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Catechists tackle tough topics during conference

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This year’s Diocesan Catechetical Conference drew more than 400 catechists for Mass, workshops and fellowship Nov. 16. Father William P. Saunders, episcopal vicar for faith formation and director of the Office of Catechetics, led the conference, which began with Mass celebrated by Bishop Michael F. Burbidge.

The theme, “Stay with us,” was inspired by the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. 

In his homily, Bishop Burbidge explained the theme. “All of us involved in the work of Catholic education, faith formation, catechesis and evangelization can learn from the disciples on the road to Emmaus. For like them, we can often get disappointed when our hopes and dreams are shattered,” he said. “It occurs when our programs, plans, and best ideas seem to have little impact on our students, parishioners and those we seek to serve. It occurs in our personal lives when we experience setbacks or are given an unexpected and heavy cross to carry. It is precisely at those moments, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, that we must allow the Lord to walk with us and to teach us.”

The conference featured 17 workshops that ranged from new online teaching tools and scripture studies to the growing sexual and technological crisis. 

The discussion on gender and sexuality was led by Deacon Marques Silva, diocesan director for child protection and safety, and Frank Moncher, diocesan victim assistance coordinator. During Deacon Silva’s talk he showed a picture of a unicorn with no set gender to illustrate the current secular understanding of gender and sexuality.

“The only thing that is missing from all of this is, what does reality tell us?” he said. “There are four really important questions that everyone needs to answer for themselves. Who am I? Where did I come from? How do I live and where am I going? … (These answers) can be known and must be known.” 

A couple of the workshops proposed incorporating online materials in religious education. This is part of the effort to meet parents and students where they are online. According to Bishop Burbidge, many of these initiatives echoed the words of Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, at last week’s fall general assembly in Baltimore. He encouraged creative and appropriate social media tools to engage the next generation in the faith.

On the other side of the technology usage spectrum was a sobering talk on the growing epidemic of personal technology addiction by Peter Ryan, who is in the process of founding a non-profit organization focused on technology use called LookUp4Life.

“The problem with a child or student that becomes increasingly attached to the screen is that they give up the friends and activities,” said Ryan. “They lose their peer groups, their connections. They begin to feel more awkward around people. This creates stress. Stress makes them want to go back to their comfort thing, which in this case is technology consumption and the downward spiral continues.” He encouraged families to take the time to develop a technology strategy.

The diocese’s first coordinator for special needs ministries, Nancy Emanuel, gave a talk about the need for parishes to actively seek out people with disabilities, as mandated in the catechism. According to Emanuel, having Special Religious Education Development (SPRED) not only helps people with disabilities receive the sacraments, but also creates a community that encourages them to participate in the liturgical life of the parish. 

Catechist Charles Groom from All Saints Catholic Church in Manassas said he has enjoyed attending the conference for the past eight years and always encourages others to come.

“There is so much you get from it,” said Groom. “It is so enriching.”

Groom was encouraged by the reading from Romans during Mass.

“If not me, then who?” said Groom, “It reminds us that it is our responsibility as Catholics, as Christians, to share the good news with others.”

Kassock is a freelance writer in Fredericksburg.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019