By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Hundreds of delegates from Southhaven to Natchez descended on Kenner, La., to participate in the recent Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference. More than 1,200 participants from Region V, in which this diocese is located, came for all or part of the three-day conference. The diocesan delegation included Bishop Kopacz, who celebrated the closing Mass on Saturday.
In its 35th year, the conference was previously known as the Hofinger Conference, named for Fr. Johannes Hofinger, S.J., a world-renowned missionary, evangelizer, teacher, and catechetical leader. “This year’s theme, ‘Prayer: Our Faith Prayed and Lived,’ reminded us of our need for prayer and to experience prayer in new ways. There really was a little bit of something for everyone as the topics covered were quite varied,” explained Fran Lavelle, director of the department of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson and one of the conference organizers.
“In addition to the areas one would expect, topics like ministry for special needs and the elderly were covered. A track for liturgy was also provided as well as a track for those working with high school students,” she added.
Members of her team and diocesan representatives, including Will Jemison, coordinator for Black Catholic ministry for the diocese, Abbey Schuhmann, coordinator for Youth Ministry, Catherine Cook, Superintendent of Catholic Schools and Karla Luke, coordinator for operations for the schools, also attended.
In addition to the keynote speakers and breakout sessions, participants had access to exhibits and liturgies. “One of my favorites was a beautiful exhibit on icons and their use in personal and communal prayer. It was a great feature,” said Lavelle.
Lori Arreola agreed. She was a first-time attendee from Grenada St. Peter Parish. “I liked the transforming of icons for catechesis and prayer workshop because it takes me to a closer intimate relationship with the Lord as well as deeper understanding level,” she explained.
Father Aroika Savio, pastor of Grenada St. Peter Parish has attended several of these conferences, but none of his catechetical staff had the opportunity until this year when a delegation of six went with him. Rosa Buzzarde, took the Liturgy track. She said she learned how to write the prayers of the faithful to include all people. She also learned about new rites of ceremony for weddings that have additions and exclusions written into them.
Annette Tipton, took the family evangelization and spirituality track. “I learned about the need for Spiritual Coaches in our parishes and how to accompany people in their faith walk,” she said. She added that she enjoyed not just the academic and logistical side, but got a lot from the spiritual offerings. “In a different venue, Dr. Brant Pitre of Gray, La, powerfully taught a deeper understanding of Lectio Divina – keeping a dialogue with Christ in prayer,” said Tipton.
Nancy Oswalt also attended the lectio breakout. “I learned about Lectio Divina, scripture and prayer and how important it is to our faith, and then some ways to actually pray and have a conversation with Christ. For the youth I now have some new ways to lead ‘guided prayer’ and modeling prayer,” she said.
Father Savio said he values conferences such as this one. “I wanted my people to see how other parishes are celebrating liturgy, offering catechesis and doing other things,” he said.
This was the first year the faith formation directors in this region took a lead role in both content and logitics for the conference.
“For several years the conference was planned by a professional meeting planner. We were given the opportunity last year to continue with an outside planner or taking on the role as a region,” said Lavelle. “With more input from the region felt we are able to address our local needs better.”
The diocesan directors for the region have already begun planning for next year’s conference. “It has been a learning experience that paid off,” Lavelle added.
As the faith formation directors plan the next conference, they would like to use feedback from this year. Those who attended the conference should submit an evaluation online at www.go4th.faith. “We want to hear from you so we can continue to provide a first rate Conference,” said Lavelle.