UDMC 2014 attendees learn practical ways to live the ‘missionary option’

By Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

Correspondent

November 10, 2014

Participants lay down glass to make a cross at David Novinski's art exhibit on Oct. 26 at the University of Dallas Ministry Conference. The conference, held at the Irving Convention Center, featured dozens of ministry and faith talks, keynote presenters, music and exhibits for the thousands of attendees. (Photo by Juan Guajardo / NTC)

Velma Smith, a catechist for 30 years, attends the University of Dallas Ministry Conference (UDMC) for one very important reason.

“Our religion is an ever-learning religion,” says the St. Bartholomew parishioner. “You can never grasp all that the Catholic Church has to offer.”

The largest Catholic ministry conference in the Southwest gives Smith the opportunity to hear nationally-recognized speakers, network with other teachers, and pick up books and ideas she can use in her classroom.

“I’m always finding out about something new,” says Smith. “It builds my faith journey.”

More than 5,000 North Texas Catholics participated in the Eighth annual UDMC held Oct. 23-25 at the Irving Convention Center. Sponsored by the Diocese of Fort Worth, the Diocese of Dallas, and the University of Dallas, the event included 200 informative sessions, worship, exhibits from Catholic publishers, live music performances, and liturgical art.

Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, of Vancouver opened the conference with an energizing keynote address that explored Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). For the first time, the 2014 conference schedule was extended to include some Thursday afternoon and evening programs.

Also new to the ministry conference was a collaborative cross project, crafted by David Novinski, that tied into the gathering’s “Walking Together in Faith” theme. A focal point of the art display, the experiment became a favorite activity for visitors as the work-in-progress took shape.

Christina Mendez, principal of St. Peter the Apostle School in White Settlement, looks over educational materials in the exhibition hall. (Photo by Joan Kurkowski-Gillen / NTC)

“Everyone was given a small bag of stones and a prayer card,” explained the Dallas designer. “We asked them to come by, say a prayer, and add their stones to the cross.”

After the conference, Novinski will bond the beads inside the cross together with glue, transforming it into a stained-glass window. The project will remain on display at the University of Dallas before returning to the 2015 ministry conference.

Rafael and Yasmin Cuevas prayed for the success of the ministry conference as they placed their beads in the color-coded pattern. The couple, who work with Hispanic young adults at St. John the Apostle, also enjoyed sitting in on sessions about catechesis and leadership formation.

“I liked the approach taken by the speakers and the way they encourage participation,” Yasmin said. “I’ve been coming here four years, and I’m always able to take something I learned back to St. John’s.”

More than 100 national and area speakers offered insight and education on a variety of topics ranging from general faith formation to using technology and the media to promote ministry. Many sessions were available in three languages — English, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

Youth ministry expert Robert McCarty discussed ways to engage teens in a plenary session. (Photo by Juan Guajardo / NTC)

Robert McCarty, a prolific author and professional youth minister since 1973, used snippets of humor and anecdotes from his own experiences to discuss how to effectively engage young people in the faith community. A volunteer youth minister at his own Maryland parish, the speaker said the best way to keep young people interested in the Catholic faith is to make them feel accepted and connected.

For those who leave the Catholic Church, the majority do so between 15 and 23 years of age.

“People don’t leave over teachings. They leave because their spiritual needs are not being met,” McCarty suggested. “It’s about the experience of belonging.”

The antidote is building an environment where young people feel a strong emotional attachment to their faith community.

“Engagement is more than involvement — it’s belonging. It’s about connecting and building relationships,” he continued. “This leads to spiritually-committed people.”

Research shows if you want to engage youth in the Church, start with their parents. McCarty also advised his listeners to carve out real opportunities for young people to participate in church activities and ministries.

Scott Dougherty of Perpetual Motion Ministries invited UDMC attendees to sit in a ballpit — one of the many tools his ministry uses to help youth open up. (Photo by Juan Guajardo / NTC)

“And I mean responsible participation — not just tokenism,” he pointed out. “Real learning happens when the experience is over and kids get to reflect on what was just done.”

People will go where their spiritual hungers are fed, and McCarty said the traditions, rituals, teaching, and doctrines of the Catholic Church can satisfy that hunger.

In closing, he reminded the audience of church workers, “our kids are a gift to be shared, not a problem to be solved. Think about how that changes what we do.”

Timothy Matovina, professor of theology and executive director of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame, presented on “Latino Catholicism: Current Realities and Opportunities,” his analysis of the fastest-growing demographic in the U.S.

Discussing ways the U.S. Church has addressed the growing Latino population, Matovina said that for a demographic with 40 percent of the Catholic population, only six percent of priests are Latino. Of that six percent, only 20 percent are born in the U.S.

“They’re the only ones that can truly balance two cultures,” Matovina said, referring to that 20 percent, “the culture of their parents and grandparents, and the culture of the U.S.”

He also addressed the changes in parish life, saying many parishes function like two parishes in the same building. He added that many Latinos get involved in lay ecclesial movements, which help them maintain their faith.

Timothy Matovina from the University of Notre Dame, gives a talk on Latino Catholicism on Oct. 25. (Photo by Juan Guajardo / NTC)

“The biggest pastoral issue is passing on the faith to the children of these immigrants,” he said. “They grow up in this country; they live in two worlds — the world of their parents, and the world of their peers.”

In his discussion of The Bible, The Domestic Church and the New Evangelization, Alejandro Aguilera-Titus said families should honor, respect, and work with the teens living in the home.

“How we relate to young people within the family is extremely important because today’s generation will transmit the faith to the next generation,” explained the former lay missionary who serves as assistant director of Hispanic Affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “We should treat young people in a way that empowers them. They are not trouble. Being young has its own gifts.”

Aguilera-Titus used illustrations and quotes from the Bible to demonstrate why sharing the Word of God is essential to building a family where people are nurtured, forgiven, and protected from harmful habits and addictions. Calling the family the “basic cell of society where the Church is born every day,” the husband and father of three admitted it’s sometimes a challenge for Catholics to feel comfortable with the Bible.

“And if you don’t feel comfortable, you won’t make the connection in terms of Catholic doctrine and teaching,” he stressed. “If we don’t know the stories and the values, we can’t make the Bible a companion for us.”

A piece of stone from Tepeyac Hill in Mexico — where Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to St. Juan Diego — is seen at the UDMC. The stone will go inside the OLG Shrine planned to be erected at UD. (Photo by Juan Guajardo / NTC)

The Bible isn’t just a collection of stories about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses.

“It’s our story as well,” Aguilera-Titus said. “We must train people to read and meditate on the Word of God. It’s time to stop thinking of the Bible as a Protestant thing. It’s a profoundly Catholic thing.”

Many, like Marlon and Livia Barton used the ministry conference to attend keynote addresses and sessions geared toward their personal ministries. The St. Rita parishioners work in adult formation and sacramental preparation. Livia Barton is particularly interested in finding new ways to help children connect with their faith.

“She’s working with Sister Mary Louise at our parish to figure out a way to energize our kids,” her husband explained. “She’s picking the brains of conference speakers to get ideas.”

A graduate of the Loyola University Institute for Ministry Extension (LIMEX), Marlon Barton is always impressed with the variety and quality of presenters. The dedication of parish and diocesan workers he meets is also uplifting.

“It’s a place where you get to see other people working in ministry that you normally don’t see in the course of a year,” he observed. “To know there are other people out there really involved in ministry and working for the Church is gratifying.”

Associate Editor Tony Gutiérrez contributed to this article.

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Velma Smith, a catechist for 30 years, attends the University of Dallas Ministry Conference (UDMC) for one very important reason. “Our religion is an ever-learning religion,” says the St. Bartholomew parishioner. “You can never grasp all that the Catholic Church has to offer.” The largest Catholic ministry conference in the Southwest gives Smith the opportunity to hear nationally-recognized speakers, network with other teachers, and pick up books and ideas she can use in her classroom.

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