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2014 CATECHIST RETREAT: Those in faith formation must impart Christian joy to students


Faith formation educators engage in group discussion during the annual diocesan catechist retreat at Our Lady of Consolation in Merrillville on Sept. 14. Nearly 200 educators attended the Sunday afternoon program. (Steve Euvino photo)


By Steve Euvino

Northwest Indiana Catholic


     MERRILLVILLE – If catechists are to reach their students, they must reflect Christian joy – not a superficial, fleeting emotion, but a deep, down gladness.

     Loyola Press’ Joseph Paprocki shared that sentiment with nearly 200 catechists Sept. 14 at the 2014 catechist retreat at Our Lady of Consolation. Speaking on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Paprocki, a national consultant for Loyola, said the cross is itself a symbol of joy, a symbol of victory over death.

     Borrowing from Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel), Paprocki said, “People need a signal that the Gospel is having an effect … is bringing a tingle to our lives, changing us.”

     Calling the apostles the first catechists, Paprocki noted how they were changed by the Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost. “People saw an effect and that’s what spoke to them,” he said.

     Paprocki offered nine ways for Christians to sustain joy. The list includes selflessness, a lightness of being (bringing a lightness of spirit, not angry or cynical), a sense of serenity, the ability to take a deep breath when someone wrongs us, and sharing mercy (seeing another as part of the family).

     Catechists pointed to a sense of serenity, taking a deep breath, and showing mercy as areas they would like to improve in themselves.

     Not surprised at that response, Paprocki said, “There’s a lot of anxiety in our society.”

     Elena Magallanes, from St. Casimir, Hammond, wants to improve her self-awareness and taking a deep breath. “I need to project that a little better,” said the St. Casimir director of religious education.

     Bert Martinez, director of religious education at Ss. Peter and Paul and St. Stephen, Martyr, Merrillville, saw Patrocki’s list as a “focus message,” one he would like to pursue with all of his teachers.

     When handling difficult situations or people, one catechist suggested “killing with kindness.” Another recalled Jesus’ words about forgiveness at people’s ignorance. Someone mentioned JOY – Jesus, others, and then yourself – when setting priorities. One catechist recalled a religious sister who used the Sign of the Cross in facing challenges.

     “We don’t always have the answer at once,” Paprocki said. “Take a step back and engage [others] in an understanding of what we have as Catholics.”

     The sixth item on Paprocki’s list was blessing other people, or showing approval. “Young people are looking for attention,” he said. “Get to know their names. Give them the time of day – it’s what they deserve.”

     How catechists reinforce their students, Paprocki said, “reflects that God is looking favorably upon them.” Catechists, he said, represent God for their students and help shape their image of God.

     Seventh on the list is what Paprocki labels stick-to-it-ive-ness, or doing something because it’s the right thing to do, even in the face of being attacked or criticized.

     Eighth is inner strength. Especially when people feel like human doormats, Paprocki said, kindness, patience, and compassion take courage.

     The ninth trait is strength of will, the ability to think for oneself and not merely conform.

     Paprocki said he “re-packaged” this list from the fruits of the Holy Spirit, found in Galatians 5:22-23 – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

     Marae Moore, a catechist at Sacred Heart, LaPorte, said she gained an “overall sense of what I want to bring to the classroom.” Paprocki’s presentation provided Moore with a reminder of things she may have forgotten.

     Moore also wants to focus on that sense of peace. “If I have that, my students can learn from what they see in me,” she said.

     Jenifer Schreiner, a catechist at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Valparaiso, felt a sense of renewal. “When we’re working with children,” she said, “we need to remember to have a spirit of joy and the fruits of the Holy Spirit present in ourselves.”

     Catholics are not perfect, Paprocki said, but people will take note of their joy and “see the effects of following Jesus.”

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