The traditional model of Catholic faith formation focuses on passing down knowledge of the faith. But local and national faith formation experts say this approach isn’t enough to reverse the growing trend toward agnosticism and atheism among young people today. Spirituality and accompaniment must be prioritized, as well.
“This isn’t meant to bash curricula,” said Robert Feduccia, who founded the Youth Liturgical Leadership Program One Bread, One Cup at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in Indiana. “It’s just not enough.”
In an effort to unpack this approach, the Diocese of Davenport’s Faith Formation Office offered a workshop, “Side by Side: A Different Perspective” on April 20 at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City. Feduccia served as facilitator.
The workshop addressed a few of the issues faith formers identified at recent roundtable discussions, which took place throughout the diocese. Don Boucher, diocesan director of Faith Formation, said these issues include: a need get to know the people in the parish and what’s going on in their lives; how to address the exodus in the church; and how to move from the status quo as it relates to programming.
The workshop began with the facilitator and participants looking inward. After sharing his own faith journey, Feduccia asked participants to reflect on their faith journeys. He said it is important for faith formers to be in touch with their faith and openly share their passion for it. “If you can see how God is working in your life, you can do the same with others and help them say yes to God … see that God is active in our lives,” he said. “This is how faith gets transmitted. Faith is caught, not taught. It’s something that moves your heart and you find your place in God.”
Boucher echoed the sentiment, telling The Catholic Messenger, “We have to be motivated by a deep desire to walk with young people and help them to have an encounter with the living Jesus.”
Ideally, this emphasis on spirituality and accompaniment should extend beyond classroom walls through fostering a sense of community within a parish. Feduccia urged faith formers to help create a parish environment in which people share stories and pray with one another. “You don’t leave a community you share deep bonds with,” he said, noting that it’s heartbreaking to hear former Catholics say, “I left and no one noticed.”
Feduccia said young people have a lot of questions about faith. Often, they turn to “Google” for answers. Search results can bring up websites with dissenting opinions that reinforce doubts. With a culture of accompaniment, youths are more likely to open up to someone at the parish who can help them find answers. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” Feduccia said.
Some denominations aim to convert Catholics through dynamic speakers, flashy music and other means but Feduccia told workshop participants that it doesn’t matter what other churches are doing. The Catholic Church has something those churches don’t — the Eucharist. “We need to point to Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist. It’s the answer. This is what we want to communicate.”
In his experience, the Eucharist can become more meaningful to young people if they have an understanding of the pain and agony Jesus went through on his path to the Resurrection. Youths experience pain and hardship; Jesus can become more real to them when they understand that God, too, experienced human suffering. “Teens can identify with God’s pain. … This is a God who truly knows how we feel and knows how to save.”
At the workshop’s conclusion, Rosina Hendrickson, diocesan lifelong faith and lay ministry formation coordinator, addressed the group. She handed out inspirational note cards with the message, “You are now entering the mission field… Go get ‘em for Jesus!”
Hendrickson affirmed Feduccia’s call for faith formers to accompany souls on their faith journeys, reminding faith formers at the workshop that the Office of Faith Formation is there to offer support. “We’re seeking to accompany you as well. We do care about who you are as individuals and in your parish.”
Michelle Montgomery, director of youth ministry for St. Thomas More Parish-Coralville, said Feduccia’s talk was empowering. She is interested in incorporating faith journey timelines and the sharing of faith experiences into faith formation programming. She believes these activities will help foster a heightened sense of community at the parish. “When you ask the questions ‘How was God active in your life this week’ and ‘Who did you see the face of God in,’ this opens people up to sharing the bad and ugly as well as the celebrations. In this process you are giving them a connection with the community and with God through Christ. It (helps Catholics) recognize Christ’s activeness in their lives by watching and recognizing His presence.”
-By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger