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  May 22, 2006VOL. 44, NO. 10Oakland, CA

articles list

St. Felicitas parishioners explore 'Why Catholic?'

Musician priest who helped implement Vatican II retires

Igbo Catholics strive for strong community

A very brief history of
Catholicism in Africa

Modesto public schools report success with religion course

Vatican weighs in on U.S. posture towards Iran, Palestine

Church in China not ‘normal’ for more than 50 years



A return to Juba: Solidarity in building a new Sudan

Guidelines for sorting through another statewide election



Judy Fellner

Mary Elizabeth Grigg

Sister M. Mercia Zerwekh, O.P.

























St. Felicitas parishioners explore 'Why Catholic?'

Tanya Solis joined the Catholic Church two years ago through the St. Felicitas Parish RCIA program. A busy stay-at-home mom, Solis doesn’t have an abundance of free time for in-depth study of her religion. So she has really appreciated “Why Catholic?”, one of the small faith sharing groups sponsored by the San Leandro parish.

“Why Catholic?” has been a good way not only to build upon her basic knowledge of the faith but “also to discover what other people are thinking,” said Solis, mother of three kids ages six and a half, four, and eleven months.

“Why Catholic” is a four-year study series based upon the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Created by RENEW International of Plainfield, New Jersey, the organization announced news of its latest program in 2003. Shortly afterwards, St. Felicitas and neighboring Assumption Parish invited “Why Catholic?” organizers to travel to the East Bay to speak about the program. St. Felicitas decided to launch the program in fall of 2005, after a group of parishioners went through a leadership training process.

Nationally, the first parish sessions of “Why Catholic?” began in Lent of 2004, said Deirdre Malacrea, an assistant director for the program. So far, 29 U.S. archdioceses and dioceses have signed on with more than 1,000 parishes currently participating. St. Felicitas is the only parish in the Oakland Diocese which has come aboard, said Oakford Dominican Sister Dominic Marie Bonnici, pastoral associate.

For the past 25 years, RENEW has offered a variety of Scripture-based study programs to cultivate faith formation among young people and adults. Each program operates like an extended retreat, where individuals meet weekly in one another’s homes or at their parish in groups of 12 to 15 to focus on the Sunday liturgy, daily prayer, Scripture study and personal faith sharing. Today RENEW programs have reached more than 25 million laity in over 13,000 U.S. parishes, as well as abroad in Africa, Asia and Europe.

At St. Felicitas, there are eight English- speaking groups with over 200 people who meet in private homes or at the parish. There are also special groups for parents with kids, school faculty, CCD parents and teachers, parish staff and volunteers, said Sister Bonnici.

Another 48 Spanish-speaking parishioners participate in two groups – one for the parents of CCD children and the other for anyone who wishes to join. Four adults also facilitate a “Why Catholic?” program at the Juvenile Hall in San Leandro for 15-20 young men.

In addition, 55 Vietnamese parishioners are participating in three groups for women, teens and young adults.

All the groups meet for six weeks throughout October and part of November, take a winter recess, then resume for a second six-week session beginning in March.

Each year of “Why Catholic?” is based on a specific section of the Catholic Catechism. The first year covers what Catholics believe. The second year delves into the celebration of the Christian mystery through the sacraments. The third year focuses on the life of Christ and the fourth year examines Christian prayer.
Reactions to the first year’s sessions have been similar among members of the groups, whether they have been veteran Catholics or newcomers, said Sister Bonnici.

“People had a real enthusiasm for their faith, and expressed a willingness to share their faith lives with others,” she said, adding that small groups offer people a space to share the spiritual aspects of their lives that they don’t have during large parish events.

Tom and Elaine Rowe, two lifelong Catholics, said they have especially appreciated “Why Catholic?” for its ability to “reawaken our historical knowledge of the building blocks of our faith.”

As time passes in people’s lives, explained the couple via a fax, “We grow vague about the significant structure of our faith. The direct references to New Testament quotations lead us to a deeper appreciation of the liturgy, sacraments, beatitudes, and commandments.”

Bob Woodcock, a group facilitator, agreed that “It’s a real refresher for some of us.” But the sessions also have served as “an eye opener for others. The new Catholics in our groups were really excited about what they were learning.”

As was Ed Walters, a baptized Catholic who had not attended Mass since his mid-teens. But after experiencing several sessions from “Why Catholic?”, he decided to join the parish RCIA program in order to receive Eucharist and Confirmation to become a fully active Catholic.

Walter gives credit to his late mother for bringing him back to church. She died last Dec. 23. Walters and his brother decided to attend a Christmas Mass and light a candle for her. Walters continued coming to Mass. One Sunday he discovered a “Why Catholic?” brochure in a pew.

When he learned that a neighbor, Lydia Riccio, was hosting a group at her house, he decided to attend the session “to help me learn more about my Catholic faith.” There were other pluses as well. He “made a whole new group of friends and experienced a deep, spiritual healing.”

One of the most mesmerized members of “Why Catholic?” is Larry King. Using colorful metaphors, King said the program “gives us a chance to scour that old pot we call our mind and bring back the shine so that the answer to that ‘why’ question will be in our hearts and on our lips -- just where God wants them.”

King also praised the program for bringing people together, calling it “our gym, where we work out. It asks us questions that we may forget to ask of ourselves. It prods us and it reminds us, through our friends, to remember more of those things that we forgot we had learned.”

For whatever reason a person joins the group, “it works, no matter at what point you are in your faith journey,” said Lydia Riccio.

“All of us have a common denominator – the Eucharist,” said Dee Landy, a former CCD teacher at St. John the Baptist Church in San Lorenzo. Like Larry King, she is glad to be in a study group that helps people remember what their faith means. “It’s not easy to be a Catholic today,” she said.

While the first year of “Why Catholic?” stresses basic information, one session includes the opportunity to reach out to members of the community, said Kathy Drennan, a parish volunteer who facilitated a group of parish volunteers.
Members of her group brought peanut butter and jelly each week for fellow member Nancy Pestana, who volunteers in a homeless feeding program.
Parishes wanting to know more specifics about “Why Catholic?” can contact Sister Bonnici at (510) 351-5244, ext. 19, or Deirdre Malacrea, at (908) 769-5400, ext. 126.




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