Formation Convention will be ‘Living the Joy of the Gospel’

By Becky Aubut, Anchor Staff

FALL RIVER, Mass. — On November 15, the Diocese of Fall River Office of Faith Formation will host its annual Office of Faith Formation Ministry Convention at the Holiday Inn, 700 Myles Standish Boulevard in Taunton. Registration begins at 8 a.m. and the convention opens with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, at 9 a.m. 

“In the past, the diocese held a ‘Religious Education Convention,’ which focused primarily on those people involved with the Religious Education of children,” explained the director of the Office of Faith Formation, Claire McManus. “Since 1999, when the USCCB released ‘Our Hearts Were Burning Inside Us,’ the emphasis has been on the formation of adults. Spiritual maturity is cultivated through more than simply learning about the faith. The adult also grows in faith through the Liturgical ministries of the parish, moral formation, prayer, belonging to the parish community, and through the cultivation of a missionary spirit. The convention seeks to offer enrichment to people from all of these areas of parish life.”

Now called the Office of Faith Formation Ministry Convention, McManus said the renaming of the convention five years ago was to better reflect the reality of the Faith Formation in the parishes across the diocese; “So many ministries in a parish play a part in the Spiritual formation of the individual,” she said. “The concept of ‘Faith Formation’ is more comprehensive than a catechetical program.”

As the convention has evolved, so has the choice of speakers, his or her topics and presentations in English and in Spanish; “We broadened the themes of our workshops and general sessions to reach the needs of a diverse group of parish volunteers and any adult wishing to take part,” said McManus. “There will always be workshops for catechists and parish catechetical leaders whose work with children and youth always require learning new skills.”

This year’s convention theme is based on Pope Francis’ exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (Living the Joy of the Gospel). Each of the three general session presenters will break open the exhortation and help parish leadership apply it in their context, said McManus. General session presenter Sister Margaret Eletta Guider, O.S.F., is a member of the ecclesiastical faculty of the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry (formerly Weston Jesuit School of Theology) where, since 1990, she has served as associate professor of Missiology. 

“She is an excellent presenter and has vast experience in catechetics, mission and ministering to people with disability,” said McManus of her former thesis advisor while she attended Weston Jesuit School of Theology. “She is fluent in Portuguese and worked and studied in Brazil.”

As a national religion consultant for Bilingual Resources for William Sadlier, Inc., Victor Valenzuela has been in ministry for 25 years, including classroom teaching, youth ministry, teacher training and writing and development of new materials; “Victor Valenzuela is presenting the general session in our Hispanic track, [and] has immense experience in catechetics and works in diverse cultures,” said McManus. “He is focusing on the enculturation of the Gospel message through the various forms of piety and feasts common in the Hispanic culture. He is also focusing on the skills required for quality catechetical experience.”

An author of many books, general session presenter Joe Paprocki, D.Min., will be drawing from his latest book, “Under the Influence of Jesus,” to explore how individuals can engage in a more evangelizing catechesis that not only informs but also transforms: “Joe Paprocki is very well known among catechetical leaders as he is the author of many books, including ‘The Catechist’s Toolbox,’” said McManus. “He has been in the diocese many times doing workshops for Loyola Press, who is sponsoring him for this convention. He is a very entertaining presenter and is focusing on the personal dimension of evangelization. We can’t just share the Gospel; we have to be the Gospel!”

The convention is bringing back some popular presenters, including John Collins, a retired elementary school principal and former director of curriculum and elementary school teacher. Kevin Dowd is also returning to present a workshop focused on bullying, and to show participants a presentation to encourage them to draw from their own experiences.

“John Collins never runs out of creative ideas for catechists,” said McManus. “John is also sponsored by Sadlier. Kevin Dowd was very well received last year; Pflaum is sponsoring his workshop. 

“We always like to address the needs of catechists working with children with special needs, and this year Loyola is sponsoring Deacon Larry Sutton who is the author of ‘How to Welcome, Include and Catechize Children with Autism and Other Special Needs.’ Father Tom Washburn, OFM, is a popular speaker who grew up in New Bedford. He has been a presenter for us in the past, and this year he is bringing his Franciscan Spirituality into an explanation of the work of Pope Francis.”

McManus is “very excited” to have Bishop da Cunha celebrate Mass — his first convention Mass — and the Mass will also honor individuals who have served in ministry for a significant number of years, allowing Bishop da Cunha a front-row seat to the dedication of people in the diocese. Vendors will also be on hand at the convention, including the Daughters of St. Paul.

“The convention allows us to gather together as a community of Church that reveals our common mission in the Diocese of Fall River,” said McManus. “Sharing thoughts with others that come from diverse areas of the diocese helps us to broaden our view of ministry and gives us a feeling that we are in this together. We try to make the convention a place of welcome and hospitality.”

For more information on registering for the convention, please called the Office of Faith Formation at 508-678-2828, or go on the office’s website: www.FallRiverFaithFormation.org.

© 2017 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing  †  Fall River, Massachusetts