Mercy is a priority for catechists in our parishes

By Peggy Moraczewski

In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, a special Jubilee for Catechists will be observed Sept. 23-25 at the Vatican. Catechists from around the world are invited to celebrate mercy that weekend, which will culminate with Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square. 
Here in the Diocese of Austin, parish Directors of Religious Education (DREs) and the catechists who assist them are sharing with young people the joy of integrating the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy into their daily lives. 
DREs from three parishes contributed to this article and all agreed that the Works of Mercy are interwoven into the materials used in their Religious Education (RE) programs. However, each of them plans to supplement the materials with activities highlighting the Works of Mercy. 
Catechists at St. Ferdinand Parish in Blanco, which has 248 families, will focus on young saints who lived the Spiritual Works of Mercy. For example, a class may study St. Maria Goretti when learning about forgiving all injuries. Susan Moore, the DRE at St. Ferdinand, suggested the book “Ablaze, Stories of Daring Teen Saints” by Colleen Swaim.
Moore said this summer catechists and youth ministers in the San Marcos Deanery were energized for the upcoming school year at an event entitled, “Blessed Teresa of Calcutta - Saint of Mercy.” Sessions on the Works of Mercy focused on creating a culture of mercy in our youth and Dominican Sister of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist Ave Maria was the keynote speaker. 
“It is a privilege to support those who give year-round to others from the deep stores and generosity of their own faith,” Moore said. 
Parents at Santa Rosa de Lima Parish in Andice, which has 850 families, will prepare journals for their children to use in their RE classes. Journaling will help students focus on how they can, or already do, incorporate the Works of Mercy into their lives, said Karen Kurtin, the parish DRE.
“Our young people not only pray for others but are learning to bear wrongs patiently and forgive others willingly,” she said. Students also benefit from the living examples of mercy exhibited by the adults in the parish.
“We know from experience that God’s love is primarily caught through our words and examples. By showing compassion and alleviating others’ misfortune ourselves we can teach others to truly live the virtue of mercy,” Kurtin said. 
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul at Santa Rosa Parish provides Sunday morning breakfast for students in the RE program and snacks for the Wednesday classes. The program receives financial support from the Knights of Columbus who also cook for multiple parish events. Additionally, the students and catechists are prayed for by the parish ladies’ group, which has a “prayer partner” component to its ministry. 
St. Ignatius Martyr Parish and School (which has 3,000 families) are situated in the midst of bustling downtown Austin. Last fall, DRE Anna Chavez began to intentionally integrate “parish family” service days into the parish calendar. The parish family is invited to participate in the service days, where the Works of Mercy are emphasized through activities, such as making welcome baskets to donate to Caritas of Austin and cards for the sick. Last year the students made treat bags for The Settlement Home for Children and bags with personal care items for the homeless, and they collected diapers for the Gabriel Project Life Center. Similar projects are planned this year, and Chavez said the recent graduates of the JustFaith program have been very helpful with many of these projects. 
While the dynamics of these parishes may be unique, they share a common appreciation for the increasing number of Spanish speaking families in Central Texas. All have incorporated bilingual materials into their RE programs. Kurtin said, Deanna Ramirez, the assistant DRE at Santa Rosa Parish, has been extremely welcoming to the Latino community. 
“She knows and understands the culture and is meeting their needs. She was instrumental in moving the parish to include bilingual RE materials,” Kurtin said. 
Chavez reiterated the value of understanding the culture of the families one is serving, emphasizing the importance of teaching people in their primary language. She explained that words can lose their meaning when translated and offered this example: To native Spanish speakers, “adios” means, “(I commend you) to God,” not just, “farewell or goodbye.” She also said the majority of students in their RE program come from homes where Spanish is the primary language. She considers removing this language barrier a Work of Mercy. 
Sharon Perkins, the diocesan director of Evangelization, Catechesis and Family Life, affirmed the work done by these talented, dedicated catechetical leaders — many of whom are unpaid volunteers or employed only part-time in their parishes.  
“These men and women of faith have stepped in to pass the Catholic faith to the next generation, often standing in the gap once entirely filled by parents and Catholic schools. And now, more than ever, we also need catechists to help people rediscover and learn their faith as adults,” Perkins said.
Parish RE programs could not operate without volunteers who serve as catechists, classroom assistants, hall and traffic monitors, etc. St. Ignatius Martyr Parish will have about 600 students participate in their RE and youth programs this year, Santa Rosa will serve approximately 275 students, and St. Ferdinand expects nearly a hundred students to be enrolled in their program.
These are just the tip of the iceberg, Perkins said, as there are 120 other parishes in the diocese with RE programs, big and small.
“We should thank and support our catechists — but better yet, if God nudges you to do this spiritual work of mercy — be a catechist!” she said.