Family faith formation key as students return

Parish catechists are once again teaching children face-to-face. But religious education leaders say lessons learned during the pandemic will continue to shape the way the Church passes on the faith.

“We’re happy to see familiar faces, and want to see some more,” said Kristina Centinaro, director of faith formation at Triumph of the Holy Cross Parish in Clairton/Jefferson Hills/Pleasant Hills/West Mifflin. “We hadn’t seen many of our young people in person for more than a year.”

“This is a year of gentle re-engagement with families, inviting them back,” said Judene Indovina, diocesan director for Catholic Identity. “Like the Good Shepherd who gathers His sheep, we need to reach out to people and bring them back in.”

Starting in March 2020, at-home learning required many parents to jump in and formally teach the faith to their children for the first time. Catechists had to learn how to digitally record lessons and in some cases, plan family activities. It’s brought everyone even closer as they’ve returned to in-person faith formation, according to Centinaro.

Elaine Garfold and Carolyn Eisenbarth, co-directors of faith formation at Blessed Trinity Parish in Brentwood/Hays/South Pittsburgh, said they had to rethink how their catechists were furthering the mission.

“We felt it was important for everyone to take part in what we call a Family Faith Activity,” Garfold said. “About two thirds of our children are now here in-person, the rest are continuing to learn from home. But everyone does the activities as a family.”

Using new technology “helped our catechists to grow,” Eisenbarth said. “It was beautiful to see. Looking into the camera lens to record lessons, they’re looking into families’ homes. And parents have been relearning the faith alongside their children.”

Garfold said as Blessed Trinity became a new parish recently, the new way of teaching the faith became a unifying force. “It was all new, and it worked beautifully,” she said.

“I can’t say enough about our catechists trying new things,” Eisenbarth added.

At Triumph of the Holy Cross Parish, their family program is called HOME—Households On Mission Eternal. Students and their families gather for a monthly liturgy, then receive lessons online the other three weeks with support from catechists.

Weekly in-person lessons also have resumed, complete with service projects.

Children make Christmas ornaments to put on the parish Giving Tree, which are then given to homebound parishioners and those in hospitals and nursing homes. During Lent, crosses made from wooden pallets are donated.

“It allowed us to accompany them in faith,” Centinaro said. “It’s a way of learning while living out our faith.”

“I see COVID as a pause button, a chance to reset, look at how we ‘do’ faith formation, ministering to people in this moment, and how we can be better Christians to one another,” she said.