New program's goal: From Sunday-only to everyday Catholics

Why Catholic? begins for parishioners in 76 parishes this Lent

Published: February 10, 2007

By Malea Hargett

Starting the week of Feb. 18, 76 Catholic churches across the state will be offering adult parishioners an opportunity to learn more about the faith through reading and sharing about the Bible and catechism.

"Why Catholic?" and its version in Spanish, ¿Por qué ser católico?, is a national faith formation program contracted by the Diocese of Little Rock last year with the approval of Bishop J. Peter Sartain. Parishes were invited to sign up for the program and send religious education leaders to three regional training sessions.

The four-year program will begin this Lent with a six-week study on the Creed and will continue this fall with more sessions on the Creed. In 2008, the topic will be the sacraments, in 2009 it will be morality and in 2010 it will be prayer. The foundation of the program is small faith communities meeting in homes each week for prayer, Scripture reading and faith sharing.

Why Catholic? was created by Renew International in response to the U.S. bishops' 1999 pastoral plan, "Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us."

In January 782 English-speaking small group leaders were trained how to lead the sessions in their homes. Another 220 Hispanic leaders were trained for the 23 parishes that are hosting Spanish sessions.

In late January and early February, parishes signed up participants for the sessions.

Catholics in Arkansas will have a similar experience to thousands of others across the state as well as the country, said Sister Maureen Colleary, FSP, a presenter for Why Catholic? based in Plainfield, N.J.

Sister Maureen said four other dioceses are launching Why Catholic? this Lent. They are Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Milwaukee, Knoxville and Charlotte, N.C. Thirty other dioceses joined over the past four years since the program was launched or will join this fall.

Sister Maureen said Catholics are eager to learn more about their faith and have found Why Catholic? the right vehicle to answer their questions.

"They are realizing as they are working through the books that it is giving them a language to speak about their faith to their children," she said. "It is giving them an opportunity and understanding of how to integrate their faith into their everyday life. They are moving away from this kind of Sunday Catholic to truly having their faith impact every day of their life wherever they are."

Alma Garcia, a Why Catholic? presenter in Spanish, said Hispanics are interested in the program because they will be studying the same topics as their English-speaking friends at church.

"It is not something separate we are providing," she said. "The final goal is the same. The big dream is to become one community with the English-speaking community. We remind them we are one Church."

Sister Maureen said she has been impressed with the interest in the program in Arkansas. Fifty-eight pastors for 76 parishes and missions signed on to the program.

"That is very good," she said.

Sister Mary Glynn, SJC, diocesan director for religious education and Christian initiation, said Bishop Sartain endorsed the program and encouraged all parishes and missions to use Why Catholic? For various reasons, some pastors chose not to offer the program. For Catholics in parishes not offering Why Catholic?, Sister Mary said they are encouraged to call a neighboring parish and inquire about the sessions and meeting times and locations.

More information on the program is available on the diocesan Web site, www.dolr.org.