Faith Alive - In Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, Moorestown, 150 catechists “converged in witness” as Dr. Linda Dix, director of religious education put it, to receive the blessing and support of their pastor, Father Damian McElroy, and fellow parishioners. Craig Pittelli photo

Faith Alive - In Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, Moorestown, 150 catechists “converged in witness” as Dr. Linda Dix, director of religious education put it, to receive the blessing and support of their pastor, Father Damian McElroy, and fellow parishioners. Craig Pittelli photo

On Catechetical Sunday Sept. 16, the vast community of catechists throughout the Trenton Diocese embarked on the great annual journey aimed at bringing the Word of God to the thousands of students of all ages who attend religious education classes here.

In prayer, with fellowship and a firm sense of commitment to a mission much larger than themselves, they gathered in the 109 parishes to seek not only God’s blessing on their formidable task, but the support of their fellow parishioners as well.

Click to view photo gallery of events:
St. Dominic Church, Brick - Catechetical Sunday

Our Lady of Good Counsel, Moorestown - - Catechetical Sunday

Entrusted with what Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M. has called the “awesome responsibility” and “profound” opportunity of teaching and catechetical preparation for not only the young, but those entering the Church through the RCIA process and still others enhancing their life-long learning through adult faith formation programs, these catechists are just a fraction of a body some, including noted catechetical blogger Joe Paprocki, estimate at upwards of 500,000 nationwide.

Paprocki is the creator of the popular “Catechist’s Journey,” (catechistsjourney.loyolapress.com).

Saluting them is an annual event sponsored by the U.S. Catholic Bishop’s Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis. Begun in 1970 to recognize and affirm their work, Catechetical Sunday has grown over the years, providing a wealth of materials to aid parishes in their preparation for celebrating the day including numerous resources in both English and Spanish filled with faith and practical suggestions on spreading the Good News.

This year’s Catechetical Sunday had as its theme “Catechists and Teachers as Agents of the New Evangelization” and during commissioning services at Sunday Mass around the diocese, everyone in church, from the catechists summoned to the altar for a blessing, to those seated in the pews, were asked to commit themselves to “spreading the faith.”

That was the request Msgr. James J. Brady made at the 9 a.m. Mass in St. Dominic Church, Brick where 800 religious education students receive their lessons in faith from “60 good teachers.”

“We still need a few more,” Msgr. Brady said as the catechists came forward for his blessing, and “a small gift” – 16-month pocket calendars – that served a twofold purpose: keeping track of yearly catechetical events and conveying a spiritual message: “Christ came not to be served but to serve and to give his life.”

Speaking to the overflow crowd, Msgr. Brady described himself as “so honored to have these religious education teachers here (with us today).” After he blessed each individually, he spoke of the fact that the catechists have the great honor of teaching the faith to children.

“Children may not ask ‘who do you say I am,’ but (they learn) as religious education teachers tell them about Christ,” said Msgr. Brady. “Through them, they have come to know about Christ.”

He encouraged the congregation to embrace the call of Pope Benedict XVI to enter the Year of Faith, slated to begin Oct. 11 and close Nov. 24, 2013, in the spirit of evangelization so that the Word of God encompasses the parish family and the world beyond it.

At a reception after the Mass, Ann Cramer, parish director of religious education, noted that the blessing and the brunch that follows have been part of Catechetical Sunday observances at the parish for 31 of its 50 years.

“It is so important to recognize such dedicated people,” Cramer said. “It’s our way of saying thank you. They give an hour every week, week after week,” she said, noting that the catechists reflect a wide overview of the Catholic community in Brick.

“We have teachers who teach in various public schools, we have moms and dads. The majority are just beautiful volunteers who don’t have children in the program but just want to pass on the faith,” she added.

The message was the same in Our Lady of Good Counsel parish where the catechists were commissioned by Father Damian McElroy, pastor, at the 10:30 a.m. Mass.

All those involved with religious education in the Moorestown parish, from the 150 catechists who teach 1,500 children, to those involved with RCIA, adult education and youth groups, teens who volunteer as assistants and seniors who help in the office are invited to be present, said Dr. Linda Dix, director of religious education .

“Everyone converges as a public witness … When you echo God’s Word, you understand that proclaiming God’s Word is a public event.”

Recently, she noted, parishioners were asked to take personal responsibility for the Year of Faith. As such, she said, there’s a sense that everyone is charged to act as a catechist. “One woman said to me, ‘Isn’t it wonderful. We are all in it together…”

That sense of being “in it together” was warmly referenced by Filippini Sister Elizabeth Toft, director of religious education in St. Jerome Parish. As the catechists were asked to come forward, Father Harold F. Cullen, pastor, “called them the ‘people commissioned to spread the Good News. You could see how seriously that was taken,” she said.

The sense of commitment from the catechists carried over into the pews, she said. Parishioners see how important it is, she said, to “take on a class of kids in order to get them to hear the Word of God and take it into their lives.

In St. Jerome Parish, this year, 9 volunteers teach 225 religious education students. “The commissioning ceremony is a boost for the volunteers and it gives people the chance to appreciate them for considering their faith important enough to pass on,” she said. “It’s a worthwhile, valuable experience.”