Catechists use modern tools to teach a sacred faith
May 26, 2020
The Rite of Election, held in early March, was one of the final public gathering events resulting from the efforts of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis. Since then, the Office has pivoted to virtual online meetings to support parish catechesis and faith formation programs around the Archdiocese. (Photo by James Ramos/Herald)
HOUSTON — Catholic churches and schools are discovering innovative ways to virtually connect with the faithful who are in quarantine due to COVID-19 mandates. This may indefinitely change the landscape of forming and sharing the faith with the domestic church beyond the pandemic.
“Many of our catechetical leaders at the parish-level that we train have been furloughed, lost their positions, or are working part-time or full-time from home, so it has been imperative for us to keep in contact with them and let them know we are here for them,” said Julie Blevins, director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis (OEC) of the Archdiocese.
“We all are learning a new way to share and grow in the faith, and this pandemic has resulted in a paradigm shift in not only faith formation for families and students, but also in how we continue to form our catechists and leaders. The OEC and parishes both have ventured into the virtual world with much success and great results,” Blevins said.
The OEC is one of 60 ministries supported by the Diocesan Services Fund (DSF).
Because of strict mandates on large-group gatherings, once officials realized that quarantine would continue, Blevins said the OEC had to cancel, reschedule or go to a virtual platform for all of its parish leadership formation and catechist formation courses. While this took time to research and test what worked best, she said the OEC staff managed to move most of its meetings and trainings online using various platforms.
Blevins said the OEC has been able to bring the faith directly into the faithful’s homes. At first, the interest was in how to continue catechesis with young people and families, so the OEC joined with catholic publishers in making Ebooks available to the families of the children enrolled in parish religious formation classes.
The OEC also collaborated with the Office of Family Life Ministry to produce special videos directed for families to offer them encouragement during this pandemic. Offered in both English and Spanish, these videos and other resources can be found on the “COVID-19 Catechetical Support Resources for Faith Formation at Home” webpage on archgh.com.
Blevins said catechetical publishers are now partnering with the OEC to offer new webinars to help form parish catechetical leaders. Current topics that have attracted large virtual audiences include navigating in a virtual world, the new evangelization, age-specific training, RCIA for Children and a spiritual retreat.
“For catechist training, we have discovered that the virtual world reaches a much larger audience than in-person events,” said Blevins. “Although we will always provide in-person sessions that give everyone, not only information but an opportunity to gather as a community, when we are cleared to gather in large groups once again, we will continue to explore even more virtual options to reach out to a larger audience.”
Blevins said, in the past, many catechists could not get to live training sessions, so they could not take advantage of formation opportunities.
“These new resources will be a ‘miracle’ to them, helping them to earn their required catechist certificates and take advantage of ongoing formation opportunities,” said Blevins. “The online platform will also help save valuable time of participants that won’t have to battle Houston traffic to get to a formation site. They will be able to take these courses on demand, which is so important in this 21st century of busy schedules.”
The ministry assists catechetical leaders in parishes and schools in furthering the evangelizing catechetical mission of a family-oriented, multi-cultural Church of adults, adolescents and children. It aims to provide services to promote lifelong formation so that each person’s faith becomes living, conscious and active, which Blevins said is imperative during this time of uncertainty.
She said she thanks the faithful members of the Archdiocese for their kind and generous donations to the DSF that help further this mission of the OEC.
“Because of you, we are able to provide formation for your parish catechetical leaders that pass on the faith to you and your family,” said Blevins.
“We provide resources and train them in 21st-century methodologies to effectively minister to your parish’s needs across the lifecycle. Your contributions will help us continue to move to a virtual platform and provide trainings for our staff to learn how to use these platforms to their highest capabilities.”
Additional free Catholic resources relevant for all ages are available on the OEC’s main web page on archgh.org/healthupdates. She said the resources are updated regularly and provide numerous ways to grow in one’s faith and to share it with others.
Blevins said some of the OEC events that need to be held in-person and were postponed due the pandemic have yet to be rescheduled.
This includes the celebration of the Sacraments this past Eastertide (Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation) and Pentecost (Adult Confirmation). Blevins said the OEC is working with the Office of Worship to find a way to celebrate the Sacraments in a beautiful way that stays within the guidelines once large-group gatherings are permitted.
“The over 1,000 adults that were to be confirmed on Pentecost may not realistically be able to celebrate until Pentecost 2021, but that is yet to be determined at this time,” said Blevins. “As you can imagine, this was extremely difficult for all of those who are anxiously awaiting to celebrate the Sacraments. Please keep them and us in your prayers as we determine the quickest and safest way for them to continue this journey of faith.”