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Religious education and the encounter with Christ

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As I write, I’m getting ready for our annual Religious Education Congress, as I know many of you are, too. 

The Congress is one of the high points of every year here in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles — and it has been for decades. 

Last year’s Congress attracted more than 24,000 catechists, religious educators and teachers from across the country. In addition, another 15,000 young people attended the Congress Youth Day last year. 

This is the biggest gathering of its kind in America and probably in the world, with hundreds of talks and workshops on topics ranging from spirituality and music to biblical studies and catechesis. 

This year’s Congress is going to be special because we are saying farewell to Sister Edith Prendergast, RSC. 

Sister Edith will be retiring in June after 27 years as the head of our Office of Religious Education, so this will be her final Congress. Sister Edith and her fine staff have not only helped to grow our annual Congress. They have also overseen one of the largest religious education and catechist training programs in the country.

Parish and archdiocesan youth ministry and religious education programs serve more than 200,000 young people — 36,600 in our confirmation and youth ministry programs and another 149,000 in our religious education programs. 

In recent years, we have been welcoming about 20,000 young people each year to the Sacrament of Confirmation and about 2,500 new Catholics through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA).  

I am going to miss Sister Edith’s passion and dedication and her desire to bring Jesus Christ to our people. She has served this archdiocese with distinction. 

So I hope that you will join me in giving thanks to God for Sister Edith’s years of service and in praying that her retirement years will be a time of prayer and many graces and blessings. 

Father Chris Bazyouros, who has been in charge of adult faith formation for the last couple of years, will succeed Sister Edith as director of the Religious Education Office, so we want to pray for him this week, too. 

Religious education is at the heart of the Church’s mission because religious education begins in the encounter with Jesus Christ. 

That’s what makes our Christian faith unique. Christianity is not a philosophy of life or a collection of ethical principles. Christianity is a relationship of love with a divine person, Jesus. 

And that means catechesis must flow from a life of faith — a deep personal relationship with Jesus and a desire to invite others to share in this relationship of faith and love.  Catechists, before anything else, must be disciples. Not only listening to Jesus’ words, but learning from his example and trying to live like he lived. 

We all know that beautiful description of the Blessed Mother from the Scriptures — “But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.”

This is a lesson for us. We have to keep Jesus in our heart. His words, his actions, the scenes from his life. We need to ponder them and pray about them. Just like Mary did.  

The goal of doing this, of course, is for us to become more like Jesus. To learn his “mind.” To learn his attitudes, his way of dealing with things. What we want  — our goal — is to think the way Jesus thinks, to respond to the situations in our lives, as Jesus would. 

We also need to serve God in our neighbor. To have that relationship of love with other people. So we have to be men and women of charity and mercy and understanding. 

Pope Francis has given us a beautiful and challenging vision for catechesis and religious education: 

“The catechist … is a Christian who is mindful of God,” the pope says. “Who is guided by the memory of God in his or her entire life and who is able to awaken that memory in the hearts of others. … Catechists are men and women of the memory of God if they have a constant, living relationship with him and with their neighbor; if they are men and women of faith who truly trust in God and put their security in him; if they are men and women of charity, love, who see others as brothers and sisters ... if they are gentle, capable of understanding and mercy.” 

So let’s keep praying for each other this week. And let’s pray for Sister Edith and Father Chris and for all those who are catechists and teachers of the faith in the archdiocese. 

May our Blessed Mother teach them to be men and women who keep the memory of God alive and who can stir the hearts of others and inspire them to seek God and to serve him.

 

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