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Religious Educators Called to be ‘Heralds of Hope’

Despite challenges, Bosco Conference attendees have many reasons to hope

Posted: Wednesday, August 5, 2009

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STEUBENVILLE, OHIO-- "Catholics are forgetful of what it means to be Catholic,” declared Bishop Richard Malone of the Diocese of Portland, Maine, to the catechists and religious educators who gathered at Franciscan University of Steubenville July 21-26 for the annual St. John Bosco Conference.

“So many people never think of God,” Bishop Malone said. “They never think about how much God loves them. They never think of what God requires of them. They never think about the fact that life does not end at the grave and that there will be a judgment day.”

Bishop Malone, a former episcopal advisor to the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership, addressed the challenges facing catechists in his talk, “The Church: Guardian of the Deposit.”

The challenge came in the form of statistics from a survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Ten percent of all Americans are former Catholics. Only 60% of those who are Catholic say the sacraments are essential to their faith, while 57% agree that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Eucharist.

“I think that if you use the word ‘amnesia’ as a metaphor,” said Bishop Malone, “you could say there is a lot of ‘spiritual amnesia’ in the world. Don’t you think so?” he asked the audience. “People go day to day, week to week, year to year, with some serious ‘spiritual amnesia.’”

However, to resounding applause, he said that in his nine years as bishop, he has never seen such a concerted effort to improve the faith formation of American Catholics as is now under way.“We have all been given a sacred challenge,” he said. “And we have been given the grace to do it.

The whole church is responsible for treasuring, guarding, defending, living, and proclaiming what we mean by the deposit of faith,” said Bishop Malone.

The religious educators gathered at Franciscan University for further training in catechetical ministry and to experience a community of passionate Catholic faith. They came from thirty-eight states and as far away as Italy, England, Canada, and Australia for workshops on adult and family catechesis, sacramental preparation, youth ministry, Scripture and liturgy. Many participants attended specialized courses to receive certification in their particular ministry.

Among the presentations were, “JPII’s Understanding of Family,” “Mobilizing Teens for Service, Leadership, and Vocation,” “Beatitudes and Catholic Social Teaching,” and “Catholics Come Home: Responding in Truth and Love.”

Franciscan University catechetics professor, Scott Sollom, spoke about every human being’s innate and “unavoidable questions,” in his talk “Hope: The Steadfast Anchor of Catechesis.”

Sooner or later, every person ponders the crucial questions of life, Sollom said. “Who am I? What’s going to happen to me? How should I live my life?” Each catechist, said Sollom, must be prepared to greet these questions with Scripture and sacraments. “Your gathering here is inspiring,” shared Sollom. “You are working hard to serve the Lord. This is hope in itself.”

“Sometimes we all grow weary in doing good,” said author and speaker Ralph Martin in his keynote talk, “Mary’s Union with Jesus: Lessons for us Disciples.” Similar to Bishop Malone, Martin emphasized Christ as a source of hope.

“The secret is to develop a close relationship with the Lord,” said Martin, director of Graduate Theology Programs in the New Evangelization at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in the Archdiocese of Detroit and president of Renewal Ministries.

He told the catechists to say ‘yes’ every time the Holy Spirit gives them an inspiration to pray. “Catholics are not suppose to pray only when they need something. We must teach people to deepen their prayer lives until they fall in love with Jesus and say ‘yes’ to holiness,” Martin said.

Many people blame their hectic lives and family responsibilities for lack of growth in holiness. It is not external factors that prevent the deepening of spiritual lives, but the “internal sluggishness of their own hearts,” he said.

“Jesus is calling every baptized Catholic to holiness not because he wants to place a burden on us,” he emphasized, “but because he wants us to be happy.”

“Sin will always present itself as a solution to a problem,” and an obstacle to holiness, “but it will only wound the soul and set you back on your spiritual life.”

For Theresa Stopper, director of religious education at the Church of the Incarnation in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, the St. John Bosco Conference “is the reservoir we come and drink from so we can bring hope back to the people we serve.”

The 2010 St. John Bosco Conference for Catechists and Religious Educators will be held July 21-25. As in past years, certification tracks will be offered for high school teachers, Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, instructors, directors of religious education, and youth ministers. Call 800-437-8368 or go to for more information.

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