Mid-Atlantic Congress offers attendees ongoing formation, fellowship

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Kerry Weber hosts a workshop titled "Women in the Church" Feb. 14, 2019, during the Mid-Atlantic Congress at the Hilton Baltimore Hotel. (CNS photo/Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review)

BALTIMORE (CNS) — Spending the weekend in Baltimore was just what Elizabeth Butler needed to reinvigorate adult catechesis at her Washington parish.

Butler, a parishioner of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian on Capitol Hill, called the Mid-Atlantic Congress “a good kick in the pants.” She’s also administrator of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program at her parish.

Nearly a decade old, the congress allows leaders in Catholic ministry a regional opportunity for formation and fellowship. Co-sponsored by the Association of Catholic Publishers and the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Department of Evangelization, this year’s congress was Feb. 14-16.

This was Butler’s second time attending the conference, and after only one day, she knew the program would help her spread the word and encourage fellow parishioners to become catechists in adult faith formation. She hopes they will reach not only those looking to enter the church, but those who may not have received all of their sacraments or who might need a refresher on the faith.

“(I am) trying to build myself up with catechetical leadership skills so I can take it back and find more people who want to build themselves up to teach this,” Butler told the Catholic Review, the media outlet of the Baltimore Archdiocese.

At the end of the congress’ first day, she had attended sessions on catechetical leadership and on finding one’s mission, the former led by Joe Paprocki, national consultant for faith formation with Loyola Press, and Deacon Larry Oney of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

This year’s congress had more than 1,300 registrants and included a track for Hispanic ministry.

In addition to Deacon Oney, featured speakers included Sister Miriam Heidland, a member of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, who is a former college athlete and can be heard on her “Abiding Together” podcast, and Father Mike Schmitz, director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota.

Topics ranged from “Building Intercultural Competence for Ministry,” the disaffiliation of young Catholics from the church and working on a pastoral team to sacramental preparation and prison ministry.

“As the premier see, I feel like we have a responsibility to the people of our region to take a lead on things like this,” said Christy Cabaniss, Baltimore’s archdiocesan coordinator of sacramental formation. Baltimore was the first Catholic diocese in the nation. It was established in 1789.

She added that the congress “really is time for ministers to take a minute and renew themselves.”

Ximena DeBroeck, archdiocesan director of catechetical and pastoral formation, said the congress was a great opportunity for formation of bishops, volunteer catechists and anyone in between.

“It addresses the needs of the beginners, but it offers a lot for the seasoned catechists,” DeBroeck said. “What we give them here is a starting point to continue the formation.”

She touched on the congress theme of “Prophetic Discipleship,” saying participants could contemplate what that means for themselves.

“It gives them a chance to ask, ‘What does that really look like (for me), before I can focus on someone else?'” DeBroeck said. “(The congress) is a great opportunity to gather — not just the local church of Baltimore, but the region … (to) create a culture of ongoing formation and adult learning.”

At the opening Mass Feb. 14, celebrant Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori wished the congregation a happy feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, the great evangelizers of Slavic lands.

Sts. Cyril and Methodius left their civilized world to bring the Gospel to Moravia, which, the archbishop said, was “in those days not exactly the high-rent district.”

“Not only did they learn the language, they also learned the culture,” Archbishop Lori said in his homily. “They came to know the people to whom they proposed to preach the Gospel. Their labors were arduous and misunderstanding abounded, as it always does when God’s work is being done, but thanks to these two brothers, the faith made tremendous inroads into the hearts of the Slavs and into the heart of their culture.”

Archbishop Lori said he hoped that the time spent at the Mid-Atlantic Congress would result in a “zeal for evangelization,” reminiscent of Sts. Cyril and Methodius.

“Then,” he said, “we will truly be prophetic disciples in our homes, our parishes and in our world.”

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