Building faith in a multicultural diocese

By Peggy Moraczewski
Correspondent

“We need to be aware of our differences, embrace them and celebrate our faith together!” said Geri Telepak, director of Religious Education and Formation for the Diocese of Austin.
In the Austin Diocese, the Religious Education and Formation staff seeks to help all Catholics grow in faith. Their goal is to educate the educators: parish and school directors of religious education (DREs) for adults and children, catechists, Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) directors and lay Catholics thirsting for knowledge of church teachings.
Telepak said Bishop Joe Vásquez sees religious education at the heart of supporting the role of family in catechesis, so with that in mind, the Office of Religious Education and Formation focuses on adult education, as well as the education of children. 
Phi Le, associate director for Multicultural Catechesis, compared a catechist to a person building a house, saying, “They must have the right tools to do a good job and we need to give catechists the appropriate tools to build their house.” To accomplish this goal, three levels of certification course work are available to parish and school DREs and catechists.
Alongside Telepak and Le are Gustavo Rodriguez, associate director for Hispanic Catechesis, and Carolyn Martinez, administrative assistant. In a diocese serving more than half a million Catholics who speak English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, French and other languages, the office works to help meet the religious education needs of all.
Adding to their responsibility is the issue of providing educational materials for households where the children may be speaking English, while parents and grandparents are conversing in the language of their native country. 
To pro-perly serve this diverse population spread across Central Texas in more than 125 parishes, textbook selection is vital, Telepak said. 
“It is not just translating church works, but capturing the spirit of our Catholic faith that is important,” she said.
While this may strike some as a daunting task, the office of Religious Education and Formation has embraced their mission, speaking excitedly about finding theologically sound materials to fit each unique situation. Telepak enjoys teaching and said, “I am not doing my job if I sit in my office every day.” 
With their pastors’ encouragement and blessings, DREs and catechists are seeking the necessary tools to build “God’s house” with a newfound confidence and knowledge acquired in courses offered through the Austin Diocese. Course topics include the Liturgy and Sacraments, Multiculturalism and Catechesis, Prayer and Spirituality. 
Rodriguez said people are hungry to learn more about the Catholic faith and the courses offered have attracted crowds much larger than anticipated. 
“Catechesis is a lifelong journey. We need to experience our faith and increase our spirituality, but these need to be accompanied by sound church doctrine and teachings,” he said.
In addition to courses, the office provides a variety of resources for dedicated parish leaders, such as grade-appropriate curriculum, goals, textbook selections, catechetical bulletins, sacramental guidelines, and much more. They hope to expand the departmental resources, and Le and Rodriguez will attend a special needs conference in Houston and a ministry conference in Los Angeles where they hope to find religious education materials in Vietnamese, Korean and Braille. 
New to the city of Austin and to the diocese, Le arrived a few months ago from Baton Rouge, La. Fluent in English and Vietnamese, he is also working on his Spanish and has been absorbing all he can about the diocese, its parishes and the people. 
One of his first stops was to visit Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Parish in Austin where he observed in parishioners a longing for community, and with a note of respect in his voice, shared one way parishioners have fulfilled this longing. The parish built a new church in 2006 and has already paid off its mortgage. “The parishioners feel this is a part of being community,” Le said. 
To help quench this thirst for community and knowledge, Le will offer the “Basic Teachings of the Catholic Faith,” which covers the Creed, Scripture, sacraments, morality, prayer and spirituality, at Holy Vietnamese Martyrs beginning in January. He will teach courses in both Vietnamese and English. Any Catholic adult may attend these classes.
Le hopes to one day host a multicultural diocesan-wide event that includes the sharing of traditional fashions, foods and faith traditions. 
Telepak shared a recent personal experience that occurred while she was praying the rosary at an event. 
“I was sitting next to someone praying the rosary in a language I did not understand, yet knowing what they were saying and that we were all praying together was beautiful to me. We need to embrace ethnicity and how we celebrate our faith,” she said.
Telepak also said that St. Albert the Great Parish in Austin has many nationalities represented and “where you will see many in the congregation attired in their native garb.”
As the Religious Education and Formation staff strives to provide quality tools, they are grateful to the countless parish volunteers who tirelessly ensure the Catholic faith is shared and brought to life. 
For the first time, the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) will celebrate Parish Religious Education Week Nov. 3-9. In a letter to pastors, Bishop Vásquez thanked them and all those who serve in religious education throughout the diocese.
“Thank you for all your efforts in providing sound catechesis to your parishioners … From year to year, the number of parishioners involved in religious education in the Diocese of Austin continues to grow in a variety of programs ranging from infant baptism preparation to adult religious education. This is a blessing to our diocese and to the church,” the bishop wrote in his letter.
Telepak also encouraged Catholics to thank the priests, deacons, DREs, catechists, religious sisters and brothers and all those in the parishes who help Catholics learn more about their faith.
“Dialogue is important in our faith journey. We need to talk about our faith with each other,” she said. 
Resources regarding the Parish Religious Education Week can be found in English and Spanish at the NCEA web site at www.ncea.org. For more information about religious education in the Austin Diocese, call (512) 949-2461 or e-mail carolyn-martinez@austindiocese.org. To read this story in Vietnamese, visit http://www.austindiocese.org/sites/default/files/RE-vietnamese.pdf.

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