By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator  

“The digital age has come,” trumpeted Dina Dow, director of Evangelization and Catechesis for the Diocese of Baton Rouge.  

Her nimble fingers danced across her computer keyboard during a virtual tour of FORMED.org, an online digital library for accessing thousands of Catholic faith formation videos, audios and e-books. There is also content for the Hispanic population.  

Dow said FORMED is part of a process of bringing evangelization and catechesis online in the diocese.  

On the department’s website, evangcatbr.org, there is a center for online formation and registration for online Ministry and Theology classes that are facilitated by local instructors who have a master’s degree in theology. The courses involve reading, listening to audio clips, responding to questions in the course forum, watching video clips and taking quizzes.  

People can learn at their own pace that is realistic and participate in webinars, which includes “papers” and quizzes, according to Dow.  

The Evangelization and Catechesis website also updates people through blogs on new online learning tools, such as #InsertLearning, in which catechists can make an article interactive so it can be more participatory and engaging. 

FORMED.org is the latest tool the diocese is investing in and church parishes are embracing and flourishing in efforts to teach and evangelize its faithful, Dow said.  

According to Jim Knowles, manager for diocesan partnerships at Augustine Institute, the institute launched the non-profit FORMED.org in July 2015. The program brings together Catholic content from St. Augustine, St. Paul Center, Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, Lighthouse Catholic Media, Ignatius Press, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Knights of Columbus and others.  

“It all started when St. John Paul II called for the new evangelization at World Youth Day in Denver, Colorado in the 1990s,” said Knowles, who works with faith formation, religious education and youth ministry diocesan offices.  

He described FORMED as a “Catholic Netflix” with content that reaches the average Catholic in the pews.  

A parish can subscribe and give access to people in its parish boundaries, Catholic and non-Catholic, and people can share it with their neighbors.  

The diocese has come onboard with FORMED and parishes have embraced the new tool as the diocese has helped subsidize their subscription price. And churches using it are experiencing growth in catechesis and evangelization.  

“The parishes who are using this are on fire,” said Dow.  

One of those parishes is St. George Church in Baton Rouge.   

According to Father Paul Gros, parochial vicar at St. George, after a training session on the program for faith formation leaders in the diocese this past summer, the church got word out to its parishioners.   

Beginning with the Bread of Life discourses, St. George introduced FORMED by drawing parishioners’ attention to the website’s featured videos on the Eucharist. They even had people sign up for FORMED during the Masses so they could receive the link for the program.  

“I said, ‘You’re are not going to hear this very often, but I want you to take out your cell phones’ (and sign up for FORMED),” said Father Gros with a broad smile.  

Registrations spiked by 444 in one week, according to Lynn Schroeder, communications specialist at St. George. The church, which has its own FORMED website, currently has 957 people registered and registrants have spent a combined 152,223 minutes or 2,500 hours on FORMED.org since they first had the program.  

Father Gros said the program has been a great asset to his ministry. When people come to him for confession and are struggling with an issue, he hands them a card with the website address and access code so they can further research the topic.   

“I also had a woman who was going through the RCIA program and her siblings were not supportive and asked her about devotions to Mary, and I was able to say, ‘Here’ and I introduced her to FORMED,” he said. “She was able to respond to their questions. It’s a great tool for people whether they are Catholic or not.”  

Father Gros also encountered a person struggling with atheism, and he referred </span id=”21″>him to the website’s content about science, theology and the universe.  

FORMED has trusted materials by well-known theologians and can help people when he can’t be present, said Father Gros. </span id=”23″>

The content also encourages the formation of small group communities, as there is content for faith formation programs that include a leader and participant guide.  

Other church parishes enrolled in FORMED are St. Patrick Church in Baton Rouge, which launched an informational campaign on the program the weekend of October 12.  

Lisa Trahan, director of religious education at St. Patrick Church, said, “We are excited about having FORMED in our parish. I think it will benefit our catechesis and contribute to the faith life of our parishioners.”  

She said the parish should be able to bring back some old programs in a new light.  

Dow said while current evangelization and catechesis may involve modern means of technology, there are still the timeless core values of proclaiming Christ and supporting parish and family life. She noted the website includes cartoons that teach children about faith, as well as content that can be used for a family movie night.  

“It’s for parents, teachers, directors of religious education, neighbors – everyone,” said Dow  

“The key component of evangelization is inviting people to know how much God loves and values them.”  

For more information about FORMED, contact your local parish or Dow at Ddow@diobr.org.