Retired Auxiliary Bishop Gerald Walsh called the 600 catechists and youth ministers attending their annual forum “missionary disciples.”
“Your example is very, very important,” said Bishop Walsh in his homily at the Mass he offered to open the daylong forum at Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx Oct. 5.
Teaching their students about the Catholic faith has great consequence, the bishop said, especially because the values espoused by many others in society, including political leaders, counter those found in the Gospel.
Picking up on the day’s theme, “Come and See” (“Ven y Ve”), Bishop Walsh told the catechists and youth ministers they had accepted an invitation from the Lord, which they must pass to their students.
“You are telling your students, ‘Come and see’ what the Lord has done for you, come and see what the Lord is asking you to do, and, more importantly, to be.”
“Come and see how you can contribute to your friends, your families and your neighborhood where you live. Come and see how you can make those people and those places better and holier than they are now.”
The bishop, speaking in English and a bit of Spanish as well, said the catechists and youth ministers are serving in an era when traditional values have been “cast aside” and fundamental teachings are “ignored.”
The bishop recalled a question St. Pope John Paul II asked in Battery Park during a 1979 visit to New York: “Isn’t this a beautiful city?” The pope would go on to answer his own question affirmatively, with conditions, Bishop Walsh said.
“Yes, it is a beautiful city, but only if the people who live here take care of one another, only if elderly are respected and given their dignity, only if the young receive good values, good education, only if the sick get the help they need and the homeless are cared for.”
“To be beautiful, a city needs a soul,” the bishop said to the catechists and youth ministers. “You are the soul of the city by the way you live your life, by the way you share your talents, by the example you give and by the teaching you leave for the people and their families.”
The forum featured keynote addresses in English and Spanish. Father Joseph Espaillat, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua parish in the Bronx and a former director of youth ministry in the archdiocese, gave the Spanish address, and Father Anthony Ciorra, vice president of mission and Catholic identity and professor of theology and Catholic studies at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., delivered the English talk.
Father Espaillat, in an interview with CNY, said he told the catechists and youth ministers they should aspire to personal “holiness” so they can bring that message to youths who may not be well versed in the subject.
That means catechists and youth ministers have to “know Jesus,” Father Espaillat said. “We need people who are on fire.”
Citing “Christus Vivit,” (“Christ Is Alive”) Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the Synod on Young People last October, Father Espaillat said catechists and youth ministers “need to accompany and need to listen.” He said they must “listen to kids and where they’re at, what their plight is, and what their reality is.”
Leaning again on the insights of Pope Francis, Father Espaillat said, “The Holy Father says Church is messy.”
After Mass, 12-year catechist John R. DeRiggs told CNY about a faith formation program on Sundays at St. Charles Borromeo parish and Resurrection Chapel in Harlem that reaches both children and their parents.
DeRiggs works mostly with the adults, and Frank Mendez, the parish’s coordinator of religious education, teaches the children. “When the kids go home, they can talk to their parents about the lessons,” DeRiggs said.
His work as a catechist has greatly benefited DeRiggs, who is a cancer survivor. “Teaching on Sundays keeps me going,” said DeRiggs, whose wife Barbara accompanied him to the forum.
Participants were welcomed by Sister Joan Curtin, C.N.D., director of the Catechetical Office of the archdiocese, and Cynthia Psencik, director of the Youth Ministry Office. The Department of Youth Faith Formation comprises the two offices; Ela Milewska is executive director.
A second forum will be held at Sacred Heart parish in Monroe Saturday, Oct. 26. Bishop Walsh will celebrate Mass at 8:45 a.m. to begin the day. Cost: $20 per person. Registration: https://nyfaithformation.org.