Almost 340 Catholic catechists convened at the University of Portland March 17 to energize their mission of teaching the faith. They came from 48 different parishes and attended seminars held in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.
Topics at the annual Archdiocese of Portland Catechetical Conference included teaching about the Eucharist through life, serving children with special needs, teaching adults, reaching teens, using drama to teach truth and employing technology.
One keynote speaker acknowledged what catechists know — most students would rather be somewhere else. But Deacon Owen Cummings encouraged the faith teachers by telling them they are "sacraments of hope."
"We are trying to bring out the best in people," said Cummings, a theologian who teaches at Mount Angel Seminary. "It isn't an easy thing to do." He urged catechists to become aware of the "baggage" they carry that deters their teaching and to let their own genuine faith shine through.
"Faith is caught, it's not just taught," he said.
Regarding the Eucharist, the theme of the year's talks, Cummings described the Mass as a sanctified and ritualized reflection of daily human experience — gathering, listening, speaking, eating and being dismissed. Mass, he said, invites us to be more human and the Eucharist invites us to be more divine. That sense, he said, should be passed on to students.
Keynote speaker in Spanish was Father Pedro Arteaga of the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit. Father Arteaga, pastor of St. Matthew Parish in Hillsboro, called the Eucharist the center of faith. Fine words and hymns are not enough, the priest explained; our beliefs need to be made incarnate in life.
Msgr. Peter Quang Nguyen, a pastor from Denver, gave the Vietnamese keynote. The life of the mystical Body of Christ flows from the Eucharist, Msgr. Nguyen said. The Mass is what makes the mystical body visible, he added.
During a Mass for participants, Archbishop John Vlazny told catechists that giving students a simple understanding of truths is probably not enough for them to remain faithful to their baptismal calling through life.
"What is more important than teaching truths is introducing our students to the dearest friend they could ever have, Jesus Christ, our savior and brother," Archbishop Vlazny said. "His friendship makes all the difference in people’s lives. Faith is sustained when people come not only to know about God but to know God."
Using the proud Pharisee in Jesus' story as an example, the archbishop urged faith teachers to remain open to what God wants them to do and to avoid the temptation of self-satisfaction and doing their own thing.
"That takes a certain unselfishness and humility, something that will come the more we serve others without thinking about ourselves," the archbishop said. "Truthfully, when that happens, the better we will all begin to feel about ourselves."