Faith Formation Convention — Bringing the love of Jesus to others

By Linda Andrade Rodrigues
Special to The Anchor

TAUNTON, Mass. — Two hundred parish leaders from the four corners of the Diocese of Fall River gathered together to seek ways to reach out and regenerate the faith at the 2017 Faith Formation Ministry Convention, “Becoming a Church of Intentional Disciples,” on November 4 at the Holiday Inn.

“I’m grateful to the diocese for putting on events like this — it’s important,” said Danielle Crain, a Religious Education and homeschool teacher, who represented St. John the Evangelist Parish in Attleboro along with husband-and-wife catechists, Susie and Sean Martin.

Pope Francis teaches that “being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey.”

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All present were on a mission to take this message back to their parishes and out into the world.

The daylong event began with the celebration of the Eucharist in English, Spanish and Portuguese with Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., as principal celebrant.

“My brothers and sisters, it is good to be here with all of you,” said the bishop. “May God bless all your ministries in the service of God’s people.”

Led by the Stonehill College Choir, the assembly sang: “One we become, no longer strangers. / No longer empty or frail. / Filled with the Spirit, ev’ry hunger satisfied. / Christ is the center of our lives.” 

During his homily, the bishop spoke about the plight of today’s youth.

“Young people are yearning for connection,” he said. “Many of them don’t have enough time with their families.”

Instead, he pointed out, they spend time with their virtual connections: smartphones and other devices, as well as on their Facebook and Twitter accounts.

“Have you Twittered today?” he asked, and the congregation erupted in laughter.

“Young people are so attached to their virtual connections that they disconnect from family and community,” he added. “This is very destructive and leads to isolation, and that’s where we come in with our love and care and compassion. Dear friends, this is the challenge of our time: For us to pass down the faith to the next generation.”

For the recessional song, the people sang: “We are the hands of Christ reaching out to those in need, / the Face of God for all to see. / Go make a difference in the world.”

General training sessions on the role of evangelization were offered in English and Spanish, as well as workshops in English and Portuguese.

“A Church without young people is a Church without a future,” said Father Tom Washburn, O.F.M., during his workshop “Engaging Millennials: Evangelization in the Age of Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat.” 

The pastor of St. Margaret Parish in Buzzards Bay, Father Washburn is a member of the Franciscan Order and holds a master of Divinity and a master of theology from Weston Jesuit School of Theology and is currently a doctoral candidate at Creighton University exploring new ways of evangelizing the Church today.

Following Generation X, Millennials are those born between 1980 and 2000, ages 17 to 37; and they are the largest (80 million) and most educated generation in U. S. history.

According to Father Washburn, they are the first generation to grow up completely immersed in digital technology, which shaped their identities and created political, social and cultural attitudes.

On average, Millennials text 128 times a day and send out 4,000 texts a month.

“They are digital natives in a land of digital immigrants,” he said. “The digital immigrants are us.”

There was only one Millennial in the class.

He listed their attributes: they are civic-oriented with a strong sense of community and are conscious of health, social and environmental issues; they are global citizens who feel responsible to make the world better; they value authenticity and want people to be true to their values; they are compassionate and want to help others; they are progressive and want to change the system; they value diversity and are accepting of all kinds of people; and they are not religious and are less likely to practice religion than older generations.

The fastest growing religious group in the U.S. are the “Nones,” those unaffiliated with any organized religion. Thirty-six percent of the younger Millennials (ages 17 to 24) and 34 percent of the older Millennials (ages 25 to 37) are “Nones.”

Father Washburn outlined some of the reasons they are leaving the faith: They feel the Church is too judgmental, especially on sexual issues. They are skeptical of authority and value independent thought, at the expense of obedience. They are detached from social institutions. They marry later than prior generations, and many are not marrying at all.

But there is hope, he said.

At World Youth Day in 1995, Pope John Paul II said: “What is needed today is a Church which knows how to respond to the expectations of young people. Jesus wants to enter a dialogue with them and through His Body which is the Church to propose the possibility of a choice which will require a commitment of their lives. As Jesus with the disciples at Emmaus, so the Church must become today the traveling companion of young people.”

Embracing St. John Paul II’s message, Father Washburn said that evangelizing Millennials means we must find new ways that are less judgmental to express our faith; reach out with joy, mercy and love for the poor; engage in contemporary forms of communication; and accept the doors they want to enter through.

He cited the efforts at his former parish, St. Anthony’s in New York City, located in an ethnically Italian neighborhood near New York University. His parishioners adopted some new strategies, including an outreach ministry to the homeless where Millennials walk the streets and hand out bags of foodstuffs to those they meet along the way; and a pizza ministry that draws young people for food and fellowship.

In conclusion, Father Washburn suggested that our parishes engage Millennials digitally through Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat and socially by creating moments of encounter, as well as offer outreach opportunities for them to make a difference.

“There are many ways to enter, but we need to change our starting point,” he added.

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