'Why Catholic?'
Adult formation program assists Catholics in understanding the faith

By Ambria Hammel, The Catholic Sun
March 6, 2008

Hundreds of catechumens and candidates throughout the diocese have been studying the faith’s tradition and Scripture to help them discern why they want to become Catholic.

This Lent, it’s those churchgoers already baptized and confirmed in the faith who are asking themselves, “Why Catholic?”

More than 2,000 Catholics — including special teen and young adult groups at one parish — are meeting weekly at 10 parishes for Renew International’s “Why Catholic?” program. This is the largest response to an adult catechetical program the diocese has ever had.

“Their simple ‘yes’ or fiat, if you will, has made this Lent so different than others in the past,” said Fr. Patrick Mowrer, pastor of San Francisco de Asís Parish in Flagstaff. “I marvel to witness how relationships are being strengthened within the body of Christ.”

Materials for “Why Catholic?” are designed for use in small groups. The curriculum draws from Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the new U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults. It’s written in a language the laity can understand and is available in English and Spanish.

“It brings Catholics together to pray, study Scripture and study the beautiful teachings of our Church through the Catechism and in the small faith group model recommended by the U.S. bishops,” said Ryan Hanning, coordinator of adult evangelization for the diocese.

For most Catholics in the program, their interaction with Church teaching ended with confirmation, said Deacon Tom Ferreira, who oversees small church communities at Holy Cross Parish in Mesa. Faith formation shouldn’t end with that sacrament, he said.

Fr. Richard Felt, pastor, agreed. “You see things in a richer, fuller way as an adult than you do as a child,” Fr. Felt said. Roughly 500 parishioners are learning more about the fullness of their faith through the “Why Catholic?” or “¿Por qué ser Católico?” program.

Fr. Dan Vollmer, pastor of St. Germaine Parish in Prescott, is pleased that so many of his parishioners also want to dive deeper into their faith. “In an increasingly secularized world, we need to be able to talk about what we believe in response to those who have a mistaken idea about what we believe,” he said.

“There are so many that have varied interpretations of what the Church teaches and a cloudy understanding of what we do,” Deacon Ferreira said.

“Why Catholic?” focuses on different parts of the Catechism of the Catholic Church six weeks at a time. More than 30 dioceses offer the program nationwide with most offering it during Lent and around Advent.

Deepening faith

Each meeting — whether at the parish or in someone’s home — consists of prayer, song, Scripture, reading from the Catechism and sharing concrete plans to live its teaching throughout the week. The students are also encouraged to read the U.S. Catechism for Adults to help them better understand the faith and tradition.

The students meet in groups of five to 10, including a facilitator. That’s what attracted Sally Valdez to the program at San Francisco de Asís Parish in Flagstaff. “I needed other people to share the wholeness of my faith,” Valdez said. “This program is a wonderful opportunity to learn from other adults how to deepen our faith and walk this journey together.”

Dan Farkas oversees the program at St. Germaine. He believes it’s important for Catholics to grow in small faith communities because that’s how the first Christians spread the Gospel.

The groups also “challenge us to live the love of Christ,” added Bill O’Brien, St. Germaine’s coordinator of adult religious education.

Patty Johnson and other Holy Cross parishioners recently challenged each other to reach out to the suffering after studying Jesus’ death and resurrection in the Catechism. She called a homebound woman whose husband was out of state on business and brought her to Mass. “When you’re reading and studying something like this, you can see how it interacts with your life,” Johnson said.

Jo Martin, a facilitator at Holy Cross, agreed. She found that many of her group members had to memorize the Catechism while growing up. “Why Catholic?” gives them the insight behind it. It’s “a great opportunity to figure out how the Church can work in your life every day,” Martin said.

“We’re opening up a hunger in them,” said Annie Conway, parish life coordinator at Sacred Heart Parish where 12 groups meet. “We see it as a first step into a larger process of faith formation.”

Catherine E. Hanley in Flagstaff contributed to this story.
Courtesy of The Catholic Sun, the Catholic newspaper of the Diocese of Phoenix. Reproduced with permisison.Photo courtesy Sally Schauble.

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. RENEW International has a 27-year record in revitalizing parish life in over 130 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.