat. It's a good way to replenish and renew."
Echoing her feelings was Sister Evelyn Montes de Oca, a member of the Miami-based Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary. "This is a great gift and opportunity to be nourished. No one can be what they don’t have. We have to be nourished so we can nourish others."
The Nov. 4 event, in its 39th year, is the largest such conference in Florida, according to Peter J. Ductram, director of the archdiocesan Office of Catechesis. He attributed the success to word of mouth and to lining up popular speakers.
Both approaches worked for Amaya Stifano, a catechist at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Doral. She went to last year's Catechetical Conference, and she decided to attend this year when she heard that author-theologian Scott Hahn would be a speaker.
"You have to keep learning, and you learn a lot in conferences," Stifano said. "And it's always good when you start with Mass."
At the opening Eucharistic celebration, the conferees filled a ballroom, then overflowed into another. Leading singing was the youth choir from St. Bonaventure Church in Davie.
Latino rhythms flowed from Cefas Music, a five-year-old ensemble based in Miami. Among the songs they played was "Nuestra Alegría" (Our Joy), the theme song of the V Encuentro, an upcoming national meeting for Hispanic Catholics.
Conferees heard more music over lunch, courtesy of Jackie Francois of Orange County, Calif., who sang folk style and played acoustic guitar.
Speaking in his low-key style, Archbishop Thomas Wenski spoke on the need for humility in teaching catechesis.
"Humility doesn’t mean to put yourself down," he said in his homily. "A humble person has a good sense of self — and that comes from knowing oneself as loved by God, warts and all. A humble person isn’t starved for recognition or acknowledgement … you have to be comfortable in your own skins.
"A goodly number of parents who don’t know us that well trust us with their children," he noted. "Shouldn’t we feel humbled by this? And isn’t it humbling to be in a position to make a difference in these people’s lives?"
Highlighting the day were twin Esperanza Ginoris Awards for catechetical leadership in the archdiocese. This year's awards went to Rosalvina Diaz, assistant director of religious education at Our Lady of the Lakes parish, Miami Shores; and Ana Olaso Stanham, who coordinates the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults at St. Louis parish in Pinecrest.
After receiving her award, Diaz said simply: "I'm very happy. I love this life, to help. My first love is God."
Stanham said she felt the award helps to gain attention for adult education. "I feel it has to do with moving away from the paradigm of teaching only children and youth, and moving toward putting adult formation at the center. I've received so much from the Lord — how can I not respond?"
Hahn, chair of biblical theology and the new evangelization at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, gave two major talks: a keynote speech on his conversion from Protestantism, and a discussion of evangelization.
He said that "contagious joy" — a concept taught by Pope Francis — would bring people to Jesus better than debates or arguments.
"The world is constantly offering us pleasures, but nothing that endures," Hahn said. "The Gospel gives us hope and joy. Your friendship, your life, might be the only homily that people hear."
Father Tony Ricard, a priest of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, struck a note of social responsibility. He said that catechesis includes the need to "say what needs to be said" — in controversial matters like immigration, LGBT rights and the Black Lives Matter movement.
"There's too many people who have sold their souls to a political ideology," said Father Ricard, a former professor of black Catholic studies at Xavier University of New Orleans. "Heaven is open to everybody."
Besides the homily and keynote speech, the conference offered talks on a broad array of topics, including:
Charleen Katra of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, on teaching children with special behavioral and developmental needs.
Father Manny Alvarez, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, Hialeah, on using social media for evangelization.
Hosffman Ospino, of the School of Theology and Ministry at Boston College, answering questions about pluralism, culture and language in catechism and evangelization.
Sister Patricia McCormick, an Immaculate Heart Sister, on methods of "parking lot evangelization" — enticing parents who normally drop off their kids into entering church themselves.
Planting a seed
Several of the speakers took part in a panel talk on the need for catechists to "read the signs of the times" and present Church teachings with creative methods and contemporary terms.
The new tools, as Gregoria Fernandez called them, were one of her favorite things about the conference.
"We may have some things lacking and maybe not even know it," said Fernandez, a parishioner of St. John Bosco Church in Miami. "There are a lot of Catholics that don't know our God. We have to be more proactive in bringing them to church. If we plant a seed, it's going to sprout."
The conference also sported a trade expo, where publishing representatives — like Our Sunday Visitor, RCL Benziger and William H. Sadlier — spread tables with books, curricula, CDs and apps to aid religious instruction.
Other tables advertised ministries and other organizations, including Barry University and the Florida Center for Peace. Still others sold religious gear, like slogan-bearing T-shirts and olive wood Madonnas from the Holy Land.
Francisco Alzuru, who teaches catechism at St. Agnes Parish on Key Biscayne, said he'd been attending the Catechetical Conferences seven years. He valued them not only for the teaching, but for the other conferees.
"It's an opportunity to discuss things and learn methodologies with other catechists," Alzuru said. "And we get to see each other every year."