Lifetime learning with ‘Netflix for Catholics’

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Across the 21 counties and 69 parishes in the Arlington Diocese, there are countless opportunities for Catholics to learn about their faith. Yet each parish faces the same challenge: Actually getting people to show up to events.

To help address that challenge, the Arlington Diocese will help parishes pay for access to an online resource for faith formation. Nicknamed "Netflix for Catholics," FORMED features Catholic study programs, audio presentations, e-books and movies to help them learn more about their faith.

"We have the worst traffic and the longest commutes in the country," said John Knutsen, coordinator of adult faith formation. "There are a lot of very busy people in our diocese who just can't come to parish events … It allows those people to be fed while at the same time giving parishes a tool to reach out to those who are disengaged. And more than that, I think it can really help our committed Catholics evangelize their friends and families and bring people back to the faith."

Each parish that has signed up has an access code for the website that can be shared with anyone within their parish boundaries. The diocese is underwriting the cost so that parishes can access FORMED for just half the regular price, $770 a year. About 30 percent of the parishes in the diocese currently subscribe.

FORMED is a relatively new resource, launched by the Augustine Institute in Denver, Colo., last September. The website draws on the resources from the Institute, which professionally records all of its classes for a distance education program, and offers dozens of audio talks from Lighthouse Catholic Media (which has merged with FORMED). Ignatius Press, which is a co-owner, offers e-books from authors such as Archbishop Fulton Sheen and retired Pope Benedict XVI. FORMED also features a growing amount of content in Spanish.

"Our mission is to help people to learn, live and share their faith. And we wanted to give people a tool to do just that," said Dan Donaldson, director of diocesan and strategic partnerships at the Augustine Institute. "We live in an Internet age. We live in a digital age. Everybody uses the Internet and we see it as the new Roman roads. Like St. Paul in the early church, the Gospel was spread through the communications system of the day."

Donaldson said that some parishes have found creative ways to evangelize using FORMED. One Texas parish mailed its access code to 35,000 people within the parish boundaries. Another in Ohio sent it to 12,000 people.

"We have a multitude of stories of people coming back into the church and people getting baptized," said Donaldson.

He gave the example of a mother in Colorado Springs, a Catholic convert who would argue about the faith with her evangelical son. The mother shared FORMED with her son shortly after the website launched and he started watching the videos and listening to the audio presentations, Donaldson said.

"He had questions about the saints; he had questions about Mary," Donaldson said. After "it came down to the Eucharist," the son watched Lectio: Eucharist, a 10-part video-based study. "It convinced him to convert and he actually came into the church on Easter."

Donaldson hopes that many more Catholics will follow the mother's example when they use FORMED. "It gives us an extraordinary way to spread the Gospel," he said.

Find out more

Visit Ask your parish first if there is an access code for parishioners. Individual plans are available at $9.99 a month for people who are not signed up through their parish, but not all the materials are available. Parishes may contact John Knutsen at 703/841-3802 or

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016