By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
GRAND PRAIRIE — Catechist Jonathan Hoang of St. Joseph Vietnamese Catholic Church in Grand Prairie spread classroom desktops with pre-Christmas advertising flyers that urged consumers to buy electronics, sporting goods and all sorts of toys.
On Dec. 7, Hoang invited his 23 seventh-grade faith formation students to select the flyer page that contained an item on their Christmas wish list.
Hoang is one of more than 7,000 catechists teaching children and youth in faith formation programs in the Diocese of Dallas, which has 43,492 pre-kindergarten-through-eighth-graders and 7,356 high school students in the programs, according to diocesan statistics for “The Official Catholic Directory.”
The seventh-graders had fun examining the advertisements and pointing out running shoes and video games that appealed to them.
But for several students, nothing in the stack of ads matched what they wanted.
“I just need Jesus,” one girl said as her friend nodded in agreement and another girl signaled thumbs-up.
The students became watchful as Hoang smiled and pointed at the retail ads.
Now he had their attention.
“See all the stuff?” he said. “We’re human and we get distracted easily. But are you ready for Advent and the coming of Jesus Christ? What Christmas is all about is giving, not receiving. I hope you get that message today.
“Christ is the meaning of Christmas.”
Donna Chesshir, Associate Director of the Diocese of Dallas’ Department of Catechetical Services, said that parish faith formation leaders strive to connect families to the Sunday liturgy and to help parents and guardians fulfill their roles as the primary teachers of the faith to their children.
“The diocesan Department of Catechetical Services supports the parish faith formation leaders in their mission by providing faith formation guidelines, catechist formation and catechetical resources,” she said. “We really want everyone to be growing in their faith on a lifelong basis. Parishes will try to do what helps the families the most.”
She urged parishioners to consider New Year’s resolutions that include answering the call to grow in the faith by participating in faith formation, which offers opportunities including Vacation Bible School; youth ministry; bible studies; retreats; missions and faith workshops.
Helen Ta, the Parish Catechetical Leader at St. Joseph, said that 320 children participate in the faith formation program, in which she and 11 catechists are volunteers.
“Our goal is to bring everybody to know, love and serve Jesus,” said Ta, a mother of three and a teacher in the Irving Independent School District. “In Vietnam, children’s faith formation starts at about age 5 and continues through Confirmation in high school. We keep that Catholic tradition over here. We want them to remember their roots and to keep the language to connect the gap between the older and younger generations. We all are like a big family.”
Each Sunday, children in the parish, which has about 375 families, attend faith formation classes taught in English from 2-3:15 p.m. and Vietnamese language and culture classes from 3:30-4:45 p.m.
“The goal is to bring them closer to Christ,” said Father Peter Doan, S.D.D., pastor of St. Joseph. “We teach them their culture and faith in both languages.”
The 36 eighth-graders, who are preparing for Confirmation in May, consulted worksheets written in Vietnamese and presented talks in English.
Two eighth-graders teamed to tell the class about the life of St. Augustine of Hippo.
In the first-grade class, students took turns showing pictures that they had drawn or painted of their favorite saints.
One little girl said that she favored St. Theresa of the Child Jesus because the saint liked flowers and loved to pray.
“They can follow in the footsteps of the saints they feel closest to,” Ta said. “Our goal is to have them know that God loves them.”
For information about faith formation or catechetical services, contact your parish or visit www.cathdal.org/Catechetical_Calendar.