By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
KNOXVILLE — If faith is going “to stick,” children need to experience it in their homes as well as their parish. That advice comes from Linda Moses, a national trainer with the Strong Catholic Families Strong Catholic Youth initiative that kicked off Oct. 7-8 at St. Anthony Parish in Knoxville.
St. Anthony’s is the pacesetter in the Davenport Diocese for the initiative. It partners parishes and parents in placing faith at the center of family life, assists and supports parents in forming strong Catholic families and engages them more deeply in parish life and mission.
“The Strong Catholic Families Strong Catholic Youth Initiative is an unprecedented opportunity for parishes to cooperate with the diocese in addressing the challenges facing families in our diocese,” said Father Jake Greiner, St. Anthony’s pastor. “St. Anthony Catholic Church is excited to be the first parish to take advantage of this great opportunity. However, the success of this initiative will be based largely on parishes that are willing to honestly look at how they do ministry within their parishes. With the help of the Holy Spirit, St. Anthony Catholic Church is willing to honestly assess how we do ministry and how we change for the better.”
Moses got the discussion rolling with presentations targeted toward St. Anthony parishioners (Oct. 7) and other parishes interested in learning more about the initiative (Oct. 8).
“The first session was designed to help parents take a look at the real influence they do have in forming faith in their children and to reflect on what that means,” said Don Boucher, director of the diocese’s Faith Formation Office. Participants also were invited to provide information to the parish about families’ needs and what they’re looking for in terms of assistance. That input will be synthesized for a Nov. 4 meeting at which the parents and parish leaders collaborate on responding to those needs. A diocesan Strong Catholic Families Strong Catholic Youth team is facilitating that effort, which will be part of a three-year process.
New mom Beth Adamcik, rocking her infant daughter, Layne, attended the first session. She thought it was a good way to get involved in the parish, where her husband Andy is a lay leader, and to collaborate with other parents about raising Layne in the Catholic faith. “As the old cliché goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.”The second session of the Knoxville kickoff focused on helping representatives from 12 parishes go deeper into the materials presented to the parents the night before. Participants explored initial responses to the issues raised in the parents’ meeting and whether to introduce their own parishes to the initiative. Parishes from Fort Madison, DeWitt, Grinnell, Melrose, Mount Pleasant, Muscatine, Newton, Oskaloosa, Pella, Bettendorf, Coralville and Knoxville were represented.
During both sessions, Moses shared results from the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR) which showed that parents matter. In fact, the single-most important influence on the religious and spiritual lives of adolescents is their parents.
“Religion classes by themselves are not enough,” Moses said. Children need examples. Faith needs to be experienced in the home, if it’s going to stick. She emphasized the importance of prayer, reading from the Bible and other concrete expressions of what it means to be Catholic. “If second-graders experience their parents asking for forgiveness for messing up, they’re going to understand the sacrament of reconciliation exponentially more,” she observed.
While sacramental preparation is important, Moses sees a need for journeying with families afterwards, tying the sacraments into the lived experiences of families. Baking bread together or sharing a meal and conversation are ways of bringing the Eucharist to life in the home, for example. Going outside the church walls to assist people in need is essential to fostering faith, one participant added.
Moses agreed wholeheartedly. “It’s about parents talking to their children about the faith, teaching them about the faith.… It’s what happens in between Sundays.”
Father Paul Connolly, pastor of St. Joseph Parish-DeWitt, sees a greater desire by youths for relationship with family. But he also pointed out that parents feel inadequate to pass on the faith.
“We need to support our parents and empower them and provide them with the resources they need,” Moses said.
“We seem to be gaining traction on promoting lifelong faith formation, which is so appropriate to what we’re doing here,” added John Valenti, the diocese’s coordinator of lifelong faith and lay ministry formation.
Montgomery shares her faith story
Youth Minister Michelle Montgomery of St. Thomas More-Coralville shared a personal story at the Strong Catholic Families Strong Catholic Youth kickoff about a family ritual that she now recognizes as faith-forming.
“I lost my father two weeks ago and was reminiscing about my life with my sisters and my mom about why our faith is so strong.” Growing up, “we’d have a meal together and after the meal we all had to clean up and do the dishes together. My folks are very good singers. It was investing in their family and inviting us to sing with them in harmony and it engaged us to be one and it ignited us. It really did. That’s what made our faith grow. And we didn’t even know. It was the Spirit.” She choked up as she shared her story; Moses gave her a hug and said, “That’s beautiful. That’s exactly what we’re saying. That’s putting flesh on the words.”
(Editor’s note: If a parish wants to know more about this Initiative, contact the Office of Faith Formation at (563) 888-4240.)