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Religious Education Office enlightens catechists

“As catechists, our fundamental task is to bring people into deeper communion with Jesus Christ,” said Vincent Scozzari, adult faith formation coordinator for the Office of Religious Education (ORE), quoting St. John Paul to high school catechists attending a recent religious training.

“Try to put yourself in the place of your audience,” Scozzari said. “Jesus was such a great teacher because he knew his audience. They are coming to class with joys and sadness. ... Make your classrooms a place of resurrection, because the children will already come to you carrying crosses.”

The day at St. Dominic Parish was to enlighten and inspire more than 130 religious educators who form students in the Catholic faith at four Vietnamese Catholic parishes and a mission church; St. Bernard Church; and Holy Name of Jesus Church in New Orleans.

“The day was focused on catechetical ministry,” said Alice Hughes, director of the archdiocesan ORE, who worked with catechists in the first through fourth grades.

She, Scozzari and Barbara McAtee, who taught fifth- through eight-grade catechists that day, concentrated their efforts on the “Six Tasks of Catechesis,” which entail learning about Christ and the faith; celebrating the faith by participating in the liturgy at Mass and the sacraments; choosing to follow Jesus’ example by living the commandments and the spirit of the Beatitudes; praying to God every day; sharing the Good News of Jesus; and living the Catholic faith in words and deeds.

They explained their role as catechists as being storytellers, teacher-companions, leaders of prayer, and models and witnesses for social justice.

“How does your teaching reflect this?” Hughes asked. “How do the textbooks you use follow through on these six tasks?”

McAtee pointed her catechists to the section in each manual about understanding the children they teach. What is their cognitive ability? What touches their hearts at different ages?
What is their understanding of Catholic morality at their age, particularly in a society that has become so secular?

“This course teaches catechists how we can support young Catholics in being different,” McAtee said. “We can’t keep our faith to ourselves. We need to shout it from the rooftops.”

She described faith as a seamless garment that should be visible in everything Catholics say and do. If young Catholics see enthusiasm in their catechists, they will be receptive to the faith messages given.

She motivated catechists to know Jesus and understand that what they are teaching is not just a bunch of concepts. “It is about a person – Jesus Christ.”  

McAtee encouraged the catechists “to take their students to church and show them how to behave, teach them the faith given by God and lead them in the liturgical celebration” to help them understand that when they receive the Eucharist, “they are carrying the living God within themselves.” Catechists also form children in prayer, thanksgiving and repentance – and that all takes place in the Mass.

McAtee knows that the obstacles of everyday life – such as cell phones, the events going on in the world and the basic noise of life – make it hard sometimes to hear Jesus’ message or know his love.

“But know that he is always with you. Go to him and lift them up to Jesus, and he can help you,” she told the catechists.

Joining forces

Holy Rosary Sister Sandy Nguyen, now in her fourth year as director of religious education at St. Agnes Le Thi Thanh in Marrero, coordinated the day with Holy Rosary Sister Ann Marie Kim-Khuong, who serves at St. Bernard Parish and Holy Name of Jesus. This was the second collaboration between the Vietnamese community and the Office of Religious Education.

“It was an extraordinary bonding of people from diverse communities,” Hughes said.

In addition to catechetical training, Sister Sandy brought in Redemptorist Father Tat Hoang of Chicago to speak on how to be an amazing teacher in the classroom. Archbishop-emeritus Alfred Hughes also addressed the catechists on the New Evangelization and celebrated Mass. Archbishop Gregory Aymond stopped by to bless the group.

Other breakout sessions touched on Communion, first reconciliation and confirmation preparation, classroom management and safe environment training.

“Initially, we were having catechesis orientation for each parish, but we realized our resources were better used if we came together,” Sister Sandy said about the collaboration among the Vietnamese Catholic parishes.

She said everyone now feels more connected to the Archdiocese of New Orleans.    “The teachers, the catechists and the directors of religious education (DREs) were all energized by the day. They felt it met their needs and were able to network. It sets the foundation for our DREs and reinforced catechesis throughout the year.”

Planning ahead, Hughes said training for other ethnic communities is upcoming.

“What we’d like to do next year is a joint day to work with the Hispanic Apostolate, Sister Sandy in the Vietnamese community, Ansel Augustine in the Office of Black Catholics and the Religious Education Office,” Hughes said. “We want to do something with all communities.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion

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