Story and photos by Gregory A. Shemitz

Catechists from parishes and schools across the Diocese of Rockville Centre gathered Sept. 16 at St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School, West Islip, for a day of instructional workshops designed to support and advance their efforts in promoting the faith.

Catechetical Congress 2017, an initiative of the diocese’s Office of Faith Formation, attracted 600 religious education leaders and volunteers who convened under the theme, “Living As Missionary Disciples.”

Workshops were offered in both English and Spanish and focused on a variety topics such as, “Children’s Liturgy and Prayer: Ritualizing Activity for Centering and Increased Spiritual Awareness;” “Renew Your Vision: Bridging the Gap between Religious Ed and Youth Ministry” and “Practical Tools for Digital Evangelization & Communication.”

Bishop John Barres opened the day by presiding at morning prayer in the school auditorium. After a brief break, the bishop delivered the event’s keynote address during which he repeatedly expressed his gratitude to the catechists for their sacrifices and unwavering commitment to their ministry.

Citing challenges faced by evangelizers St. Patrick, in pagan Ireland, and St. John Vianney, in post-revolution France, Bishop Barres encouraged the catechists to remain faithful to their vocation during difficult times.

Bishop Barres’ words were framed with enthusiasm during a presentation that had the tone of a pep rally. The bishop urged attendees to embrace the inspiring pennant-race slogan of former New York Mets pitcher Tug McGraw: “Ya Gotta Believe!”

“Dramatic Missionary Growth is the key, the goal of what we’re doing,” Bishop Barres said. “We have to believe it.”

In his remarks, the bishop told the audience he’s working on an evangelization strategy aimed at increasing attendance in diocesan churches by at least 10% over a three-year span.

The workshops commenced after the bishop’s address, beginning at 11:15 and ending more than four hours later. Participants dined on boxed lunches and perused educational materials displayed at vendors’ tables during designated breaks.

Auxiliary Bishop Robert Brennan capped the day by celebrating Mass and imparting a blessing on the catechists. The liturgy coincided with Catechetical Sunday, which is observed by the U.S. Catholic church on the third Sunday in September.

Giovanni Mayo, 23, a catechist for the past six years at St. John of God Parish, Central Islip, said the Catechetical Congress is a valuable experience.

“I love it,” said Mayo, who has attended two congresses. “It gives me an opportunity to talk to other catechists, to learn more about my faith and to learn how to share my faith with others.”