By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator  

With the colorful backdrop of the story of the road of Emmaus, catechists from across the Diocese of Baton Rouge were encouraged to get involved in the lives of the people they are leading to Christ during the Convocation Celebrating Catechists of the Diocese of Baton Rouge on Sept. 6 at the Catholic Life Center.  

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Bishop Michael G. Duca refers to the story of the disciplines on the road to Emmaus and the woman at the well while talking at the Convocation Celebrating Catechists of the Diocese of Baton Rouge Sept. 6 at the Catholic Life Center.  Photo by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator  


The convocation began with a talk by Bishop Michael G. Duca, which focused on the Scripture passage of Jesus’ encounter with the disciples on the road to Emmaus.  

The disciples were walking to Emmaus after Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection and did not fully understand yet the great act of salvation that had just occurred.  

“They were walking on this journey. Jesus then came and walked alongside them and asked, ‘Why are you down? What’s going on?’ ” said Bishop Duca.  

They didn’t recognize Jesus, and he did not chide them for their lack of understanding, noted the bishop.  

“He first listened to them. He listened to what was going on in their hearts. He listened to what was going on in their minds,” said Bishop Duca.  

And he noted that the disciples had an attraction to Jesus’ message as he unfolded Scriptures to them.  

He urged catechists to have the same approach as Jesus in revealing the fulfillment of salvation through himself.  

“Get to know them and get to know how they are thinking. Ask ‘What’s going on?’ ” the bishop said.  

He noted that the disciples on the road to Emmaus recognized Jesus when he broke bread with them.  

“Once they break the bread they know who he is and ‘poof’ he’s gone,” said Bishop Duca. 

But the effects of that powerful encounter stayed with them, according to the bishop.  

“There were radical changes in their understanding of what ‘messiah’ means and the kingdom of God,” said Bishop Duca.  

Likewise, catechists help mold people into disciples of Jesus by accompanying them and introducing them to him.  

Furthermore, they should help them realize Jesus in the breaking of the bread.  

By walking the faith journey together with their students, “You will be transformed by Jesus yourself,” Bishop Duca said.  

“You may ask ‘Where is Jesus in my life that he may accompany me?’ ” said the bishop, who thanked the catechists for their hard work in the church.  

Next Father Andrew Merrick, director of vocations for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, talked about being a witness for vocations.  

What people need most of all to hear the call to a religious vocation is a deep personal encounter with God, said Father Merrick.  

He said when Jesus first encountered the disciples in Galilee they had been fishing all night and caught nothing. He told them to put out in the deep and they caught a large number of fish. They then abandoned everything and followed Jesus.  

Father Merrick noted that the word vocation comes from the Latin word vocātiō, meaning “a call” or “summons.” 

In a vocation, therefore, there is a caller and receiver, according to Father Merrick.

“There’s a relationship, and unless we have a relationship, there’s no way to respond to a vocation,” said Father Merrick.  

He noted that when Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI met with the U.S. bishops during his trip to the United States in 2008, he said concerning religious vocations, “To the extent that we teach young people to pray, and to pray well, we will be cooperating with God’s call. Programs, plans and projects have their place; but the discernment of a vocation is above all the fruit of an intimate dialogue between the Lord and his disciples. Young people, if they know how to pray, can be trusted to know what to do with God’s call.”  

“That’s it, teach them to pray,” repeated Father Merrick for emphasis.  

“Our job as teachers is witnessing the power of living out a vocation and then teaching them how to pray and the relationship of a disciple to Christ so they can listen to his voice and respond,” said Father Merrick.  

He said that newly ordained priests noted the power of eucharistic adoration in choosing to step into their vocation.  

He said that a strong role model to help young people discover their call in life is St. John the Baptist, who when he saw Jesus walk by said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  

Danielle Van Haute, director of the Respect Life Program for the Office of Marriage and Family Life, spoke about witnessing for life.  

Van Haute emphasized the importance of “respecting the dignity of the child of God in my midst” no matter their circumstances.  

She said it is important that people know they are different because of their relationship with Christ so they can spread the message of the dignity of the human person in an authentic way.  

“When we sit down with someone we delight in the person in front of us,” said Van Haute, who likened that experience to “seeing the face of Christ in others and having a love for humanity because we see him.”  

Next, Olivia Gulino, associate director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, spoke about witness to the “nones.”  

There are three kinds of “nones,”
Gulino said: those who consider themselves agnostic (31 percent); nothing in 
particular and religion is unimportant in my life (39 percent); and nothing in particular, but religion is very or somewhat important (30 percent).  

“Nones” are a growing part of the population, noted Gulino. Thirty-nine percent of people ages 18-29 consider themselves “nones.” And today’s younger adults are four times more likely as the previous generations to classify themselves as “none.”  

The most common reason the “nones” leave is because they question a lot of teachings and aren’t getting answers; they have an opposition to positions by churches on social and political issues; they dislike religious organizations; they don’t believe in God; they consider religion irrelevant to them; or they dislike religious leaders, Gulino said.  

Young adults are looking for the true sense of community and the sacred through cultural means, noted Gulino. The new “sacramentals” include brunch, coffee, wine, draft beer, vaping and social media.  

They also seek community through such things as artists; the “rituals” of concerts; chefs and foodies; workout classes and crossfit; running clubs; pet centered groups; and issue-centered activities. And none of these preclude deep conversations, according to Gulino.  

The way that the church and catechists can bring the “nones” back to the church community is re-evaluating youth ministry, asking tough questions and listening to and evaluating young adults needs. Youth and young adults need to be approached authentically, have a sense of being valued and belonging, be heard and be challenged. 

Giving a message of hope, Gulino urged the audience members to “always look to the Lord and do what he has called us to do.” She said that throughout Jesus’ ministry he was reaching out to the poor, homeless and marginalized and welcomed the questions of people who came to him.  

“That’s where we need to be. Even if all we do is change one person,” said Gulino.  

The convocation ended with the commissioning of catechists led by Bishop Michael G. Duca.