Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference builds hope, encourages catechists

By Cathy Hayden
KENNER, La. – The Diocese of Jackson was well-represented among about 1,200 Catholics who attended the Jan. 11-13 Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference in Kenner, La.
Among the parishes sending catechetical leaders to the “Go! Build a Future of Hope” conference were Pearl St. Jude, Natchez St. Mary, Yazoo City St. Mary and Jackson Holy Family. Most of those attending the 36th annual conference were lay ministers to children, youth and adults in dioceses throughout Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
“For the Diocese of Jackson, we are fortunate to have such a first-rate conference that is very reasonably priced and offers such great quality speakers, workshops and vendors. I love seeing our folks there,” said Fran Lavelle, director of the Office of Faith Formation and Religious Education for the Diocese of Jackson.
Lavelle, a member of the planning committee, said the theme of “hope” was discerned in 2016 and was “truly the work of the Holy Spirit … A huge part of the success of the conference (is) that we really trust the Holy Spirit and one another.”
Over the three days, participants were challenged to withstand today’s cultural storms and were rejuvenated with talks centering around hope inspired by Pope Francis’ recently published “On Hope.”
“The conference was very enjoyable, with sessions that pertained to a variety of ministries and some that simply nourished the soul,” said Margaret Riordan of St. Jude. “In addition to the talks that included information on music and liturgy, I especially enjoyed the session on ‘Praying Our Lives: Hope for the Restless Heart,’ which introduced the Ignatian Examen.”
Gladys Russell of Jackson Holy Family Parish goes to the conference every chance she can get. “Each time I have been able to attend the Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference, I have left with information on new ways to meet the Faith Formation needs of our parishioners,” said Russell. “Information shared at this years conference, from research done on ‘why young people leave the church,’ was especially helpful. I hope we at Holy Family, will be able to use the information to keep our young people involved in parish life,” she added.

KENNER, La., Mary Birmingham presents “Catechesis and the Catechumenate” at the Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference. Helen Benson, director of religious education for Vicksburg St. Michael is visible in the red sweater. (Photo by Rhonda Bowden)

Keynote speakers included an opening day tag team presentation by Dr. Veronica Rayas, director of the Office of Faith Formation for the Diocese of El Paso Texas, and Dr. Joe Paprocki, a national consultant for faith formation at Loyola Press. The two of them laid the groundwork for the rest of the conference. With families no longer living in a Catholic “bubble,” they declared the current catechesis delivery “broken” and in need of repair.
“We have a new reality. The answer is not in the past,” he said.
Among Paprocki’s suggestions to repair were 1. Instigating faith instead of indoctrinating, 2. Forming small faith groups, 3. Empowering parents to be primary catechists and 4. Empowering adults to share their faith with one another.
Adding to that, Rayas emphasized that, especially with young people, the most powerful catechetical pathways are community, prayer and service.
On day two, psychologist Dr. Tim Hogan used humor in describing today’s “cultural hurricane” with revolutionary changes in technology, economic, information, relationships and religion disrupting the patterns of life we once knew. He described the result as an opportunity for responding by “priming ourselves for gratitude” instead of negativity.
Wrapping up the third day was Brian Butler, executive director of Dumb Ox Ministries, who inspired with stories of hope coming from often dark circumstances. “We have to choose to hope,” he said.
Breakout sessions appealed to a variety of church ministries, all targeting how to bring hope through catechesis to children, youth and adults.
“One could not leave “Go! Build a Future of Hope” without feeling renewed HOPE,” said Joyce Brasfield Adams, coordinator of Faith Formation at Jackson Holy Family Parish. “Each keynote speaker and each concurrent session leader gave concrete examples and practical ways to continue to hope. The session that touched me most deeply was, ‘Making Hope Real,’ led by Becky Eldredge. She led us into prayer with the acronym HOPE (Hark, Open, Pray and Encounter) based on Mark 2: 1-12. The session was not just a presentation, but a spiritual experience.”
(Cathy Hayden, a member of the RCIA team at St. Jude in Pearl, received a Master of Theological Studies degree from Spring Hill College in May 2017. She is director of Public Relations at Hinds Community College. See her related column on page 12.)