Father Pasquale Papalia, pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Whiting, blesses catechists during Mass Sept. 17, which was Catechetical Sunday. Craig Pittelli photo

Father Pasquale Papalia, pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Whiting, blesses catechists during Mass Sept. 17, which was Catechetical Sunday. Craig Pittelli photo

Each year, the Church celebrates Catechetical Sunday on the third Sunday of September as a day for parishes to focus on honoring and commissioning catechists for their important role of handing on the faith and being a witness to the Gospel.

This year’s theme, “Living as Missionary Disciples,” also encourages each person, by virtue of their Baptism and as part of a community of faith, to rededicate themselves to this mission.

Photo Gallery: Catechetical Sunday in Whiting

In St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Farmingdale, Bill Scott was among the parish catechists blessed by Father Angelito Anarcon, pastor, during Mass Sept. 17, and recognized for their dedicated work in teaching children about Jesus, his Church, and his message of faith, hope and love.

“The earthly pay is no good, but the heavenly pay is priceless,” said Scott, 59. “You just get back so much because you may be the only person evangelizing to them.”

He noted that in his lessons for eighth-graders, he sometimes has them download Catholic-based apps on their cell phones, such as the Three Minute Retreat from Loyola Press.

“It’s a great way to start their day. It comes every night, so it’s there when they wake up in the morning,” said Scott, a married father of three.

As for religious education in general, he said, “It’s important for today’s young people, because they hear so much from the mass media that’s negative, and we’re here to give really a positive message of Jesus and the Holy Spirit ... and it helps me grow in my own faith; this is a very special Sunday to me.”

Kyle Galante, parish catechetical leader, noted that this year, the parish has 26 catechists and 310 students in first through eighth grades.

“When the Holy Spirit gets a hold on you, that’s it. ...You just grow and love with the faith,” said Galante, a married mother of three, adding, “In religious education you are feeding the kids by the Word and Eucharist.”

For fifth-grader Izabella Le, learning about God and religion is a positive experience.

“I think the classes are good, and they’re fun. I like learning about the things that Jesus did,” the youngster said.

One Church Family

Children are a large part of the faith in St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Whiting, too. There, parish catechetical leader Debbie Milecki said she believes Catechetical Sunday is an important opportunity to recognize the efforts of so many involved in passing on the faith.

“It brings the families into the church so we can become more connected as a community – and the seniors [of our parish] love to see the children,” said Milecki, who oversees a program serving 75 children along with 16 catechists, five aides and two student aides.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish marked Catechetical Sunday with a 10 a.m. Mass and breakfast. “The catechists give of their time, and they are extremely special to me because they are always willing to go out of their way for the children,” Milecki continued. “By coming together as a church family, it’s just great to have them all together.”

Lori Downing, youth minister and Confirmation program coordinator for seventh and eighth grade, agreed. New to her position in the parish, Downing said she finds teaching the faith a natural fit.

“I’m a teacher by nature and profession, I love my faith, and I think it’s an important thing to teach – to teach these kids conversion, and get them to stick around – and to help them feel like they’re a part of the church community, a part of the parish, so they continue living their faith,” she explained.

Downing said she believes that in youth ministry “you have a unique advantage [in passing on the faith] because they want to be there. You can kind of sneak it in to the fun side of things.”

Most important, says Downing, is “keeping them connected to the universal Church so that they continue to practice the faith.”

Giving Back

Elfriede Crisafi, catechist in St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, is in her 49th year of teaching and still going strong.

“It’s very important to me to give back something,” she said of her desire to teach, which has spanned many grades but for now rests with sixth-graders. “God has been very good to me all my life. And children are, to me, the beginning of life – they are going to carry on, hopefully, what we give to them, including our faith.”

Crisafi believes it’s important in the predominantly senior population of the parish for the ministries with the youth to be visible.

Recognizing volunteers who work in catechesis demonstrates “that we are involved with young people and trying to bring the family together – young and old belong together,” Crisafi said.

Correspondents Armando Machado and EmmaLee Italia and freelance photographer Craig Pittelli contributed to this story.