At SP Congress: ‘You want to do right by the kids and by God’
“Being a catechist is not just about showing up; you want to do right by the kids and by God,” said first-time Congress-goer Felix, who attended with his wife Judith and their son Christopher. “We’re just trying to improve ourselves, trying to do everything a little bit better. We’re very glad we came. It’s been fantastic.”
Themed “Proclaim God Who Dwells Among You!,” the San Pedro Regional Congress presented approximately 90 workshops, in English and Spanish, for hundreds of religious educators, both adults and youths, covering a wide range of religious education topics, from Jewish mysticism to teenage conversion to “tweeting” the Gospel, and many more.
According to Religious Sister of Charity Kathleen Bryant, God does indeed dwell among us, and all around us, 24 hours a day, seven days a week — much like the Wi-Fi that connects our laptops and other digital devices to every corner of the globe via the internet. In her presentation — titled “The Kingdom of Heaven is Like Free Wi-Fi” — Sister Bryant explored how our increasingly digitized world of cell phones, computers, YouTube, and more can actually help enhance our spiritual lives.
“Can you see Wi-Fi? No, but if you have a smart phone, an iPad or a computer you can log on,” she said. “You can’t see it, but it’s there. I believe the kingdom of heaven is just like that, but even more so, more real than that; it’s all around you.”
One of the things Sister Bryant loves about technology, she continued, “is that I can connect with people in other countries and I don’t need a [travel] visa.” She described a monthly Skype group conference that allows her to see and speak with Nigerian, Gambian, and Irish sisters via a live video chat on her computer.
“In the bold new world of technology there are no boundaries or borders. Isn’t that what Jesus envisioned, a kingdom where everyone is equal?” she asked. “We can grow in our faith with technology.”
As examples of digital faith-filled tools, Sister Bryant listed smart phone apps (e.g., iMissal, Prayers Lite, the Holy Bible, Peace Alarm, the Catholic Directory); podcasts (e.g., Pray as You Go, Word on Fire, 3-Minute Retreat); and websites (e.g., Sacred Space, Busted Halo, That Catholic Show, My Catholic Voice).
Sister Bryant acknowledged the very real potential perils associated with digital technology, such as internet addiction and access to inappropriate materials — especially for minors — but noted that such dangers can be greatly minimized with parental supervision, parental control software and by setting time limits.
“Technology is wonderful, so use it, but make sure you balance it,” she said.
Father Christopher Bazyouros, who presented the workshop “As for Me and My House: Living a Sacramental Life in the Home,” discussed how we can renew our faith in the daily routines of our home lives, from the front door to the bedroom, and the importance of sharing that faith, especially from parents to their children.
“Our faith is based on a relationship with God [and] that relationship is alive and active no matter where we are, [including] our homes,” said Father Bazyouros, who serves in the archdiocesan Office of Religious Education. “The family is, so-to-speak, the domestic church…. Parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children.”
Father Bazyouros likened different areas of the home, and their associated rituals and/or common uses, to Catholic sacraments:
—The front door, which is the entryway into the life of the family, signifies baptism.
—The kitchen, which is for serving people, signifies confirmation and holy orders.
—The dining room, which is for breaking bread together, signifies the Eucharist.
—The bathroom, which has a mirror for self-examination and a shower for renewal, signifies reconciliation.
—The bedroom, a room of beginnings (conception) and endings (the death bed), signifies matrimony and anointing of the sick.
“We are naturally spiritual and religious beings, [but] without a community of faith we don’t learn the vocabulary, and that vocabulary isn’t just words we speak; it’s also the gestures and rituals we practice that shape our spiritual life — and those practices are not just celebrated in a church building, but [also] in our homes,” said Father Bazyouros. “I hope that today we were able to look at that and say, ‘What does my home life look like, how does it reflect the faith that I live?’”
For 17-year-old Susana Lopez, a parishioner and peer leader at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Hermosa Beach, the Regional Congress was a spiritually-uplifting educational experience.
“I’m very grateful for being here. I’ve learned how to communicate more with others, to be able to share my own experiences of my Catholic faith,” she said. “I also learned how to be a better servant, a better leader of God, to help others with what they need and their struggles. And it has helped me be a better person myself.”
Marleen Ledesma, 19, an acolyte and assistant catechist at St. Philip Neri Church in Lynwood, said she attends the Regional Congress every year because she finds that every passing year continues to open her heart to new learning experiences.
“I always want to learn more and every Congress is different,” explained Ledesma. “As I get older I learn different things that help me help others.”
The archdiocesan Office of Religious Education presents the annual one-day regional congress events in each of the five pastoral regions to help participants increase their knowledge of Catholicism, deepen their spirituality, and improve their catechetical, liturgical and leadership skills through educational workshops.