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New Why Catholic? Process Helps Deepen Spirituality
of Participating Local Faithful

By MICHAEL WOJCIK
News Editor

WAYNE - Hundreds of enthusiastic Catholics from 21 parishes in the diocese took the opportunity to dig deeper into their Catholic spirituality by embarking on a popular faith-sharing program that, at first, might seem counterintuitive - the "Why Catholic? Journey through the Catechism Process." It began by taking these Catholics "back to basics," encouraging them to explore much more deeply the bedrock beliefs of our faith.

Even today many faithful who joined "Why Catholic?" report that the long-awaited first cycle of the program, held during Lent, gave them a deeper understanding of what we believe as Catholics, how we worship, how we live and how we pray (see related story). They also noted that the program - developed by the Plainfield-based RENEW International - has helped them form close-knit relationships in the their parishes, has inspired them to continue their study of Scripture and the catechism and has encouraged them to spread the "Good News " of the Gospel.

"The key to the 'Why Catholic?' learning process is other people," declared Carrie Fohlinger, planning coordinator of the team that headed up "Why Catholic?" in her parish, Annunciation here, which oversaw 17 small sharing groups. "People were witnessing to their faith. We were learning from each other's experiences," she said.

Fohlinger reflected further on the power of the witness reflections in her group as the married mother of a 15-year-old daughter moves forward in her life - "I realized that my life keeps changing and my faith experiences also keep changing."

"Why Catholic?" explores the four "pillars" of the Catholic catechism over a four-year period. There are two seasons per year - Lent and fall. Each season is six weeks long. The first six week session wrapped up with a faith enrichment workshop, "Scripture and Tradition: The Braid of Revelation." The workshop was open to all faithful of participating parishes.

"Through the braiding together of Scripture and tradition, the presence and meaning of Christ in the world is discovered," said Sister of St. Joseph Eileen Marie Rush of RENEW International, who spoke at St. Joseph School, Newton; Our Lady of the Mountain Church, Long Valley; St. Philip the Apostle Church, Clifton; and St. Virgil Church, Morris Plains. "Scripture and tradition flow from the same divine wellspring and come together to form one common source of revelation (CC No. 80)."

Offered in both English and Spanish, "Why Catholic?" encourages the formation of small communities in participating parishes - groups of 8 to 12 people. Their members pray and draw on Catholic texts like the Gospels, "The Catechism of the Catholic Church" and "Our Hearts Were Burning within Us," the U.S. bishops' pastoral plan for adult faith formation, Sister Rush said.

The "Why Catholic?" program is one of the many evangelization outreaches on which the parishes of the diocese have been embarking in taking up Bishop Serratelli's challenge that all local Catholics get involved in the act of evangelization.

"Why Catholic?" seeks to give the faithful information about their faith so they can articulate their faith to their children and to others in the workplace and elsewhere. Also participating parishes should expect "results" - more stewardship, more volunteers, more catechists and more lectors, Renew leaders told local parishes before the process began in the diocese.

"The sharing transforms our lives," Sister Eileen said, "It helps us to become the living catechism."

That critical information about Catholicism has been transforming the faith of many of the faithful of St. Jude Parish, Hamburg, who comprised about 14 "Why Catholic?" groups, said Father William Collins, St. Jude's pastor.

" 'Why Catholic?' has inspired great interest in the Bible," said Father Collins, who noted that St. Jude's has since started a Bible-study group.

These "Why Catholic?" faith-sharing groups at parishes around the diocese have attracted a broad array of members - young and old, individuals and couples, Catholics from other parishes and in the true spirit of evangelization, even some non-Catholics. Some groups are divided along specific demographics, such as young adults or stay-at-home mothers. Other groups are more demographically diverse, sporting members from teens to senior citizens.

"I got to know some people I saw at church I didn't know personally," said Pat Terranella of St. Philip the Apostle Parish, Clifton, administrative assistant in the diocesan Office for Evangelization, who facilitated a small group of "mostly middle-aged, married folks" with her husband, Frank, in their living room. "[The group] gave us the opportunity to pray for us as couples and for our children, that they keep strong in their faith."

Catherine Walsh Haehle's small group at Annunciation, which she led with husband, Brian, enjoyed reflecting stimulating topics, such as "Eucharist as the center of community." "We wanted to make people feel safe and included in the group," Haehle said. "Scripture speaks to everyone. We let the Holy Spirit do the work. People gave responses that had meaning in their lives," she said.

At the 21 "Why Catholic?" parishes, the information and insights the faithful have been gaining from their small groups have inspired many of them to get more involved in their parishes and evangelize their faith.

"Faith is action - we live it," Fohlinger said. "We need to practice our faith everyday, such as talking about our faith in the home."

Traveling to parishes throughout the diocese, Father Geno Sylva, diocesan Vicar of Evangelization and director of St. Paul Inside the Walls: the Catholic Evangelization Center at Bayley-Ellard, Madison, noted that "People are thrilled with 'Why Catholic?' "
"They have been enjoying the real substance of "Why Catholic?'" Father Sylva said. "It has fostered a sense of energy [among the faithful] and a sense of pride in our faith. They look forward to doing it again," he said.

In the fall, participating parishes will continue "Why Catholic?" (see below). Other parishes are invited to join the program.

For information, call Sister Eileen Rush, at (908) 769-5400 ext. 120 or the diocesan Office for Evangelization at (973) 777-8818, ext. 270.

Faithful explore basics of what, why we believe

The first six-week cycle of weekly "Why Catholic?" sessions focused faithful of the diocese on the following topics related to the first "pillar" of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "The Profession of Faith: What We Believe":

  • Desire for God, which highlighted the concept that desire for God is written in the human heart and the ways of coming to know God - through the world's order and beauty and through the human person, who has a soul and openness to truth and beauty. This session also explored how we speak about God.
  • God's Revelation: Tradition and Scripture, which highlighted that Jesus' teachings have been handed down through sacred tradition and Scripture and that sacred tradition originates from Scripture, influenced by the language, culture and events of the time. The session also explored how to interpret Scripture.
  • Faith: I Believe, We Believe, which highlighted the concept that faith that is given freely must be freely received and invites a personal response.
  • The Trinity, which highlights the role of Father, Son, Holy Spirit and our participation in the Holy Trinity.
  • The Mystery of Creation, which highlighted the suffering and evil in the world and the role of the cross in understanding suffering.
  • The Incarnation, which highlighted the mystery of the union of the divine and human natures in the one person of the Word.

Fall Schedule of 'Why Catholic?' Events

Sign up Sunday: Weekend Masses on Sept. 12-13. Offers the parish faithful an opportunity to join a small community for the next season of "Why Catholic?"

Faith Sharing Sessions for Small Communities: Weeks of Oct. 4-Nov. 8. Topics include: The Public Life of Jesus; The Paschal Mystery: Jesus' Death and Resurrection; The Holy Spirit and the Church; One Church with Diverse Roles; Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church; and We Believe in Life Everlasting.

Retreat for Why Catholic? Parishes: "Discerning God in the Ordinary."
To be held at various locations throughout the diocese on Tuesday, Dec. 1, Wednesday, Dec. 2, Thursday, Dec. 3 or Saturday, Dec. 5. Open to the entire parish.



Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Diocese of Paterson, N.J. Beacon photos by Michael Wojcik.

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.