Faith Formation convention to focus on Year of Mercy

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By Becky Aubut
Anchor Staff

FALL RIVER, Mass. — “I can clearly see that what the Church needs today is the ability to heal wounds and warm the hearts of faithful, it needs to be by their side,” said Pope Francis. “I see the Church as a field hospital after a battle. It’s pointless to ask a seriously injured patient whether his cholesterol or blood sugar levels are high! It’s his wounds that need to be healed. The rest we can talk about later. Now we must think about treating those wounds. And we need to start from the bottom.”

“He said the Church should be welcoming of people who are hurting in many different ways, and since this is the kickoff to the Year of Mercy,” the title of this year’s Faith Formation Ministry Convention, “The Church as a Field Hospital,” was timely, said Claire McManus, director of the Faith Formation Office of the Fall River Diocese.

McManus, along with Rose Mary Saraiva, events coordinator for the Faith Formation Office, have pulled together a diverse list of presenters for this year’s convention that is being held on November 14 at the Holiday Inn in Taunton.

John Collins is a retired elementary school principal, former director of curriculum, elementary school teacher and director for Religious Education and catechist; currently he is a catechist trainer and consultant with Sadlier, a company that offers a variety of educational tools for Catholic Formation programs. His workshop, “The Holy Year of Mercy for Catechists: Making Connections with your Program Resources,” will offer special resources to help learn about and celebrate the jubilee year.

Father John Spencer, a Jesuit priest who has extensive experience in pastoral ministry, “and he’s pretty well-known in this area,” said McManus, will be offering a presentation entitled, “Ministering to those with Mental Illness and Addiction.”

“We’re envisioning the people who will go to John Spencer’s workshop as either people who have experienced mental illness in their families, or in their ministries,” said McManus. “In catechetical ministry, you deal with people from all different backgrounds, and often we don’t know how to be present for them in ministry.”

Marian Desrosiers, director of the Pro-Life Apostolate and Project Rachel for the Diocese of Fall River, a member of the board of directors for the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment in Washington, D.C., and member of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference’s Pro-Life/Pro-Family Subcommittee, was part of the statewide committee involved in helping to defeat a Massachusetts ballot referendum on physician-assisted suicide in 2012. Her presentation, “Suicide, Assisted or Otherwise, is Always a Great Tragedy,” will focus on young people.

“This came up because the assisted suicide bill is being considered again in state legislature,” said McManus, “and Marian and I serve on a committee for Bishop Edgar da Cunha, S.D.V., to sponsor this and we felt that it was important to talk about the subject of suicide in general. One of the issues with that bill is that a person who is 18 years old could be allowed to choose suicide as an alternative, and we just felt that the subject of suicide isn’t really discussed enough. We have it going on in all our communities, especially among the young, so she is focusing specifically on young people.”

Ana Maria G. Hernandez Alstrum’s Spanish-speaking presentation, “Sacraments and Popular Religiosity,” will “talk about popular religiosity from all different countries because we have representation from several Latin American countries; they have different cultural approaches to religion and she’s going to talk about how to use that, don’t try to put it aside but to use it as a good way to teach Sacraments,” said McManus.

“You look at the traditions and they’re so rooted in family, you don’t want to lose that,” said Saraiva. “When I was growing up, First Communion and Confirmation — Sacraments that were such big celebrations and those are for these cultures; this is when they put all money aside to make sure their children are dressed to the nines.”

Walter Mena, director of the Leadership Formation Program’s Department at Instituto Fe Y Vida (Faith and Life National Pastoral Institute for Hispanic Youth and Youth Adults), will be giving his Spanish-speaking presentation focused on youth ministry, “Go and ‘untangle the mess’ Challenges for Youth Ministry in the XXI Century.”

Beth Mahoney’s presentation, “The Home: First Aid Station for Mercy, Forgiveness and Healing,” is a workshop that will explore how mercy and forgiveness and healing takes place within the family; an experience that “transcends, it’s not just catechetical, it’s for all families who can benefit from that workshop,” said McManus.

M. Donna McLeod will be bringing the “Seasons of Hope,” a bereavement ministry that has not been offered at the convention before, but “it fit into the Year of Mercy and field hospital theme,” said McManus. “Her ‘Seasons of Hope’ program is a six-week, Biblically-based for parishes and people who are grieving.”

Karen Ready, coordinator of the Sister Rose House, will present “Prison: Incarceration and/or Transformation,” offering a compassionate view and, especially in this Year of Mercy, a way to carry the Word of God to those who have lost their way.

Barbara Domingue has been the director of the Faith Formation program at St. Dominic’s Parish in Swansea for 17 years, and has been actively involved in the areas of family support and autism consultation for the past 25 years, having served on numerous state and national boards: she will present “10 Things You Should Know to Help a Child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder Succeed in Your Faith Formation Class.”

Ernie Collamati, Ph.D., is vice-chairman and professor of religious studies at Regis College in Weston. His presentation, “Your God is Too Small,” will help guide people through the commonly asked question, “Where is God?” The gift of Pope Francis’ words and actions challenge us to consider a God Who is radically present to us in ways we seldom consider.

A full list of presenters and the convention schedule is available online on the Faith Formation Office’s website. The convention is on November 14 and will be held at Holiday Inn Taunton, 700 Myles Standish Boulevard in Taunton; registration begins at 8 a.m, with the final workshop and general sessions ending at 3:45 p.m. 

“We always try to be expansive in what we offer. The majority of the people [who attend] are serving in catechetical ministry, but we offer it for all ministries in the parish, especially with this theme. Our purpose is enrichment for people who are serving in ministry,” said McManus.

Registration is through the Faith Formation Office: 508-678-2828 or via website, Registration fee is $35 per person, which includes meals; for parish groups of five or more, cost is $30 per person. Deadline to register is November 5: registrations can be completed online or registration forms can be mailed in to the Office of Faith Formation, Catholic Education Center, 423 Highland Ave., Fall River, Mass., 02720.

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