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Meeting Jesus in the parking lot

More than 900 at Catechetical Day told teaching the faith is about ‘accompaniment’

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SOUTHWEST RANCHES | The theme for this year’s Catechetical Day was “Building a Culture of Encounter.” Keynoters and speakers explained it using Scripture and theology. Lourdes Melo puts it into practice in the parking lot of her parish.

One of the more than 900 catechists in attendance Nov. 3, she said every Thursday evening she hosts a “Happy Hour” for the mothers of teens preparing for confirmation. They share coffee and cookies and sometimes even a little wine – plus a whole lot of conversation.

She calls it a “modern catechesis.” It’s not the way she learned from “the nuns” decades ago, she said. It is “taking advantage” of the fact that the parents wait in their cars for the children to finish their classes.

Paulist Father Frank De Siano tells catechists that the entire Bible is a story of encounter, God reaching out humanity, during his keynote talk at the annual Catechetical Day held Nov. 3 at Archbishop McCarthy High School in Southwest Ranches.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Paulist Father Frank De Siano tells catechists that the entire Bible is a story of encounter, God reaching out humanity, during his keynote talk at the annual Catechetical Day held Nov. 3 at Archbishop McCarthy High School in Southwest Ranches.

Bishop Nelson Perez of Cleveland, a Miami native who was raised in New Jersey, makes a point during his keynote talk in Spanish at the annual Catechetical Day held Nov. 3 at Archbishop McCarthy High School in Southwest Ranches.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Bishop Nelson Perez of Cleveland, a Miami native who was raised in New Jersey, makes a point during his keynote talk in Spanish at the annual Catechetical Day held Nov. 3 at Archbishop McCarthy High School in Southwest Ranches.

Lourdes Melo, a parishioner at Our Lady of Divine Providence for 45 years, has volunteered her time as a catechist at the parish for 43 of those years. She was among 75 catechists honored with the Msgr. Agustin Roman Award for her consecutive years of service during the annual Catechetical Day held Nov. 3 at Archbishop McCarthy High School in Southwest Ranches. A few weeks ago she also was one of two people recognized by her parish with the 60th anniversary Jubilaeum Pin, which she is proudly wearing.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Lourdes Melo, a parishioner at Our Lady of Divine Providence for 45 years, has volunteered her time as a catechist at the parish for 43 of those years. She was among 75 catechists honored with the Msgr. Agustin Roman Award for her consecutive years of service during the annual Catechetical Day held Nov. 3 at Archbishop McCarthy High School in Southwest Ranches. A few weeks ago she also was one of two people recognized by her parish with the 60th anniversary Jubilaeum Pin, which she is proudly wearing.

“My goal is to eventually offer a family catechesis to the parents in the parking lot,” said Melo, who has spent the past 43 years as a volunteer catechist at Our Lady of Divine Providence in Sweetwater. “It’s a way, little by little, to try to keep those young people in the parish youth group.”

Even if only one stays, she added, “the seed is sown.”

Melo was among 75 longtime catechists, all volunteers who have been teaching for 20 or more consecutive years, who were honored at Catechetical Day with the Msgr. Agustin Roman Award. The award, new this year, pays tribute to those who, like the late Miami auxiliary bishop, dedicate their lives to catechesis. His episcopal motto was “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.”

But how to do that in today’s world? A world one of the keynote speakers, Bishop Nelson Perez of Cleveland, likened to Sweet ‘n Low: “Looks like sugar, sweetens like sugar, but it’s not sugar.”

We see each other but we don’t really look, he said. We hear each other but we don’t really listen. We wear earbuds and walk “to the rhythm of our own music.” His nephews speak to each other via text – even if they’re sitting side by side. Today’s culture is fast-paced, impatient and technological, not fertile ground for encountering others.

And the Church is not immune, the bishop said, recalling a personal anecdote that occurred shortly after he found out he had been made a bishop. He was attending a meeting and decided to pop into a nearby church to go to confession. He was dressed casually, in jeans, not as a priest although it wouldn’t have mattered. The church’s receptionist sat behind a glass and spoke through a small opening, like that of a doctor’s office. “Is there a priest who can hear confession?” he asked her. “Not today,” she answered, never even looking up.

That’s not how Jesus worked, Bishop Perez noted. Jesus went out of his way to meet people and listen to them, as when he noticed the widow of Nain on her way to bury her son. Luke’s Gospel says, “His heart was filled with pity for her” and he raised her son from the dead. The passage concludes, “God has visited his people.”

That phrase sums up the entire Bible and the whole history of salvation, noted the day’s other keynote speaker, Father Frank De Siano, director of formation for the Paulists.

Beginning with the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis, “all the things we see in Scripture are all stories of encounter,” he said, an encounter that “achieves its fullness in Jesus Christ.”

God is not “out there” waiting to judge people, the priest noted. There are no hurdles to go through. “God offers his love. God offers life. God offers grace.” And God also “gives us space” to grapple with that gift, to let the Good News “sink into our lives.”

Catechesis is not merely imparting information but helping children – and in many cases today, their families – become disciples. It requires doing as God does.

“Encountering people involves accompaniment. That is hanging out with people until they get it together,” Father De Siano said, just as Jesus did with his Apostles.

“There is a lot of ambiguity in the lives of the people that we serve, even in the children,” he reminded the catechists. “Jesus wants to make us comfortable with ambiguity.”

Bishop Perez, a Miami native who grew up in New Jersey, picked up on that theme at a panel discussion later. He recalled someone asking him how to explain to an atheist the existence of God.

There’s no point in explaining, he answered. Explanations turn into philosophical arguments that convince neither side. “Easier than explaining is accompanying people, walking with,” the bishop said. “What we can do is walk together” and allow God’s grace to do the job.

Another speaker, Father Tony Ricard of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, put it in even simpler terms. “It all starts with how they encounter God in you,” he told the catechists. “I am an embodiment, a living tabernacle of the Body and Blood of Christ. Are you convinced of the fact that God is going to use you each and every day to introduce somebody new to his love?”

Catechists with more than 20 consecutive years of service, all as volunteers, receive their certificates of appreciation at the Mass that preceded the annual Catechetical Day held Nov. 3 at Archbishop McCarthy High School in Southwest Ranches.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Catechists with more than 20 consecutive years of service, all as volunteers, receive their certificates of appreciation at the Mass that preceded the annual Catechetical Day held Nov. 3 at Archbishop McCarthy High School in Southwest Ranches.


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