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St. John Bosco Conference for Catechists and Religious Educators

Twenty-three Vermonters representing 15 different parishes traveled by bus to participate in The St. John Bosco Conference for Catechists and Religious Educators that took place July 17-20 at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.
“Working in ministry can be challenging on many levels. When times are challenging, we are called to hope and trust even more deeply,” commented Teresa Hawes, director of religious education at St. Monica Parish in Barre who coordinated the trip for the Vermont group. “This was a time of strong fellowship and renewal, with nourishment for the head, heart and soul. It was amazing to see how our group, many of whom did not know each other at the start, returned home strengthened and transformed.”
The conference theme was "Jesus, Our Hope."
“The conference left me with at least a dozen practical suggestions on how to improve catechesis in our parishes, which is exactly what you would expect from a conference for catechists and religious educators,” commented Michael J. Hagan, coordinator of religious education and catechesis for the Diocese of Burlington and a conference participant. “However, the conference also provided a deeply spiritual, retreat-like atmosphere – through daily Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, praise and worship music and many opportunities for private prayer – that brought me closer to Christ and left me with a sense of spiritual renewal.”
There were 520 conference participants, some from as far away as Nigeria and Australia.
Featured speakers were Bishop David L. Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisc.; Jim Beckman, a scholar in residence and professor of leadership and evangelization for the Augustine Institute in Denver; Scott Hahn, author or editor of more than 40 books; and Amy Roberts, a member of the catechetics faculty of Franciscan University.
Among the Vermonters in attendance at the conference was Kelly Lagasse, director of religious education, catechist and marriage preparation coordinator for All Saints Church in Richford, St. Isidore Church in Montgomery Center and Our Lady of Lourdes Church in East Berkshire. “I was overwhelmed how the leaders on campus were so docile to the Holy Spirit, not holding back in sharing their knowledge, experiences and love with us,” she said. “Throughout the conference as information was taught, there were overwhelming themes and lessons of surrender, vulnerability, relationship, abiding in Him, encounter and communion in an incarnational ministry.”
She was reminded that her parish boundaries go beyond the four walls of a church to everyone in the towns and that parents are the first and foremost educators of their children. “I hope to bring this information back to our catechists and pray about how to refocus our education on not just the giving of information, but also the forming of disciples within and outside of our church walls,” she said. “One specific change I would like to make is to implement a family faith program for catechism that is more focused on accompanying our families in the education of their own children in their lifelong pilgrimage to Christ.”
This was the 21st year of the Bosco Conference, one of several adult conferences that are offered on the campus of Franciscan University of Steubenville each summer.
“Now it’s our job to take what we’ve learned and implement it in our various roles in Vermont,” Hagan said. “We were given handouts at most workshops, many of us took notes, and we were given the opportunity to network with others who could support our efforts. Coming back home to Vermont with these resources makes it possible for us to put our new knowledge into practice.”
The Vermont trip was funded in part by Our Sunday Visitor.

Paint and Pray

Fourteen-year-old Annie Ploof of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Swanton likes to paint, and she likes to play softball.
So with the beginning of the school softball season, she finds she does not have time to paint. “I feel like I should not be loud and concentrate” when painting, she said. “It’s like when you’re praying. You just kind of relax. That’s how painting makes me feel.”
So the April 22 “Paint and Pray” event at All Saints Parish in Richford was picture perfect for her.
Thirteen people gathered in the parish hall to paint a picture of Jesus’ empty tomb after the resurrection, and as they did so they had the opportunity to meditate on what Easter means to them.
“You just kind of imagine” what happened on His resurrection day “as you [paint] the cross and the sun and think about the morning that He rose, and it all ties together,” commented participant Kellie Flanders of All Saints Parish. “It’s very peaceful. It makes you think, ‘He is now risen.’”
Her husband, David, sat next to her, painting his version of the empty tomb and three crosses in the sunrise. “It’s a good Easter activity, very relaxing,” he said. “You’ve got to focus.”
Patrick Murphy, a retired art teacher at Richford High School, lead the painting part of the program, showing how to pencil in the initial outline for the painting then walking around offering suggestions and encouragement to the participants.
Some of his art comments seemed easily applicable to the prayer aspect left to individual personal communication with God. “It’s very forgiving,” he said of the acrylic paint, a comment that could be applied to Jesus, whose mercy and forgiveness were celebrated that weekend on Divine Mercy Sunday.
Kelly Lagasse, director of religious education at All Saints, said it was ironic that the Paint and Pray event took place on Divine Mercy Sunday weekend, noting that Jesus asked St. Faustina Kowalska to have a picture painted of His Divine Mercy.
The message of The Divine Mercy is simple: God loves even the greatest sinners. God wants people to recognize that God's mercy is greater than their sins so that they will call upon God with trust, receive God's mercy and let it flow through them to others. Thus all will come to share God's joy.
The Divine Mercy is based on the writings of St. Faustina, an uneducated Polish nun who, in obedience to her spiritual director, wrote a diary of about 600 pages recording the revelations she received about God's mercy.
A picture of her revelations – Jesus with red and white streams of blood and water streaming from Him—was set up near the painters’ easels with candles in front of it and red and white curtains behind. Prayer cards were set on a table for participants to take home along with an explanation of the devotion.
“This is an individual encounter with Jesus through painting,” Lagasse said. “As you’re painting, you encounter Jesus through your painting.”
As Annie looked at her unfinished painting, she reflected, “It’s not perfect. We don’t have to be perfect. Jesus loves us anyway.”
The event was a fundraiser for the youth ministry program in the parish. 
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