By Katie Cerni, Social Media Coordinator
and Mary Stadnyk, Associate Editor
Ask people to give accurate, off-the-cuff responses to questions such as “What is the Old Testament?” and “What is the New Testament?” and chances are they would have to take a minute … or two … or longer … and think about it.
Photo Gallery: Mass with Bishop in St. Benedict Church, Holmdel
Photo Gallery: Mass with Bishop in St. Joseph Church, Toms River
But when Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., posed these questions to youngsters in St. Joseph Parish, Toms River, and St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel, they were more than ready to give him answers.
Bishop O’Connell paid special visits to the two locations and celebrated Masses for the students who were participating in their parish summer religious education program, which serves as an alternative to weekly catechesis during the school year and provides students with an experience of intensive learning on the Catholic faith by involving them in a variety of activities and lessons.
In the homilies he preached on July 11 in Toms River and July 18 in Holmdel, the Bishop shared how happy he was to say Masses for the students attending religious education during the summer and their catechists, then spoke about three important elements of the faith – Jesus, what it means to have faith and the Church.
“Never stop learning,” Bishop O’Connell said to his young audiences. “We come together in religious education so that we can know the Lord Jesus, so that we can live like the Lord Jesus.” He also reminded the students that even though they are young in age, they have an important role in the life of the Church.
“You are not the Church of the future; you are the Church of now! … The Church doesn’t just belong to us old people, it belongs to you,” Bishop O’Connell asserted.
A highlight of the two Masses occurred after the reception of Holy Communion, when the Bishop led catechetical sessions of his own. During those moments, he talked about the role of a Catholic bishop and the various items that are pertinent to a bishop, such as the crozier (staff), miter (hat), pectoral cross and ring.
Students and catechists in both parishes were excited about the Bishop’s visit, some of whom remarked that it would be the first time they would get to meet him.
Emma DeCaprio, a fourth-grade religious education student in St. Joseph Parish, reflected on how she and her classmates couldn’t wait for Bishop O’Connell’s arrival and singing the song they had learned in music class.
Classmate Brody Bismarck thought the Bishop was “very nice” and was happy that the Bishop wanted “to come visit our parish and give us a blessing.”
To have the Bishop celebrate Mass in St. Benedict Church was something catechist Victoria Benites regarded as a tremendous honor. “Our children are blessed by the Bishop’s presence. He’s so busy, and for him to take the time to celebrate Mass here … it’s an amazing experience.”
Denise Contino, director of the diocesan Department of Catechesis, extended appreciation to the Bishop for sharing information about himself with the children.
“It was amazing to see him do that,” said Contino, whose office coordinated the Bishop’s two parish visits. “Bishop O’Connell’s teaching the students shows us that there is much teaching to be done. Catechesis is not just someone else’s job. It belongs to all of us.”