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January 21, 2008

Faithful Citizens

“A Future Without Parish Schools,” by Terry Golway, (12/10) raises a crucially important issue for the future of catechesis in the Catholic Church in the United States. Catholic parish schools have been an extremely important factor in providing for the catechesis of Catholic children.

I am surprised that the article did not refer to the hundreds of catechetical and youth ministry programs across the United States led by well-educated directors of faith formation and youth ministers and staffed by dedicated, certified and creative catechists and youth ministers, serving thousands of Catholic children and youth.

The integration of service involvement and fellowship interaction with systematic catechetical formation has been an intentional and comprehensive element of these programs for over 20 years.

Leaders at all levels of the church in the United States need to pay careful attention to the issue Terry Golway has raised and provide for significantly increased funding for the education and formation of catechetical and youth ministry leaders to ensure the expansion and continual improvement of parish programs for children and youth.

An even more important question is whether the Catholic Church will seriously expand its efforts (staffing and funding) for the continuing faith formation of Catholic adults. The home already has a pervasive influence on how the Catholic faith is shared with our younger members. Parents and other adult family members will have increasing impact (for good or ill) on the faith formation of Catholic children and youth. What kind of faith (and with what effectiveness) will our Catholic adults be sharing?

James J. DeBoy

Catonsville, Md.

Developing Disciples

“A Future Without Parish Schools,” by Terry Golway, (12/10) laments the absence of a comprehensive youth ministry at his church and celebrates the fact that his children received excellent youth ministry from the nearest Methodist church.

As a diocesan director of youth ministry in the Catholic Church, I know that there are wonderful, comprehensive parish programs all over the country that are very similar to the ones his children attend at the Methodist church.

Maybe one of the “best kept secrets” in the Catholic Church is not just Catholic social teachings, but also the fact that in 1997, the U.S. bishops promulgated a comprehensive framework for Catholic youth ministry. Most dioceses and indeed many parishes use the bishops’ document Renewing the Vision to build youth programs that engage teenagers through interactive catechesis, and justice and service outreach activities involve them in the life and mission of the church.

Developing young disciples who understand the challenges of the Gospel and the teachings of the church is a goal of Catholic youth ministry. A comprehensive youth ministry is an extremely effective way to assist young people to appreciate a church, whether Methodist or Catholic. The difference is that our Catholic programming not only helps our young people to build a Catholic identity, but also helps them to appreciate, understand and integrate the uniqueness of their faith tradition.

Mr. Golway and others who lament the lack of effective youth ministry in our church can contact the National Federa-tion for Catholic Youth Ministry to find out how they can get effective ministry programs for their children in their own parishes.

Carole Goodwin

Chair, Board of Directors, N.F.C.Y.M.

Louisville, Ky.

Old School

Regarding “A Future Without Parish Schools”: Youth ministry programs, even very good ones, are not an adequate alternative to Catholic schools. Nothing is. I am a Catholic parish youth minister; and like the Methodist leader of Junior Youth Fellowship mentioned in Terry Golway’s column, my job is to put together a comprehensive youth ministry program for teenagers. I find education to be the hardest component to do well. Nothing takes the place of time. At the end of a two-hour youth rally, or a weekend retreat, or even a weeklong service trip, pilgrimage or leadership camp, they all go home to the “real world.” All too often the memories fade and the whole experience is forgotten or acquires the rosy glow of a daydream.

A Catholic school experience made up of six-hour days, 180 days a year for multiple years does not stand in contrast to a different, secular reality—it is the student’s reality.

If Mr. Golway is right, and we are facing a future without parish schools, this should be seen for what it is—a deep, irreparable loss and a diminishment of our Catholic culture.

Joe Peabody

Houston, Tex.

Spoken Word

Regarding Karen Sue Smith’s Of Many Things column on Dec. 24 about reading stories aloud at Christmas: In my family there are two Christmas “read-alouds.” The first is long, but done with the children (now grown) and cocoa the afternoon after the tree goes up on the fourth Sunday of Advent. It is “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” by Barbara Robinson.

The other is more esoteric, and is read in parts: “How Come Christmas?” by Roark Bradford, from The Fireside Book of Christmas Stories, edited by Edward Wagenknecht. This one is hilarious and touching. It absolutely must be read out loud. The power of those read-alouds became evident shortly before Christmas when our 21-year-old daughter, spending her first Christmas away, called to ask us to send her the text of “How Come Christmas?” It was part of her effort to make Christmas where she now is feel like home.

Renee Goodspeed

Rochester, N.H.

Holiday Welcome

I enjoyed reading Of Many Things, by Karen Sue Smith, (12/24) about reading aloud from books. My favorite Christmas reading is from Moss Hart’s autobiography, Act One, which was published by Random House in 1959. Moss Hart was a great playwright and director.

The “reading” is a wonderful and poignant study of the strained but loving relationship between a son and his father.

A number of years ago I tried reading this to our family gathering of 30 or so at Christmas dinner. Unfortunately the reading was too delicate and personal to be done before such a large group. Perhaps it’s better read alone, but it still moves me.

I first heard this being read by Jonathan Schwartz many years ago on his radio program from New York. He has done this many times during the ensuing years, and it is always welcome.

Joe Agresta

Danbury, Conn.

Christmas Escape

I was immersed in pre-Christmas madness when I sat down after work to unwind with America. The Of Many Things column by Karen Sue Smith (12/24) on reading out loud warmed me. The brilliant article by Archbishop George H. Niederauer on the great Flannery O’Connor fired me up. And finally, Karen Sue Smith’s story about “Two Surprise Guests” inspired me. Her voice echoes Flannery O’Connor’s, and it is the kind of voice our aching church needs to hear more of.

Ted Rosean

Wilmette, Ill.

Rome Sweet Home

Austen Ivereigh’s “From Thames to Tiber” (1/7) is both the fairest and the most informative article I’ve read about Tony Blair’s conversion. We don’t exactly know his personal reasons for it and won’t unless or until he tells us himself. Lacking that essential element, most articles have highlighted other factors, such as his family (which were already known), or have gone political and played up the “hypocrite” line. Ivereigh gives us more background about Blair’s attraction to Catholicism and more insight into the issue of believers in politics than any other analysis I’ve seen. Thanks for a very instructive read.

Tom Heneghan

Paris, France

Structures of Sin

I was troubled by Ivan J. Kauffman’s “Facing the Inquisition” (12/10). It seems the Catholic Church in the end was not able to hold itself responsible and to confess in its own name the institutional sins announced by John Paul II, namely, the “religious wars, courts of Inquisition, and other violations of the rights of individuals.” With the help of apologetic hairsplitting, the church was able to repent only sins committed by individuals in the name of the church.

As the article explains, the church did not hold itself responsible for the sins, because the Inquisition and other atrocities were “never formally approved either by a council or an infallible papal declaration.” But what about the sins of the church failing, either by council or declaration, to renounce and condemn individuals committing sins in its name?

I am disturbed and disappointed that the church did not confess its own responsibility in the commission of those sins.

Tom French-Corbett

Moorestown, N.J.

Christ Among Us

I appreciated Stephen Martin’s “Brother Lawrence and the Chimney Bird” (12/24). Brother Lawrence is truly the model for all of us in the 21st century who seek faithfully to follow Christ. A quiet moment for one’s own thoughts is hard enough to find in this age of e-mail, voice mail and cellphones—let alone trying to find time to pray the rosary.

Brother Lawrence reminds us that we need not set aside our daily business in order to find time with God. We can commune with Christ in our seemingly secular activities, even while washing the dishes. No doubt we just have to be conscious of the presence of God. Thanks for the encouraging article.

David Pendleton

Kaiula, Hawaii

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