By EmmaLee Italia | Correspondent
Global connectivity is here to stay, a way of life that was only science fiction a few short years ago. Catholic communication tools have grown exponentially in the past decade, and navigating the resources available can be daunting for anyone – pastors, educators, parents and their children.
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The Oct. 6 FORMED Diocesan Evangelization Conference in the Great Hall of St. David the King parish, Princeton Junction, aimed to educate parish leaders about online Catholic materials through the use of an innovative website, whose purpose is to get religious education into the hands of anyone who wants to learn.
Evangelizing the Family
In cooperation with the Diocese’s “Together in Mission” plan for evangelization, representatives from the diocesan Office of Evangelization and Family Life and from the Augustine Institute spoke about how forming Catholics in their faith is not only essential, but also involves the entire family.
“Our mission as Catholics is to make missionary disciples – in other words, make saints,” said Josue Arriola, diocesan director of evangelization and family life, during his keynote address. “That’s what we call evangelization. And where do we start? The family.”
Arriola outlined the process of evangelization that reaches out to family members, meeting them where they are in their particular life stage and faith journey, and building on that to create a foundation of faith. The chart he developed – which is available on the diocesan website at DioceseofTrenton.org/evangelization-family-life – illustrates the resources typically available at the parish and diocesan level.
“When we talk to a parish, we ask them, ‘Are the things offered in the parish responding to the challenges and experiences that people are facing?’” Arriola explained. “The process of evangelization is three parts: pre-evangelization, or meeting them where they are; proclaiming the Good News, or ‘Kerygma’; discipleship, living the faith; and apostleship, to go and make disciples.”
Arriola described the goal of ministry as both building trust in community with those who attend, and building on that relationship toward evangelization.
“After that comes spiritual curiosity, spiritual openness and seeking,” he said. “When they come [to a parish ministry event], they see what we do – pray the Rosary, watch a movie, have Mass ... after you build that trust, you can become a resource to help people, to move them to spiritual seeking.”
Roadmap for Resources
Essential to any form of evangelization is the ability to get the message across. And those efforts have become increasingly digital, requiring educators to be on top of the latest technology and online resources. But where to begin?
Enter FORMED.org, the website brainchild of the Augustine Institute, which compiles Catholic media from various authors and educators, as well as its own productions, into a package easily accessible with a parish subscription. FORMED is a partnership with various Catholic apostolates, offering round-the-clock access to core evangelization and catechetical content – video study sessions, Sunday Scripture video reflections, movies, audio talks, books and more.
Dan Donaldson, Augustine Institute’s director of diocesan and strategic partnerships, explained that the institute was founded in 2005 to develop leaders for the new evangelization. “Our mission is to help people live, understand and share the faith,” he explained.
After expanding to a distance education program, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Augustine Institute to develop parish programming, which led to the advent of videos for developing parish leadership, and eventually the FORMED.org online platform.
“It’s been called the ‘Catholic Netflix’ – but it’s so much more than that!” Donaldson quipped. “The videos are captivating ... we want to grab people and reel them in.”
Through a generous grant from a diocesan benefactor, parishes in the Diocese of Trenton are now able to subscribe to FORMED for half the annual subscription price. Many parishes have already signed up and are using the materials for adult faith formation, sacramental preparation, Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, youth ministry and other catechesis.
“We are called to ‘scrutinize the signs of the times,’” said Donaldson, quoting Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Gaudium et Spes. One sign of our times is instantaneous communication – and Catholics are meant to use the tools available to them. “St. Paul used the Roman roads to send his letters, and St. Francis de Sales used the printing press to convert 40,000 people.” Then as familiar icons for Apple, Microsoft, Internet browsers and social media flashed on the projector, Donaldson said, “This is how we are communicating now. Ninety-nine percent of kids and 64 percent of adults over 65 are using [this media] every day.”
That’s exactly why FORMED was created, he said.
“We want to help you spread the Gospel to where people are,” he continued.
Variety of Applications
Following the keynote addresses, breakout sessions for RCIA and parish outreach, family formation and youth ministry, sacramental preparation and marriage ministry, and adult faith formation and small group ministry were offered.
Sean Dalton, director of parish evangelization for the Augustine Institute, focused on FORMED’s application in youth and family life.
“Our Catholic youth today are catechized but not evangelized,” he said. “Most of them are moral therapeutic deists – there is no personal relationship with God. They believe one has to be a good person, but you only go to God when you need something, and there isn’t this idea of discipleship.”
Referring to a study by the Fixed Point Foundation, Dalton revealed that the majority of college age atheists not only grew up in the Church, it was a negative experience with family life that made them embrace atheism.
“If faith isn’t alive in the home, then that faith they’re receiving in Catholic school and religious education is already dead,” he said. “We have to change the way we are handing on the faith.”
But having just one adult take an interest in them personally – parent, youth minister or coach – can make all the difference.
“We have to meet their needs – to be understood, to belong, to be transparent, to engage in critical thinking and to be mentored,” Dalton elaborated. “They need meaningful conversation in their homes. Meaning in life is the greatest motivator. And now we have a digital format for that.”
Luis Soto, director of parish implementation and Hispanic outreach for FORMED.org, presented ways the site can be utilized for sacramental preparation.
“Our sacramental videos are like watching a story,” Soto said. He showed the group the beginning of the “Reborn” video about the Sacrament of Baptism, illustrating a young couple rushing to the hospital for a baby to be born – father nearly forgetting the mother at home in his rush to pack the car – and the parents’ wonder at their newborn.
“I personally believe that when a young couple asks for Baptism for their child ... it’s a prime chance for evangelization,” Soto said. “The main idea [behind the FORMED video study] is to recommit them to their own Baptism.”
For RCIA, Donaldson suggested previewing FORMED materials, then sharing them with friends and parishioners. “Become a user, and then become a sharer,” he said. “And the best way is one-on-one.”
Donaldson also recommended getting the Blessed Mother’s help, suggesting St. Louis de Montfort’s Consecration to Jesus Through Mary.
“Who do you ask in the family when you want to get something done? Mom,” he said. “Who do we ask in the Church? Mary!”
Bill Bouffard, catechist in Christ the King Parish, Long Branch, works with both Confirmation classes and RCIA. His parish just recently signed up for FORMED.
“I’m thinking about how it can be used for youth ministry, and how it can be used as a resource to get people comfortable with [religious] education,” he said. “You know so many youth drop out of the Church after Confirmation – they stop coming. I think [the program’s] use of Facebook is brilliant, because all ages are comfortable with using it – and maybe this is a chance for them to use it to view something more productive and useful.”
Bouffard is particularly interested in using the “Wild Goose” series, produced by FORMED, that speaks of relationship with the Holy Spirit.
“I have yet to see a good way to explain the Holy Spirit to 12-year-old kids, and it’s the foundation of Confirmation,” he said. “It’s a battle to find good teaching material. If you can get them to understand what the apostles went through during the days before Pentecost, then you have them.”
Betsy Solan, a catechist in St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square, has already made use of some of the videos available on FORMED.
“We did a Life in the Spirit seminar, and we used four of the sessions from ‘Wild Goose,’” she said. “It was excellent. People were really inspired, and drawn to a deeper faith as a result of the series and seminar.”
Barbara Rookey, director of religious education, was eager to try using more of the FORMED resources not only in the parish she works in – Assumption, New Egypt – but also in her home parish of St. Monica, Jackson. Rookey was first introduced to the FORMED materials in 2015 while at St. Gregory the Great Parish. Since then, access to programming and written materials has become more available online.
“I can’t wait,” she exclaimed. “People in the parish have said to me they’ve gotten so much out of it. I’m having the reflections on the Sunday Scripture readings printed in the bulletin each week ... someone told me, ‘Oh, don’t you know, everyone loves it!’ It’s become really important.”
Rookey also hopes to use the series on Reconciliation, “Forgiven,” when teaching about the Sacrament – both for the seventh graders and their parents. The introduction to the series was presented at the conference, to which the attendees responded with unanimous applause.
“I can project the videos from my phone [for the students] and have the parents view from home,” she explained. “It’s so moving and inspiring, and the videography is so professional. This video would be life-changing.”