Archdiocese hosts first Faith Congress

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Monday, February 12, 2018

Archdiocese hosts first Faith Congress

Hundreds of those who work and minister in the local church attended the archdiocese's inaugural Chicago Faith Congress on Feb. 10, 2018 at Loyola University’s Lakeshore campus.
Elid Arias, left, and Kenneth Velasquez converse before the start of a workshop during the archdiocese's inaugural Chicago Faith Congress on Feb. 10 at Loyola University’s Lake Shore campus. The congress was for those who work and minister in the local church. (Natalie Battaglia/Chicago Catholic)
Matt Goto leads a prayer in the Prayer Room. (Natalie Battaglia/Chicago Catholic)
Audience members rise and pray at the start of a workshop. (Natalie Battaglia/Chicago Catholic)
Father John Fredy Villa Holguin presents during a workshop located in the Damen Student Center. (Natalie Battaglia/Chicago Catholic)
Jennifer Delvaux presents "Who We Are & Who We Know" during the congress. (Natalie Battaglia/Chicago Catholic)
Audience members listen during a workshop. (Natalie Battaglia/Chicago Catholic)
Matthew Goto embraces Andres Duarte, left, in the Prayer Room. (Natalie Battaglia/Chicago Catholic)
Bin Yim listens during a workshop. (Natalie Battaglia/Chicago Catholic)
Miriam Chan Pacheco listens during a workshop. (Natalie Battaglia/Chicago Catholic)
Beatriz Diaz listens during a workshop. (Natalie Battaglia/Chicago Catholic)
Tom Hocker, founder and director of Tree of Life Imports based in Hammond, Ind., exhibits fair trade goods for sale during the congress. (Natalie Battaglia/Chicago Catholic)
Audience members rise and pray. (Natalie Battaglia/Chicago Catholic)

Nearly 1,000 catechists, youth and young adult ministers and other parish leaders made their way through the snow to Loyola University Chicago’s Lake Shore Campus Feb. 10 for the first-ever Chicago Faith Congress.

The gathering included presentations and workshops in English, Spanish and Polish, along with opportunities to network and learn from one another about how to form missionary disciples at a time when the church and society as a whole are undergoing rapid changes.

Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, offered the English keynote. Speaking by video link after being unable to get a flight into Chicago during the Feb. 9 snowstorm, Bishop Caggiano told those gathered that technology is a two-edged sword. It makes it possible for people to communicate across distances, but it also can prevent people from being fully present to those who are with them face-to-face.

Everyone needs that one-on-one, personal connection to experience love, Bishop Caggiano said. If God is love, then those who would bring the good news of God to people must also make genuine connections with them.

“If anyone feels that they are unlovable or unloved, then our faith becomes a myth,” Bishop Caggiano said.

In addition, too much reliance on social media allows people to live in an echo chamber, listening and speaking only to those with whom they agree, forming “tribes” that see anyone who thinks differently as an outsider.

“We live in a time when tribes are now at war, where social media has become weaponized,” he said.

The alternative is to reach out to people personally.

“First and foremost, we have the relationships we are called to have with people entrusted to our care, one person at a time,” he said.

That makes faith communities – parishes, religious education classes, youth groups – into families.

“What family does not know everybody’s name?” he asked. “Whatever parish or school community you and I belong to, it rises and falls on the full understanding of the parents, guardians, children and other members.”

Doing that requires support and renewal of all families, Bishop Caggiano said. For pastoral ministers to be able to provide that, they must renew their own faith and live their lives as witnesses to the Gospel.

Elizabeth Miller, a catechist at St. Ferdinand Parish, said that was an important message.

“It’s one of those things where you know it, but you need to hear someone else say it,” Miller said. “I need to be a witness for my students.”

Miller attended the faith congress with Rose Cobleigh, another catechist at St. Ferdinand who taught Miller when she was a child.

“She’s a good example of witness,” Miller said. “If I hadn’t stayed so connected with the community, I wouldn’t be a catechist today.”

Cobleigh and Miller both said they hoped the congress would give them more tools to connect with their students’ families, to keep parents involved in the religious education of their children.

“Sometimes they just drop them off, and we have such a short time with the parents,” Cobleigh said.

John Roberto, who offered a “theme talk” on faith formation in an era of change, had suggestions for how parishes can encourage families to stay involved together, and to bring people of different generations together.

Roberto, who said he has been working in faith formation for 48 years, said parishes must embrace new technology to enhance their connections with people who already are members and to draw new people to the church, in hopes that they can make the personal connection Bishop Caggiano talked about.

It should start, he said, with baptism. Not only should baptism preparation go more in depth, he said, but parishes should make an effort to reach out to families after baptism, maybe by inviting families with similar-aged babies and toddlers to a play group, or sending an email that says, “We see your baby just turned 2. Here are some activities your 2-year-old might enjoy.”

Similarly, parishes can extend their members’ Mass experience by setting up web pages with suggested activities for youth, adults and families, if not each week then once a month.

“The material is out there,” Roberto said. “And you can link to it for free.”

The key, he said, is to use digital technology as a tool that can be put at the service of the message. Trying to move forward without using it simply won’t work for people who are accustomed to constant contact on their devices.

“We’re working really hard to try to keep 20th century models working,” Roberto said. “You can’t use 20th century models with 21st century people.”

What’s more, he said, evangelists have always had to adapt their methods to changing cultures and situations.

“That goes back to St. Paul in the first century,” Roberto said. “And when I think these times are hard, I remember I haven’t been stoned or shipwrecked yet. I’m doing OK.”


  • evangelization

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