July 12, 2021
Jesus Christ said to St. Philip the Apostle, "Follow me” — John 1:43.
When most individuals think about the Office of Religious Formation in the Diocese of El Paso, they think about First Communion and Confirmation classes. But in reality, the small staff – which is comprised of two full-time and two part-time team members – assists in preparing individuals for a lifelong relationship with Christ.
“Catholic faith formation is a lifelong process of spiritual growth, increased understanding and commitment to the faith and traditions of the Catholic Church,” said Verónica Rayas, Ph.D., Director of the Office of Religious Formation. “Our desire at the Office of Religious Formation is to share as a community in the ministry of Christ, living as One Family and sharing in our One Faith. We hold dear the vital sacramental life of the Church, given to us by Christ, calling each of us to act justly, with love and mercy, living in communion with one another. Following Christ is a lifelong journey and we invite all to join us.”
The Office of Religious Formation is partially funded through Progress, the Catholic Ministry Appeal. Through their work, the ministry leaders of religious formation prepare 1,500 catechists, Parish Catechetical Leaders (PCL), and coordinators who in turn serve approximately 20,000 children, youth and adults.
“We provide support to the religious formation programs of the parishes, to include Sacramental preparation for First Holy Communion or Confirmation,” Rayas continued. “We provide support for those programs and ensure they have the right tools and resources they need.”
The shift from catechism to faith formation began in the 1980's and has informed the way in which the Office of Religous Formation manages its duties and trains its leaders.
“The focus used to be on teaching the subject matter – but now it’s about helping people create a life of faith and nurturing a relationship with Jesus,” Rayas said. “It’s a matter of looking at the whole person and looking back on the specific religious practices of our ancestors and incorporating those cultural components. Those elements run in our blood and go back hundreds of years – and tying it into elements of our lives. For example, if you make cookies for someone because they are sad then you are loving and caring for them the way Jesus asked us to. Showing support for others helps us express our faith.”
This shift has helped families understand that there is no “finish line,” she continued.
“Before, once your child was confirmed it was done. They graduated,” Raya said. “Now, people are incorporating formation into their longer-term plans. It’s not something to check off a list.”
The Religious Formation ministry hopes to launch a young catechist program, which will recruit and train post-confirmation youth to serve as non-traditional catechists on a monthly basis offering a large parish Confirmation gathering session. Young people will lead praise and worship, present the theme for the session, offer dynamics, activities prayer and faith sharing on the topic.
Additionally, the Office of Religious Formation is still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. The team, like many, was forced to pivot and provided services in a way not previously anticipated. Training and services were moved to an online format, but Dr. Rayas is looking forward to increased in-person engagement.
“We are so grateful we were able to do what we could, but nothing replaces that sense of community,” she said – especially for young people in need of emotional support.
“We’ve met so many kids who tell us, 'This is my second home', she said. “It tells us that youth are looking for a place to belong. We need to invest in programs for our young people – especially middle school aged, where they really start to question and can get lost. And we certainly want those young people to think of the church – not just any church but The Church – to be their home. Their spiritual home, where they will always be loved and accepted.”
To support the Office of Religious Formation and other ministries, make a donation to the Catholic Ministry Appeal.