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Forming young disciples

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placeholder May 4, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO. 9   •   Oakland, CA
Forming young disciples

Patti Collyer

After Easter, many joyful events fill the calendar for families with young children. In parishes throughout the diocese, children — usually second-graders — will be receiving First Communion.

Teenagers will be confirmed at Masses in parishes and at the Cathedral of Christ the Light.

What brings them to these memorable days is faith formation. While Catholic school students receiving First Communion prepare for the sacrament in class, they are joined by young parishioners who have attended faith formation classes on weekends or evenings.

The confirmation students prepare in programs that may range from one to three years in their parishes.

In the reorganization of the Department of Faith Formation and Evangelization, Patti Collyer has embraced her new role as coordinator for faith formation for children to age 18.

 
Faith formation

Students
Elementary school 18,443
High school 6,212

Sacraments
First Communion 8,159
Confirmation 4,234

Source: Diocese of Oakland, 2014
 
Collyer joined the diocese in 2010 as coordinator of youth and young adult ministry. In pastoral work at St. Bonaventure and St. Francis of Assisi in Concord, Collyer has worked with every age group.

In her new role, she has been setting up what she called "listening sessions" regionally for pastors and directors of religious education.

"I want to go out and ask, 'What would you like to see us do to support you?'" she said.

Collyer is interested in hearing about the programs the parishes are using and what they like about those programs. She's also interested in learning about the formation parishes offer for their catechists.

If there's a call for it, for example, the diocese could offer days of reflection for catechists. Giving them an opportunity to spend some time on their own spirituality can help prepare them for their important work of teaching the faith to the young.

"They need to have their tank filled before they can fill everyone else's," she said.

The role of the catechist is an important one in children's lives.

"My hope is every catechist be so on fire for Christ," Collyer said, "they're magnets for Christ."

Whole-family faith formation programs "promote faith sharing in the home," Collyer said. Parishes are the primary catechists for their children. Participating families in parishes come together as a group once a month.

While there is a good deal of enthusiasm for sending children to faith formation for the reception of First Communion, among the challenges the catechists face, "How do we engage them as families between sacraments?"

After First Communion, Collyer said, some children are not seen again until they are enrolled in Confirmation preparation when they are in high school.

Another group that needs to be served are children older than second grade who have not received First Communion. It might not be appropriate to put them in a class with second-graders, for example,

In the Diocese of Oakland, First Communion is usually celebrated by second-graders and Confirmation by around the age of 16.

"Confirmation is a process," Collyer said, "a step in your faith journey." In marking the "beginning of adulthood, it's appropriate to your faith to embrace the faith and make it yours."

"It's the only time people shop for the program that wants the least," she said. The 72 hours required by the confirmation guidelines, she said, is all spent in the classroom.

"They are encounter opportunities," she said, including service projects, Lenten experiences and other Catholic events, including attending other sacraments, such as a baptism or wedding.

"The greatest gift we can give to our children is to introduce them to Christ and root them in their faith," Collyer said. "Are we going to spend eternity with them? Did we do everything we could to put them on the path to heaven?"

 
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