Although dealing with a bout of laryngitis, Bishop Richard J. Malone welcomed participants to the 10th annual Catechetical Conference, which took place at the Depew Grapevine on Oct. 5. He gave a welcoming prayer and blessed pins for every catechist and schoolteacher in diocese. He also thanked the staff of the Office of Lifelong Faith Formation for sponsoring the program.
"The work you do is absolutely essential to the renewal of the faith here in Western New York," Bishop Malone said.
Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, Conn., delivered a keynote address at the convocation speaking on how to reach out to people in the 21st century. He said he hoped to get a dialogue going with the 160 educators and pastors gathered.
"I have not come here to give a long presentation. I have come here to stir up the pot," he said with a heavy Brooklyn accent.
Bishop Caggiano, who serves on the USCCB's Committeeon Evangelization and Catechesis, gave a detailed and heavily outlined description on how to face the challenges of catechesis today. One of those challenges comes from the pope. During what the bishop called Pope Francis' "spectacularly successful" visit to the U.S., the pontiff posed the challenge to prove the community of faith is authentic and worth belonging to.
"Can we dare to re-establish in compelling ways the credibility of the community?" Bishop Caggiano asked.
In describing how to catechize, Bishop Caggiano asked those attending to think of a sacred box, a space that is safe within its four sides. He said catechesis lives within those four walls, but all four walls are necessary.
He said the first wall is the fact that evangelization and catechesis go hand in hand.
"Evangelization and catechesis are so intimately connected that, as the song goes, you can't have one without the other," the bishop said.
He compared catechesis to love. When one falls in love, that person wants to know everything about the other person because it fulfills a desire to have communion with them. Then, once you come to know the other person, you want to share him or her with others.
The second wall calls all Catholics to teach the faith to all others. Bishop Caggiano said catechesis best occurs in one or both of the two families people belong to - the biological family and Church community. He spoke on eating meals as a family tradition. In his house he could not miss a meal with his family, adding he fell in love with Jesus at the table of family.
"Catechesis is a mission given to all Catholics by virtue of our baptism," he said. "We cannot do catechesis, this privileged moment, without uplifting and transforming the two families we belong to."
Explaining the third wall, Bishop Caggiano recalled his grandmother, who used to say, "You cannot give what you do not have."
"Catechesis is more than education, it is the formation of a life," he said. "You are not educators alone. You are formators of lives. So you and I in this great mystery of catechesis, if we are not being molded or formed in the faith, how, in the name of all that is good, do you, I, us, think we can do that to someone else? We must not just be the givers, we must also be the receivers."
Lastly, he said catechesis is a lifetime process. As people mature, their wants and need should mature, and their questions will change.
"If you and I can live in that box, even though we cannot fully describe catechesis in a single sentence, we are in a sacred place, and I think whatever we do in there will be in the mind of Christ to do what He asks, to have this privileged moment in this process that will bring us to eternal life," the bishop said.
One obstacle that could become an aide in the teaching process is modern technology, which Bishop Caggiano said is no longer a tool, but a formational force that has changed the way young people learn.
"There is growing evidence that physiologically, young people are developing differently than you and I did perhaps two generations ago," he said.
Bishop Caggiano cited research which shows how computers and video games have caused younger people to have certain lobes in their brains that causes a more free-flowing creativity, making them to be more visual and experiential, with briefer attention spans.
"If this is where the technology tsunami is leading, how are we going to present the faith, which comes to us in the Scripture, creed and catechism? How do we reinvent, repackage, redeliver that which the Lord is asking us to do?" he asked. "I'd be a liar if I said I knew how to do that."
The Catechetical Convocation served as a time to network, be inspired and prepare for the Synod of Families. Mary Beth Coates, director of Lifelong Faith Formation for the Diocese of Buffalo, hopes to keep the dialogue that started at the convocation continuing for some time to come.
Denise Bobak, of St. Stephen Parish, Grand Island, called the event a "wonderful example of what we, as people, should really be as great disciples of the Lord."
"It was beautiful. There were a lot of interesting things the bishop said. It made me think really hard on what we need to do," said Amy McQuay, catechesis teacher for pre-K and kindergarten at Immaculate Conception Parish in Ransomville.