Scalabrinian Father Carlos Reyes, Pastor of Our Lady Guadalupe Parish in Immokalee, leads a faith formation class in Spanish Feb. 24, 2020, in Immokalee. (FC FILE PHOTO)

Faith Formation in Spanish completes third cycle

Venice  |  The final phase of an intensive three-year Spanish-language Faith Formation Program concluded June 2020, with 358 earning a Diocesan certificate of completion. In the three years of the program a total of more than 1,300 earned certificates.

With the support of Bishop Frank J. Dewane and Diocese Hispanic Ministries Director Father Claudio Stewart, the Spanish Faith Formation Program sessions were developed immediately following the local consultation process of the V Encuentro in 2016 and 2017. 

The results were overwhelmingly positive as the program has shown there is a real desire for Hispanic Catholics to be formed in their Faith. The 2019-2020 sessions, which covered the “History and Tradition of the Church,” were interrupted by the COVID-19 Pandemic. However, thanks to technology, the final sessions of instruction were available and completed online.

The V Encuentro was a multi-year outreach initiated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, with a goal of discerning ways for the Church in the U.S. to better respond to the needs of the ever-growing Hispanic presence. The process involved consultations at the Parish, Diocesan, regional and national levels. A final report was submitted to the Vatican in September 2019 with recommendations for inclusive action at all levels of the Church in the U.S. and are in the process of being implemented.

The idea behind the initial three-step Spanish Faith Formation Program within the Diocese was to quickly help bridge the gap in formation for Hispanics in the Diocese for whom English is not their first language. This gap had created an isolation among some, and the program became empowering to Hispanic Catholics who often felt they were outsiders in the Catholic Church within the U.S., primarily due to the language difference.

The benefit of having the formation program in Spanish was to allow the participants the opportunity to better absorb the complexities of the Faith without the extra work of translating the information. This also helped streamline the instruction and allowed a more open discussion.

The formation program provided a structured and ongoing formation of the lay people with the goal of allowing people to be in contact with the Deposit of Faith (Depositum Fidei) – sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. At the conclusion of the processes, those who earned the certificates are encouraged to use their new-found knowledge to evangelize in their Parish community.

The Faith Formation classes were divided into four geographic regions of the Diocese to allow easier access to the courses. Instructors included 10 priests and two women religious. Each level became increasingly sophisticated, challenging the participants to take a fresh look at the Catholic Church.

The first phase in 2017-18 focused on the “Magisterium,” with a thorough explanation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The second course in 2018-19 was dedicated to the “Revelation and Introduction to the Sacred Scriptures.” The third course, which was completed in June, covered the “History and Tradition of the Church.” 

Father Stewart has reaffirmed that while the initial three-part program is completed, there is more in the planning process for expanding Hispanic Faith Formation within the Diocese. However, the ongoing pandemic has caused delays in implementing those plans. 

Other actions taken since the local V Encuentro sessions have encouraged a broader outreach and inclusion in existing Parish and Diocesan events. This means having sessions in Spanish at conferences, bilingual programs, and other steps that will help unify the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Venice. As this is the focus of Dioceses across the country, the goal is to create a stronger Catholic Church in the U.S.

“There is not supposed to be a separate Faith for English speakers versus Spanish speakers,’ Father Stewart explained. “We are all part of the same Universal Church, founded by Jesus Christ.”