Keeping emphasis on Jesus will keep faith alive, educators told

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BOSTON (CNS) — A workshop titled “Will there be faith?” answered its own question with a resounding “yes” — with the caveat that Catholic school teachers and catechists emphasize the life and ministry of Jesus and also follow his teaching style.   The workshop, one of hundreds offered during the annual National Catholic Educational Association convention April 11-13 in Boston, did not stress any new programs or teaching styles but instead highlighted Gospel passages.

Thomas Groome, director of Boston College’s Institute of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry, told a packed room of educators April 13 that Jesus — described as a teacher 150 times in the New Testament — should be their role model.

He noted that obviously Jesus didn’t use PowerPoint or even a microphone, but said today’s teachers should “be consistent with his approach.”     According to Groome, the particular teaching style Jesus used engaged people in their daily lives, often through parables, invited them to stop and look at their lives, then turned their views upside down and motivated them to live differently based on this faith understanding.

“He was not just a discussion leader,” Groome added, noting that the Gospel of Mark describes Jesus as “teaching with authority.”    Groome noted that Catholics are not accustomed to putting so much emphasis on Jesus but should take their cues from Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

He said that after Pope John Paul’s death, one daily newspaper described him as evangelical and seemed almost surprised at the number of times the pope had spoken about Jesus. And when Pope Benedict visited the United States in 2008, Groome said he repeatedly told crowds to follow the example of Jesus.

Groome also referred to the U.S. bishops’ 1972 pastoral letter, “To Teach as Jesus Did,” which outlined the basic principles, goals and forms of the church’s educational ministry in the United States.

He said that document encourages catechists simply to “walk with” those they are teaching, as Jesus did with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Then, just as Jesus did as he walked with his followers, Groome said they should invite those they are teaching to tell their story of faith and finally, bring them to see for themselves how this faith experience can impact their daily lives.

Groome acknowledged the struggles experienced by the church in recent years, including the sexual abuse crisis and divisions within the church. He also noted the large number of those who call themselves “fallen away” Catholics.   But he said he did not see such challenges as prevailing, noting that people ultimately desire to have faith.

When participants were asked what gave them hope in teaching the faith to young people today, one teacher said she was encouraged by church history that continuously showed a return to faith; another said she was encouraged by “pockets of youth” who have strong faith; and another said she simply believed “God won’t give up on us.” Groome said the church can recover from hardships and loss of faith if people return to the heart of their Catholic Christian faith: Jesus.

Reiterating the question: “Will there be faith?” he noted that “we can’t automatically say yes.”      “We can’t be sanguine about it,” he said, referring to places where Catholic faith once thrived and many churches are now empty, such as Europe. He placed the bulk of this responsibility on Catholics today and especially its educators telling them the future of faith “depends on what we teach and how we teach it.” END 04/16/2012 12:20 PM ET Copyright (c) 2012 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops