NORWALK— There is an urgent need to re-imagine the way the Church passes on the faith to young people and engages others in lifelong faith formation Bishop Frank Caggiano said to more than 200 catechists who gathered at All Saints School auditorium this morning.
In a remarkable 45- minute talk that was punctuated by applause, laughter, and absorbed listening, the bishop told the men and women in attendance that social media is re-wiring the lives of young people, leading them to ask tough questions and to become disaffiliated at an earlier age.
“There is in my mind a tremendous urgency that is growing,” the bishop said, noting that he sees it youth when he speaks across the country and here in Fairfield County.
“The world is changing faster than we can appreciate,” he said of the new technology where computer “browsers are the open door” to a world that often dismisses faith and comes between children and their parents.
The bishop told catechists that they are a bridge between faith traditions and children, and that there is a need to “re-tool and re-imagine” the ancient task..
“Doing the same old things over and over again is frustrating. It’s time to break out. I’m issuing a call to arms, and the battle is for the human heart, the heart of young people and their parents entrusted to our care,” he said.
His “Conversation with Catechists” is one of a series of talks with those who teach faith throughout the diocese to help launch the Leadership Institute’s “Faith Re-imagined” initiative.
Bishop told the catechists that they should first and foremost think of themselves as “witnesses to the faith.”
While passing on knowledge of the faith and its teachings is important, young people must be brought to an “encounter with Christ,” which is experienced within a community of love and service, he said .
Bishop said that in addition to the written word, catechesis requires a new language of “imagery” and perhaps even a You Tube approach that better engages young people in the mysteries of the faith.
He said that information technology has accelerated “the divide between science and faith” and that many young people think “faith is the stuff that science hasn’t figured out yet.”
Several times during his talk bishop emphasized that “parents must play an intimate role in faith of children,” and that any successful catechetical approach must draw the entire family into the faith experience.
“Our job is not to judge but to help parents love their children better,” he said.
Many of the parents in attendance nodded in agreement when the bishop discussed the challenges faced by those engaged in passing on the faith, beginning with a growing sense of “disaffiliation” in the young.
“Which means young people and people of all ages are making the conscious decisions to separate themselves form our parishes and the Church. Young people don’t see a value in these communities. They don’t see a value in being part of our schools and parishes. There is a crisis of relevance in our communities.”
Likewise, he believes young people are afflicted with a growing sense of anxiety and restlessness fueled by smart phones and social media.
“They’re not comfortable in their own skins because they live in a hyper-competitive world. And they’re told if they’re not great at everything, there’s something wrong. They’re afraid they’re not going to be good enough or accepted for who whey are,” he said.
That leads young people “to doubt their self-worth and perhaps doubt that God loves them, he said.
Despite the challenges the bishop said he remains optimistic and believes that a new approach.
“This is not an exercise in discouragement. I didn’t come here to tell you we can’t do this,” he said. “It’s time to walk the walk as much as talk the talk. There’s nobody, myself included, who can’t grow more deeply in the love of Jesus. It starts with an encounter.
“The goal of catechists is bringing the Good News to the world by first allowing it to change their own hearts. We have to walk that path together,” he said.
After the Bishop’s talk and question and answer session with the audience, Patrick Donovan, Director of the Leadership Institute, distributed copies of the “Invitation to Lifelong Formation, the recently published report that includes Catechetical Task Force Finding & Recommendations for catechesis.
“We’re not asking to you do one more thing. We’re asking you do everything different,” Donovan said, noting that people from the Leadership Institute and the Faith Formation team will walk with catechists during the process.
An invitation to Lifelong Formation, the 36-page catechetical report, is available in print and will be posted on line in many languages. It can be downloaded in its entirety or in individual sections. For more information visit www.formationreimagined.org.
Those who were unable to attend Saturday’s meeting will have another opportunity on November 7th when the bishop will host a similar conversation with catechists. The event will take place at the Catholic Center at 6:30 pm.
Photos by Michelle Babyak