Forum’s Rebuild the Church Theme Meant to Begin With Attendees

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Addressing the Rebuild the Church theme of the annual Forum for Catechesis and Youth Ministry, Father José Félix Ortega said any transformation must begin with prayer.

    Father Ortega told the 250 catechists, youth ministers and others listening to his homily in the auditorium at Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx Oct. 16 that any effort to rebuild the Church must begin with ourselves “because we are the Church.”

    Father Ortega, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in the Bronx, said “any transformation” begins with the Lord.

    “He’s calling us, and He’s giving us the grace,” said Father Ortega, who delivered his brief homily first in English and then in Spanish.

    Offering the example of St. Francis, who heard the Lord’s call to “Rebuild My Church,” he said the saint had to look past the externals such as stones and other building materials and focus on beginning “his internal transformation” toward sainthood.

    Before Mass, Ela Milewska, executive director of youth faith formation for the archdiocese, welcomed attendees and encouraged them to find “one or two things you’ll do differently because of your experience today.”

    The daylong forum included a rich selection of workshops in both English and Spanish as well as keynote talks in both languages. Deacon Matthew Halbach, executive director of catechesis for William H. Sadlier, a major religion and educational publisher, delivered the English keynote. Armando Cervantes, director of youth and young adult ministry in the Diocese of Orange, Calif., delivered the Spanish keynote.

    Katherine Hamilton, director of religious education at St. Mary’s parish in Fishkill, led a well-attended workshop called “Using Our Carrots Wisely—Meaningful Preparation for Reconciliation, Communion and Confirmation.”

    Speaking to CNY by phone the day after the forum, Ms. Hamilton, who has served as a DRE for more than 20 years at St. Mary’s and other parishes, offered a good way to review and evaluate sacramental preparation programs.

    She said a key is to entice families forward in faith to the real goal, “a deeper relationship with Christ,” and not merely the fulfillment of sacramental preparation guidelines.

    As an example, Ms. Hamilton cited the requirement for a certain number of confirmation service hours by youths who are to receive the sacrament. While much effort goes into recording and approving the hours, larger questions of whether “we are really teaching children to serve every day of their lives” and to consistently live the corporal and spiritual works of mercy can go unanswered.

    Holding meaningful sacramental workshops, especially for parents with younger children, will pay dividends in the long run, she said.

    “The younger the children, the more opportunity we have to require parents to participate,” Ms. Hamilton said. “The more we ask our parents in terms of participation, the more we solidify good relationships as children grow.”

    “When we show them quality programs, they become our biggest advocates,” she said.

    Judith Cordero, who serves as coordinator of religious education at St. Brendan and St. Ann parish in the Bronx, called the session “one of the best I’ve attended in all the years” she has attended the forum.

    She said she appreciated that Ms. Hamilton presented her thoughts with an eye toward both parents and catechetical leaders.

    Verena Gill, who has served as a catechist at St. Brendan and St. Ann for 15 years, said she was able to receive information about her concerns as a catechist as well as “a strategy to resolve that concern.

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