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Catechists learn how to engage students

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Before the catechetical season gets underway, 30 catechists from multiple parishes attended a presentation by Joseph White, a nationally recognized speaker on catechesis, at St. Thomas à Becket Church in Reston Aug. 22. 

White, director of catechetical resources for Our Sunday Visitor, presented best practices on using the Alive in Christ curriculum, one of four catechisms used in the Diocese of Arlington.

During his presentation, White emphasized the importance of the catechist’s own relationship with Jesus.

“That is the number one teacher in the room,” he said. “God initiates the relationship.”

In a day and age where technology and games are popular, White gave the catechists ideas of multi-sensory ways to engage students, including teaching the sacraments through games.

“The church also has a beautiful and rich tradition of multi-sensory catechesis when you walk into an especially older church, your senses are very engaged. There are things to see, things to hear, right in our sacraments,” he said. “I think unfortunately sometimes then we make catechism about reading out of a book and writing.”

White, a child psychologist by training, said it is important to catechize children at young ages, when the brain is still growing and changing.

“It’s really important that we lay the foundations of faith early on because as kids grow, we want them to grow in the Lord, as well,” said White. “We want them to understand the church and see the church as their community. They are part of the church now, not just later, so we want them to be full and active participants.”

White said it doesn’t matter what book catechists use if “a catechist comes in and is not committed to their faith and not formed in the faith, they are not going to be effective the way they could be if they really were living that walk in that life of discipleship.”

Frieda Coccoza, special consultant for teaching, and parishioner at Queen of Apostles Church in Alexandria, ended the evening with tips on how to work with students on the first day of class and strategies to keep them engaged.

Regina Thomas is teaching fifth grade catechism at St. Thomas because her twin sons are in that grade and she wanted to see what they are learning and how they are receiving the information. “Last year, we only got a one-page summary,” she said. “We didn’t know how to reinforce what they were learning.”

Thomas said when students aren’t in Catholic schools, religious education is a way to be involved in the parish community. “We see kids from the religious education classes, and it makes it more of a family thing,” she said.

Bob Orlosky is a sixth grade catechist at St. Mary of Sorrows Church in Fairfax.

“I like to do this because, to me, if we don’t teach these kids about faith, they’re the future of the church,” he said. “If they don’t go to church or raise their kids, there won’t be any church.” 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019