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October 25, 2009

Festival of Faith inspires, impels More than 7,000 Catholics participated in the two-day event Oct. 16-17

Catholic New World staff

It was a showcase of the many facets and depths of the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Chicago. The third Catholic Festival of Faith, held this year at the Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, brought around 7,000 out for workshops, Mass and seminars. In between sessions, attendees visited dozens of booths highlighting archdiocesan ministries, book publishers, religious communities and more.

The Archdiocese of Chicago benefits from large events like the Festival of Faith that bring people together, said Father Richard Hynes, director of the Department of Evangelization, Catechesis and Worship and organizer of the festival, said he is convinced that we need these types of events.

“The cardinal wants to have parishes together. We have 357 parishes and a lot of them are very vibrant,” he said.

But as with any large community, sometimes we can become isolated and don’t feel like we are a part of the larger archdiocese. Events like the festival bring us all together as family, he said.

Hynes stopped in for a few lectures in between running the event. His favorite one he said was about how to teach the faith to children aged four through six.

“The speaker was talking about how to teach children to pray and my heart just opened to that,” he said. “If you can teach children to pray at that age God has them for life.”

Bishop Murry

The event began Oct. 16 with a keynote by Bishop George Murry, S.J., of Youngstown, Ohio, titled “The Love of Christ Impels Our Vision.”

Bishop Murry, formerly an auxiliary bishop of Chicago, spoke to a hall crowded with Catholic school teachers impressing upon them their responsibility to form their students in faith. Many of the archdiocese’s Catholic schools were closed that day for a teachers’ in-service at the festival.

“Each one of us is called and sent to proclaim the good news,” Bishop Murry said. “Each one of us is called and sent to evangelize. The church exists in order to evangelize.”

Teachers in Catholic schools have an even more specific charge, Bishop Murry said.

“The young people sent to you are sent to learn the good news of Jesus Christ,” he said, adding that teaching the faith is more important than academics or social skills, especially at a time when the wider culture teaches that violence is good and faith is not important.

“Our young people continue to live in unfortunate times, and they, like us, know this,” he said, adding that violence is glorified, many families are broken and children having children can no longer be children at all.

“Parents, grandparents and guardians want their children to be schooled in another reality. They send their children to you hoping you will take seriously Jesus’ commandment to make them disciples,” he said. “The good news of Jesus Christ will lead them not simply to values, but to virtues.”

The command to “go and make disciples” extends beyond teachers to every believer, Bishop Murry said, and it means to share the good news that Jesus Christ became human, died for our sins and rose from the dead, offering salvation to all humanity.

“With the coming of Jesus Christ, all can see who God is,” he said. “He is a God of love and mercy, a God who is willing to treat us better than we deserve, better than we treat ourselves. Jesus himself is good news, we exist to proclaim, profess and confess that good news.”

But we don’t always do that as boldly as we might, Bishop Murry continued. Catholics make up the single largest religious group in the United States; perhaps Catholics think that everything will be fine if they wait for others to come to them.

“Waiting is not the habit of missionaries,” the bishop said. “Everything we do and say should be aimed at bringing the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, to all we encounter. … This great good news compels us, out of gratitude, to tell someone.”

Education focus

The schedule for Oct. 16 included dozens of workshops, including many aimed at teachers and catechists. Teachers from Catholic schools around the archdiocese attended the first day of the festival as part of their annual continuing development.

“It’s a nice idea, to step back for a day and reflect,” said Laura Alonzo, a music teacher at St. Daniel the Prophet School.

Mary Kay Flynn, a preschool teacher at St. William School, said she found a workshop on “The Early Childhood Catechist,” offered by Sister of St. Joseph Barbara Jean Ciszek, principal at Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Early Childhood Center, to be worthwhile, especially when Cardinal George stopped in to offer his support for the work the preschool teachers do.

‘We are the twelfth’

Cardinal George celebrated Mass after the first round of workshops, and told the congregation a story from his days visiting members of his religious order, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, as they worked to bring the Gospel to the poor around the world.

One day in the 1980s, he was in Zambia, taking some time to reflect on the Eucharist after Mass near the Zambezi River. Four men approached him, asking where they might find the priests who were living there. He directed them, and three went to speak to the priests. The fourth stayed by the river with him.

He and his companions, he explained, had been sent by their village to find out about Christianity, after hearing other people talk about it. But the fourth man had already made up his mind, after seeing the suffering of his people, that any talk of a good God, a God who loved them, who sent his son to die to save them, could not be right.

“He said, ‘It doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s too good to be true,’” the cardinal said. “It is too good to be true, this good news we proclaim.”

The only way to understand it is with faith, the cardinal went on, and our job as Christians is to invite people to an encounter with Christ, so that they might receive the gift of faith.

“The purpose is not to increase the club,” Cardinal George went on. “The church is not a club. The church is the sacrament of the grace of God.”

Sharing that sacrament is the work of all the faithful, who share the commission Christ gave the disciples before ascending into heaven.

It’s notable that only 11 apostles were there for “the great commission,” Judas having left them after his betrayal.

“The twelfth apostle is ourselves,” Cardinal George said. “We have to listen to what Jesus told us. We are people who stand with Jesus on that mountaintop.”

At the end of Mass, Cardinal George shared his appreciation of the teachers’ work saying that Catholic schools are the best schools in Cook and Lake Counties.

Saturday sessions

The Oct. 17 session of the Festival of Faith was aimed at Catholic parishioners, with sessions for youth, young adults and families, as well tracks of sessions in Polish and Spanish.

Nationally known speaker ValLimar Jansen opened the day after morning prayer with a presentation that combined music, storytelling and teaching, aimed at an audience made up mostly of young people and their teachers. Many in attendance were Polish youth who came with their Saturday Polish school classes.

Jansen gave an example of “spontaneous prayer” as she called on the Holy Spirit to help the teens to calm their minds and prepare to pray together. Learning to create quiet is important for young people in a world that is increasingly noisy, she said.

“Even the little town of Bethlehem is noisy,” she said. “Even the very pleasant community of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, is noisy.”

Later in the morning, a handful of families attended a workshop offered by religious educators from St. John of the Cross Parish in Western Springs called “Gather Around the Table: Mass Time and Family Time.”

Kathleen Christopher and her son, Adam, 7, from Mary Seat of Wisdom Parish in Park Ridge were among the families who came up with a list of the things they need to have or do for Thanksgiving: turkey, family members, even football.

After the families shared their lists, the workshop leaders helped fit them into the framework of the Mass, which is its own thanksgiving meal.

Youthful spirit

In another area of the convention center, young adults gathered to pray together and reflect on where God fits in their lives, and where they fit in the life of the church.

“In the Spotlight” offered personal testimonies, dramatization of Scripture and song, and the later “Showcase of Opportunities” offered information about the resources available for young adults, with input from a variety of sources, including Young Adult Ministries of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Charis Ministries and Hispanic Young Adult Ministries.

“Knowing we have been created by God, we can’t sit down,” said Timone Davis of ReCiL, a young adult ministry whose name stands for “Reclaiming Christ in Life.”

The average age among the Festival of Faith participants would have been higher if it had not been the Polish group. The Polish youth track for students attending confirmation preparation classes, gathered 850 seventh- and eighth-graders from 17 Polish Saturday Language schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

The Polish youth track was done mostly in English, which for many students, is their first language.

Karolina Konrad, an eighthgrader from Tadeusz Kosciuszko Polish School, said she was “thrilled” to see Cardinal George in person.

“The cardinal told us that we are one family with God,” Konrad said about the cardinal’s talk.

Father Krzystof Pankanin from St. James Parish, said his students liked the session that they called “saving babies.”

“They are very sensitive to that topic. We talk a lot about abortion and life-saving issues during our classes,” he said.

Dominican Sister Margaret Lekan, vocation director for the Dominican Sisters Immaculate Conception Province at Rosary Hill in Justice who presented at the Saturday session, said that events like the Festival of Faith show a wider view of the church and refresh our faith.

“I’m specifically happy that thanks to the festival we got a chance to meet our leaders who are men of tremendous faith and simplicity of heart,” said Lekan.