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Faith-enrichment sessions add to the RENEW experience

Five hundred East Tennessee Catholics attend a two-hour program on


‘The Braid of Revelation’ as part of their first-year course

By Dan McWilliams

Hundreds of parishioners around the diocese deepened their RENEW experience by attending a faith-enrichment session on “The Braid of Revelation” this month.

The two-hour sessions are held in December during each annual course in RENEW International’s four-year Why Catholic? Journey Through the Catechism faith-formation program, which kicked off in the diocese in October. Some 500 session participants explored how Christ is revealed through Scripture and tradition.

The Why Catholic? program focuses on a different pillar of the Catechism over 12 meetings each year. The faith-enrichment sessions were held from Dec. 8 through 15 at St. Dominic Church in Kingsport, St. Thomas the Apostle in Lenoir City, Holy Ghost and Immaculate Conception in Knoxville, St. Francis of Assisi in Fairfield Glade, St. Patrick in Morristown, and St. Jude in Chattanooga. Each church hosted at least one gathering, and St. Thomas, St. Patrick, and St. Jude also hosted a session in Spanish.

Father Abraham Orapankal and Father Alejandro Lopez-Cardinale, both of RENEW, were among the presenters. Diocesan Renew coordinator Deacon Sean Smith, vice chancellor and director of Planned Giving and Development, also led sessions.

Thirty-five area parishioners heard Father Orapankal’s talk Dec. 12 at IC, where each table had three strands of yarn to represent the braid of the session’s title. White yarn represented Christ, with green for tradition and gold for Scripture. Marian Howard, parish director of adult faith formation, lit a candle with corresponding colors as Father Orapankal came to each braid in his talk.

The second candle “reminds us that what we call tradition in the church is not something that is dead but something that is alive, glowing, fresh, green,” said Father Orapankal. “What is tradition for us? Things that are passed down from generation to generation. In the church we say that tradition is all those practices, customs, belief systems, doctrines, etc., that have been passed on to us from apostolic times onward.”

Father Orapankal touched only briefly on how Christ is revealed to believers before going on to the second and third braids.

“We’re only spending a few minutes on the first part because people like to hear much more on Scripture and tradition,” he said before the session. “Especially here in the Bible belt, there is a great need for us Catholics to know much more about the Catholic concept of tradition and Scripture. Why do we Catholics give so much importance to tradition, on a par with the Scripture?

“When the Protestants ask us that question, they will not be satisfied unless the answer comes from the Bible. And we do have answers from the Bible.”

A Pentecostal friend asked Father Orapankal why Catholics put so much stock in tradition.

“I said, ‘It’s only because it is in the Bible.’ He said, ‘Where?’ I said, ‘In 2 Thessalonians 2:15.’ He had his Bible handy with him. He opened it, read the sentence, and said, ‘Father Abraham, I never knew that such a sentence was in the Bible.’

“I felt good. I thought I had already converted him, so I asked him, ‘Are you convinced now?’ Then he told me, ‘Father, give me a week. Let me go back and check with my pastor to find out the real meaning and interpretation of this passage.’”

That brought a quick reply.

“I said there is no other real meaning other than what you see because Paul is very clear in saying ‘stand firm and hold fast to the traditions which you were taught by us either by word of mouth [tradition] or by our letter [Scripture].’”

“Please learn this particular reference by heart,” he added to his IC audience. “It’s very important.”



Father Orapankal referred to the theory of inerrancy in the Bible when he came to the third braid, Scriptures.
“But this principle of inerrancy is applicable to the message of the Bible, to the truth that God is conveying to us through the Bible, not to each line and sentence,” he said. “We cannot take the Bible entirely in a very fundamentalist or literal sense or we’ll be in trouble.”

Interviewed with only a handful of faith-enrichment sessions left on the schedule, Deacon Smith said that he had received glowing feedback on the gatherings.

“I can tell you that I have reviewed over 350 evaluation forms, and all we’ve gotten is excellent feedback of how much people have loved the course and how much they’ve learned,” he said. “Because we live in the Bible Belt and are often questioned about sacred tradition and sacred Scripture, people have walked out of these enrichment sessions feeling much more comfortable and competent in answering some of the questions that are posed to them.”

RENEW participants may also attend a retreat at the end of each annual course. The first-year retreat is set for late April or early May 2008. Deacon Smith said he hoped to have Father Orapankal back for the retreat.

Dave Venesky attends IC and called the faith-enrichment session there informative and time well spent.

“The lecture gave a very good objective look at the Catholic Church as it now enters the 21st century and begins to show us that we’re now beginning to tie tradition together with Scripture, so that you can get a more complete picture of the Catholic faith as it exists today,” he said.


The article above appeared in the East Tennessee Catholic and is reprinted with permission.
About Why Catholic?/¿Por qué ser católico?
Now in thirty dioceses, these ministries from RENEW International offer practical, pastoral approaches to evangelization and adult faith formation. Participants experience a guided tour through sacred scripture and The Catechism of the Catholic Church, allowing them to grow in understanding of their faith and giving them the confidence to share it with others.Trainings and materials are available in English and Spanish. [ read more ] [más información]

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. RENEW International has a 27-year record in revitalizing 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.