Why Catholic? Participants Finish First Six-Week Session,
Look Forward to Remainder of Program

By Nicki Prevou, Editorial Assistant, North Texas Catholic

Bill Peters isn’t reticent about sharing his hope for what the Why Catholic? program can do for his beloved parish, St. Bartholomew Church in Southwest Fort Worth.

“Our primary goal for Why Catholic? is that it will help us to build community within the parish,” says Peters, who with his wife, Barbara, serves as coordinator of Why Catholic? sessions at St. Bartholomew. “Those of us who were fortunate enough to experience the RENEW program all those years ago wanted to revitalize the concept of share groups within the parish. We want people who attend one Mass regularly to know people who attend the other Masses. We want everyone to get out of their comfort zone and meet new people and get more involved.”

Program encourages participants to open up in small groups

Why Catholic? Journey Through the Catechism, a ministry of RENEW International, a Catholic organization based in Plainfield, New Jersey, is an adult faith formation process based on Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. According to Renew International officials, the four-year, 48-session process encourages learning in a prayerful, small community setting. Small group sessions are held in churches and in private homes.

Over 7,000 Catholics within the Diocese of Fort Worth are, with the encouragement of Bishop Kevin Vann, marking the 40th anniversary of the diocese through participation in Why Catholic? within their parish communities. According to the program’s diocesan coordinator, Father Carmen Mele, OP, participating parishes have now completed the first six-week session in the first of the program’s four books, “The Profession of Faith: What We Believe.”

Additional sessions will be offered in parishes over the next three and a half years, with sessions based on topics such as the sacraments, integrating faith in daily life, social justice, and prayer.

For more information about how to participate in Why Catholic? in your parish community, contact your parish office, or call Fr. Carmen Mele, OP, at the diocesan office at (817) 560-2452, ext. 262.

More than 700 St. Bartholomew parishioners participated in Why Catholic? small groups in both English and Spanish this fall, Peters added, noting that many parents of children in religious education programs attended Why Catholic? sessions held at the church each week while their children were in class.

“The materials are excellent, and we have had so many people saying, ‘My group is great, and we've gotten to know each other so much better,’" he adds. “We’ve also had several of our groups volunteer to take care of families in need this Christmas, especially families that have been affected by domestic violence. This program is a good way of reinforcing the message, ‘If you’re going to say you’re a Christian, then walk the walk, and get involved in service.’”

Anthony Roffino, coordinator of Why Catholic? sessions at St. Rose of Lima Church in Glen Rose, has also seen positive results from the program, he says. “We’re a small rural parish, so I was pleased to have two good groups complete the first six weeks of sessions,” notes Roffino. “It’s been great to see the response. People did not want another Bible study; they wanted something like this, with good discussion and sharing. No matter how much you know about the Church and its teachings, you can’t help but learn something from these sessions. I know that I’ve looked forward to going each week.”

Carla Gonzales a facilitator for Why Catholic? at St. Patrick Cathedral Parish wrote recently to the NTC about her experience just after her small group’s first meeting in her home. “Father Richard Flores, rector of St. Patrick’s Cathedral did a fantastic job, in getting the word out about the program,” she wrote, “and more than 10 percent of the parish signed up.”

“At our first session, I was glad to hear the reasons many joined the Why Catholic? program,” she wrote. “Some were there to learn more about their faith so they could pass [it] on to their children. Others were there to study the faith through the Catechism,” and some, she wrote, were using the Catechism as a reference for the first time and discovering the wonders of both the United States Catechism for Catholic Adults and the CCC while still others wanted to “get to know” the parishioner they sit by every Sunday.

Father Carmen Mele, OP, diocesan coordinator of the Why Catholic? program, says that he has received completed evaluations from most of the 55 parishes that offered Why Catholic? sessions this fall. “I’ve been very pleased by the positive response,” he says. “Our parishioners are saying that Why Catholic? helps us to better understand and appreciate our Catholic faith, and that’s very satisfying to hear.”

St. Patrick Cathedral parishioners (from left to right) Steve Weis, Rosie Levitt, and Jim Bransford share a Why Catholic? booklet at a small group session at the home of Carla and Ismael Gonzalez.
(Photo courtesy of Carla Gonzalez)
Bishop Kevin Vann’s commitment and support for Why Catholic? have been invaluable, adds Fr. Mele. “He is extremely inclusive, and it was very important to him that we reach out to the different cultural groups of the diocese to make the program accessible to everyone. I know that has made a difference to our pastors, and strengthened their own commitment to getting parishioners involved in this way.” Materials in Spanish, English, and Vietnamese have been provided to groups throughout the diocese, says Fr. Mele.

Christina Hoang, who with her husband, Deacon Michael Hoang, attended Why Catholic? sessions offered in the Vietnamese language at Our Lady of Fatima Church in East Fort Worth, says that the three groups of parishioners who attend the sessions have become gradually more comfortable with the faith-sharing format over the six weeks of meetings.

“Some of our members are very reserved, and not used to this kind of program, but people are finding out how good it is to just learn and talk together,” she reflects. “It’s enriching for everyone, and it has given people an opportunity to open up and just talk about their Catholic faith. I know people are looking forward to our next sessions. I think they will be offered again during Lent.”

This article originally appeared in the December 4, 2009 issue of the North Texas Catholic, the Catholic newspaper of the Diocese of Fort Worth. Photo courtesy of Carla Gonzalez. Used with permission.

Click to learn more about Why Catholic?/¿Por qué ser Católico?

About RENEW International RENEW International is a canonically-recognized Catholic organization based in Plainfield, NJ, in the Archdiocese of Newark. RENEW International fosters spiritual renewal in the Catholic tradition by empowering individuals and communities to encounter God in everyday life, deepen and share faith, and connect faith with action. Since 1980 RENEW International has revitalized parish life in over 150 dioceses in the United States, touching the lives of 25 million people through its renewal processes. RENEW International also reaches many thousands outside the United States, having served people in 23 countries, across six continents and in 44 languages.