Addressing hundreds of catechists from around the Archdiocese of Washington whom he said are providing “a welcome and indispensable service,” Archbishop Wilton Gregory affirmed their dedication to growing the faith of generations. “You and I have been entrusted, as was the Apostle Paul, with the responsibility of announcing God’s plan for salvation,” said Archbishop Gregory during his homily for the opening Mass of Catechetical Day 2019 held on Oct. 19.

“The Church is strong in the hearts of those here present,” the archbishop told the 600 religious educators gathered at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland, for the one-day event focused on prayer, fellowship, and enrichment workshops. “The obligation of proclaiming that mystery for others remains a duty for us all -- which is why you have volunteered to be catechists throughout this local church.”

During the Mass, he shared the story of the North American Martyrs, a group of French missionaries who traveled to the New World to share their faith and whose feast day the Mass celebrated. “They rendered the ultimate price of discipleship – they witnessed to the mystery with their very own lives,” Archbishop Gregory said. By recognizing the martyrs, they then also become part of God’s salvation. “Such bravery and gentleness of spirit served as a powerful witness for the Native American peoples who beheld the courage and faith of these French missionaries,” the prelate added.

Archbishop Gregory gives the homily at the opening Mass for the archdiocese's Catechetical Day. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

The archbishop, who also presented a keynote address at the conference, joined 55 presenters at the event, which has been held every other year since 2007. Sara Blauvelt, director for catechesis for the archdiocese estimated about 50 parishes and at least two schools sent representatives for this year’s event, “Echoing the Word of God in All Times and Spaces.” She noted Pope Francis inspired this year’s theme when he celebrated the opening Mass at World Youth Day in Panama City in January. “We hope that today we can say at the end of World Youth Day that we have sent the world these new disciples of Jesus Christ to radiate the joy of the Gospel throughout the Earth,” said Pope Francis then. “During these days, the city of Panama will be a great ‘house of prayer and Christian promotion.’ The word of God will resonate at all times and in all corners of Panama.” 

Blauvelt said the best part of Catechetical Day is the spiritual celebration -- including the opening Mass and closing Eucharistic Adoration. “In prayer, we find answers for the question of ‘why’ we choose to be catechists,” Blauvelt said adding, “the workshops provide us with formation for the ‘what’ of catechesis – the nuts and bolts. To be a good catechist you need both.”

In his speech, Archbishop Gregory addressed some of those concerns, urging the participants to “grow more resourceful in the presentation of our faith,” suggesting that more programs -- including the increased use of technology -- ought to be designed to help catechists reach young people and “effectively transmit the truths of our faiths.” The archbishop cautioned the catechists not to overlook the resources of current times including the audio and visual world of media communications when teaching and witnessing to God’s love. “Our faith heritage must be translated – the methods we use to proclaim the truth are not as important as the truth,” Archbishop Gregory added.

About 600 religious educators from more than 50 parishes and schools in the Archdiocese of Washington participated in Catechetical Day, which included workshops on a variety of issues related to teaching the faith. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

Following the keynote address, participants chose from a selection of workshops to attend including several about the digital age and its role in parish life. Sabrina Williams, the RCIA coordinator at St. Augustine Parish in Washington, D.C., said she was interested in learning more about designing web pages in order to encourage more involvement in parish activities. “From the standpoint of evangelization – I want to participate in sessions focusing on engaging the whole community,” Williams said. “It’s the whole Church’s ministry – to evangelize.”

Marta Barahona said she and her husband, Robert Caranza -- both parishioners at the Shrine of St. Jude Parish in Rockville, Maryland, and first grade religious education instructors for 18 years -- attended Catechetical Day “to learn more about how to teach the kids.”

The women religious at St. Columba School in Oxon Hill, Maryland, invited Lera Ricking, a teacher and enrollment coordinator, to attend Catechetical Day in order to bring suggestions back to the school and “enhance what we’re teaching in the classroom,” she said. Ricking attended the workshop, “The Art of Accompaniment” by Colleen Campbell, an author and graduate student at The Catholic University of America. 

Campbell described accompaniment as “the giving of the gift of yourself,” and stressed the value of witnessing faith and mutuality in accompanying another on their journey oriented toward Jesus. “Accompaniment is the apostolate we are called to do,” said Campbell adding that as catechists, that intentional relationship with another “helps us grow in maturity of faith,” and ultimately helps evangelize people.

Franciscan Father Jacek Orzechowski from St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Maryland, led a workshop at Catechetical Day on “Echoing the Word of God: With Justice for the Poor and Care for Our Common Home.” (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

That faith instruction begins in the home, noted Sister Ann Parker, a member of the Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters and a workshop presenter. Her session, “Forming Families of Disciples” focused on her more than 30 years of experience in Catholic schools and parish religious education programs where she used the Gospels to see how Jesus must have changed the lives of people He met. “Their lives must have changed as a result of being healed,” said Sister Ann. “What would that be like in a family?” she asked, “how would that look like today?” Sister Ann said she encourages families to “take what you have learned about faith from the head to the heart, to the home – you become a disciple when you take that relationship home.”

In another pair of workshops led by the Archdiocesan Department of Special Needs Ministries, Mary O’Meara, executive director, wanted participants “to understand the theological underpinnings for supporting, engaging and including persons with disabilities in the life of the Church.” She also planned an afternoon session to include catechists sharing practical experiences with special needs ministries in their parish.

Sister Gilmary Kay, a Religious Sister of Mercy who serves as delegate for consecrated life for the archdiocese, said Catechetical Day “nourished both the spirituality and skill set” of the participants while offering a chance to “form communion among themselves as catechists. We’re a Church of communion.”