Graduates of the School of Christian Formation celebrate the completion of their courses at the graduation Mass celebrated by Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito in September 2019. (CECILIA PADILLA | FC)

Catechists renew identity as evangelists

Palm Beach Gardens  |  Father Duvan Bermudez, director of Hispanic Ministry, never imagined that the School of Christian Formation would be navigating the current challenges of a pandemic and adjusting to virtual courses. 

Regardless, he enthusiastically welcomed catechists from the School of Christian Formation to a Zoom virtual conference, Aug. 13, 2020, for a day of renewal and fellowship in preparation for the school’s 25th year of evangelization throughout the Diocese of Palm Beach. 

The Zoom conference enabled the catechists to meet virtually for their regularly scheduled meeting, which typically takes place in-person at the Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola in Palm Beach Gardens each summer. Father Bermudez invited Carol Razza, a faculty member and formation advisor at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, to speak to the theme of evangelization.”

Angelica Aguilera, Hispanic Ministry coordinator, said there are approximately 62 teachers scheduled to teach the classes this year. “That’s more than ever before,” she said. 

Razza holds a doctorate in education for child and youth studies and a master’s degree in counseling psychology from Nova Southeastern University, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Florida Atlantic University. She also serves on the International Magnificat Advisory Board as the Regional Representative for Europe and Asia. She has worked in private practice as a psychotherapist for more than 25 years and has written two books, “Sonblock: How Christians Unknowingly Shield Themselves from Grace” and “Parent Me. Please!,” a book on parenting adolescents. Razza presents at seminars, conferences, workshops and retreats, both nationally and internationally. She spoke to the school’s purpose of educating adults in the Catholic faith. 

“I have a tremendous love for the Church, but I grieve seeing the lack of catechesis in adults,” she said. “They come to church but, don’t know what’s happening at the Mass. The school gives them the truth — the fundamentals of who we are as Catholics — so that they can know it in their minds and hearts. If we, as teachers of the faith, do what God is calling us to do, we can be agents of transformation in others.”

She also elaborated on the catechists’ own role in their faith journey. “No matter how good of an instructor we are, God is calling us to be more. Teaching in the School of Christian Formation is a call to discipleship; it is a moment where we ask God, ‘start with me.’ We have to be in a place where we hunger for our own transformation, healing and restoration so that we can then begin to lead the same journey in our students. Our teachers are the frontline of bringing people in a closer relationship with Jesus.” 

Razza touched on the school’s relevancy now, more than ever, during the COVID-19 pandemic, a time that has “challenged individuals to reflect on their personal relationship with the Lord and how their emotions, anxieties and fears might impede this relationship with Jesus.” 

She explained that the difficulties surrounding the pandemic might have stirred up an “uneasiness or discomfort in ourselves” that could be part of a larger feeling of “hunger and thirst for God that has been deep under the surface.” 

“Ask yourself, ‘Do I know I’m being held captive, either by my emotions, misconceptions, fears, shame, lies in my life that tell me I’m not god enough? Do I believe, with every cell in my body, that God has called me to be his beloved son or daughter?’” she said. “He came to set us free from anything that would keep us stuck in our ways. Where the spirit of the Lord is, there’s freedom. Learning deeper about the faith draws us closer to that freedom.”

Maria Teresa Isaza, a teacher for the School of Christian Formation at Our Lady of Lourdes in Boca Raton, spoke about a spiritual contagion she hopes to spread as a catechist. 

“The pandemic has allowed me to increase my time in prayer, silence, meditation, things we can’t often do in a busy world,” she said. “I want my faith to be contagious so that my students see the hunger and thirst I have for God; to show them that God loves them.” 

The challenges brought on by the pandemic have also pushed the School of Christian Formation to grow in positive ways. Evangelization through new technological avenues allow the school to welcome students from throughout Florida and beyond and, because classes are easily accessible online, registration and attendance has increased exponentially. There are currently 90 students registered for the Level II Spanish courses, which will be themed on the Gospel of John. 

Father Bermudez hopes to return to traditional instruction soon, taking comfort in knowing that two parishes are venturing back into in-person classes by limiting registration for on-site learning, following appropriate social distancing, requiring facial coverings and increasing sanitizing procedures. 

“We are grateful to the pastors and teachers who have stepped up to take on this challenge. Without them there would not be a School of Christian Formation,” he said.

To learn more about the School of Christian Formation, visit diocesepb.org/school-of-christian-formation for class schedules, course information and registration instructions. Classes are held at various parishes throughout the Diocese of Palm Beach and are taught in both English and Spanish. View a video welcome by Father Duvan Bermudez at vimeo.com/446468118.