Monday, November 11, 2019
Jim Davis - Florida Catholic
Photography: JIM DAVIS | FC
MIAMI | Two Church specialties — family and educational ministries — were knit together at the 2019 Catechetical Conference, as speaker after speaker expanded the theme of “Family, Be Who You Are.”
“Reclaim the family! You have been given the authority by God!” Mother Adela Galindo, the keynote speaker, boomed at the conference, held Nov. 2 at the Double Tree Airport Hotel. “The family is the first educator of the human person — and the future of humanity.”
Not that the 1,300 listeners needed much convincing. Many would likely agree with Rommel Uzcategui of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Doral.
“Family is the most important thing in the parish, in the community, in society,” said Uzcategui, who teaches catechism and leads marriage retreats along with his wife, Janeth. “I fight for that every day.”
Thirteen speakers took part in the daylong conference, which opened with a Mass and music by the Creole choir of St. Bartholomew Church, Miramar. Archbishop Thomas Wenski celebrated the Mass, with Archbishop Launay Saturné, president of the Episcopal Conference of Haiti, as a special guest.
Acknowledging that catechists face a “daunting” task, Archbishop Wenski encouraged his listeners not to give up.
“Handing on the faith to a new generation of believers is not easy — and maybe it never was — but it is too important for us to surrender,” he said in his homily. “For there is nothing more important for us, and for those whom we teach the faith, than to know Jesus Christ.”
Youth leader teacher Mark Hart reinforced the message in the final keynote speech. “People don’t know what you do, so I want to say it for everyone: Thank you for your time, for your paperwork — because you are making a difference â€¦ When people see you, they see the image of God.”
The conference turnout was one of the highest ever in its 41 years. Among the first-timers was Emma Lindo of St. Martin de Porres Church, Leisure City.
“I love it,” Lindo said simply. “It gives you everything you need on how to teach the kids. It helps you know the words to say.”
A RANGE OF EMOTIONS
Mother Adela, leader of the Miami-based Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary, ran through a wide range of emotions during her keynote speech. She joked, pointed, spread her arms and often shouted her message — a message that veered among alarm, humor, outrage and encouragement.
She decried secular culture, with its emphasis on lust and exploitation, as a threat to the God-given relationships of marriage and family. “Individualism is the idolatry of our time — it’s all about me, me, me, and if there’s anything left, me,” she said, drawing laughs.
Mother Adela urged parents to monitor what their children see on TV and where they go online. She also recommended channeling children into other activities, from soccer matches to service projects to praying.
“What is the mission of the family?” she asked, then answered: “To guard, to reveal and to communicate love. And your first audience is the family. Protect them from everything that is not love.”
Mother Adela’s talk was the favorite part of the conference for Nhung Huynh-Kaloyios, attending with four friends from Our Lady of La Vang, a Vietnamese mission in Hallandale.
“She nailed it on how everything starts with family,” she said. “Everyone expects teachers and the authorities to educate kids. But the foundation starts at home.”
Some of the conferees were repeat customers. Jay Pietrafetta of St. Anthony Church, Fort Lauderdale, has attended each Catechetical Conference for a decade.
“It’s good to hear from others,” said Pietrafetta, attending with his wife, Karen. “It changes my perspective, helps me teach in a different way.”
LEARNING FROM THE LAPSED
During three “enrichment” hours, speakers explored various sides of family and education. Topics included combating pornography, strengthening local churches and serving special needs children.
Father Joseph Rogers, a novice priest of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts, called teaching a work of mercy and urged his listeners to look to their own well-being. “We teach not from ourselves, but from the merciful heart of Jesus,” Father Rogers said. “Rely on that when you’re exasperated with your kids.”
Marriage got a systematic look from Msgr. Michael Souckar, pastor of St. Andrew parish in Coral Springs. “Married life, even in its imperfection, is reflective of God’s love for us, manifested in Jesus Christ,” he said.
Katherine Angulo of Notre Dame University presented some scary numbers on former Catholics: Most leave the faith before turning 21; many simply stopped believing in God; some felt injured or neglected by the Church.
She counseled her audience to look after their own spiritual needs so they can become more effective catechists.
“The best work you can do right now is to be on fire with your faith,” Angulo said. “Make sure the classroom you develop is a joyful event.”
Hart, the closing keynoter, also led an enrichment session on top 10 Bible verses for teens. He cited both the Old and the New Testaments — including Jeremiah 29:11-12 and Ephesians 2:10 — to show how God takes a personal interest in people and can guide their lives.
He cited Isaiah 41:10, in which God says, “Do not fear, for I am with you.” From that, he drew the lesson that “any situation you’re in, you can say, ‘You’ve got me, God.’”
FANNING THE FLAME
He confessed he was a lukewarm “cradle Catholic” until his own teenage years, when teachers with the Life Teen ministry “fanned my flame.” He’s now the executive vice president of the Mesa, Arizona-based organization.
“It’s important to dust off our Bibles and have them on every table, because it’s God’s love letter,” Hart said. “How badly we need to know there’s a Father who loves us and listens to us.”
In the final keynote speech, Hart said catechesis can even form a path to sainthood, if teachers model themselves on prayer, faith and the Eucharist.
“We are not angels, but we are called to be saints,” he said. “The devil is not afraid of you, but he is absolutely petrified of Christ in you.”
The route to sainthood, Hart said, threads between two extremes. One is to feel overwhelmed by feelings of sin and inadequacy. The other extreme is to try to hide or ignore flaws under a “shiny” façade. The best route is to continue to serve with a “deep and unwavering belief in God’s mercy,” he said.
“I’ll let you in on a little secret: God could have chosen smarter and holier people than you,” Hart added, drawing laughs. “He said, ‘I’ll choose the most humble.’ As a catechist, do you want to raise a saint? Then become one. Lead by example. Believe and trust that God will put you back together through his grace.”
The conference was a joint task of the archdiocesan Office of Catechesis, where Sister Karen Muñiz is director; the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries; and about 40 sisters, laity and others in the Servants of the Pierced Hearts, the order to which Sister Karen belongs.
Also taking part were about 90 volunteers — handing out programs, guiding people to breakout rooms and performing other tasks — from several organizations. Those included the parishes of St. Joseph and Our Lady of Guadalupe, plus members of the Spanish-language young adult group, Pastoral Juvenil Hispana.
Asked why she thought attendance was so high, Sister Karen suggested it was the reputations of the speakers for sound teaching. “People are hungry for that,” she said. “God rewards the faithful.”