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Advice from Master Catechists—April/May 2010
by Sister Janet Schaeffler, Dan Thomas, Chris Weber, Kate Ristow
What resources will help me stay informed about Catholic news? Can you help my students and me write petitions?
What resources will help me stay informed about Catholic news?

I’ve been a catechist for three years and have learned more about my faith in those years than ever before. I would like to stay informed about Catholic Church current events, just like I stay informed about national and worldwide current events. But I don’t know what resources are available. Can you name a few?
—Kristin, Mesa, AZ

Sister Janet Schaeffler’s Answer
You’re right, Kristin. We learn best when we teach. And learning leads to formation and transformation, a deepened relationship with Jesus and the community of God’s people, and a renewed commitment to be a disciple of Jesus and to work toward making the world a better place.

We are fortunate today with numerous resources to help us to stay informed of Catholic Church current events as well as the issues that are being discussed by Catholics regarding faith and spirituality.

Some helpful magazines/periodicals to subscribe to are: America, the only national Catholic weekly magazine in the United States (; U.S. Catholic, dedicated to exploring the wisdom of the Catholic faith tradition and to applying that faith to the challenges of life in the twenty-first century (; and St. Anthony Messenger, a monthly magazine with an overview of current events and an exploration of topics of Catholic faith (

There are some e-newsletters that can be delivered right to your e-mail address. Zenit News Agency: The World Seen from Rome ( covers events, offers documents, and explores issues emanating from the Vatican and around the world. 

Catholic News USA ( is a service of Paulist Press that brings headline news and stories to your e-mail address Monday through Friday.

Another website that has links to current news,, also has a newsletter that can be delivered to you each Sunday. It contains interesting resources and other websites of events and groups in the Catholic world.

Excellent websites are updated constantly with the current events of the Catholic world. The mission of the Catholic News Service ( is to spread the Gospel through contemporary means of communication and to report the news that affects Catholics in their everyday lives.

Check the section of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ website where they post the most current news (

Active Parishioner ( is a multi-purpose site with the latest news, daily Mass readings, prayer, educational programs, resources on Catholic topics, and much more. ( strives to connect people of faith. It offers faith-filled programming 24 hours a day. One of their features is “Newsbreak,” to keep viewers up to date with the news from the Vatican and throughout the universal Church.

An invaluable resource is to be a member of NCCL (National Conference for Catechetical Leadership, There are numerous benefits for you professionally, spiritually, catechetically, and personally. Delivered to your e-mail every Monday will be a newsletter that, in itself, is worth more than the price of membership. The newsletter is filled with resources to keep you up to date with current events as well as many practical ideas and resources.

After many years in parish and diocesan catechetical ministry, Janet Schaeffler, OP, is currently involved in catechetical/adult faith formation consultation, writing, workshops, days of reflection/retreats, and teaching. Her website is

Dan Thomas’s Answer
Your question is a wonderful example to all of us who get involved in catechesis and find how much we need to know about this subject that so excites us. It is an instance of how often those of us teaching learn much more than those we teach.

One very good resource for getting information about Catholic Church current events is your own diocesan newspaper which, in your area, is The Catholic Sun. This will put you in touch with local and some national and international Catholic news, plus Catholic views on the issues.

For national and international news and events, Catholic papers like National Catholic Register, National Catholic Reporter, America (published by the Jesuits), and Our Sunday Visitor are excellent sources. They offer Catholic news, commentary, updates, reflections on the liturgy and liturgical seasons, and much more. All of these are available for subscription but they are also online. (Some of these require you to be a subscriber for full access). This brings us to online resources, of which there are many.

The first of these I would recommend is the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) at Its home page has headlined stories about Catholic news and events plus the views of the conference on issues such as health care, immigration, bishop appointments, and much more. The site also offers reflections on the Sunday readings, movie reviews, the New American Bible, conference publications, and the like.

Catholic News Service (CNS) at is another outstanding source of Catholic news. Much of its reporting is published in Catholic newspapers and magazines in the United States. Its has current major stories, as well as movie reviews, the Sunday Scriptures, a Vatican site, and  special coverage of major events, e.g., papal visits.

Religion News Services ( is another good source for coverage of religious events and news, one which defines itself as “the only secular news and photo service devoted to unbiased coverage of religion and ethics—exclusively.” A recent week covered the death of Oral Roberts; an interview with Jim Daly, the president of Focus on the Family; and another interview with Guy Consolmagno, the astronomer at the Vatican Observatory.

One other source of Catholic news and views is blogs, which are numerous and sometimes controversial. Most of the Catholic newspapers and magazines described above have blogs attached. These are worthwhile for the reflections they give, often with background information that helps readers deepen their understanding of the news. Blogs are personal-taste decisions that people often like or don’t like. Finding one or more that you like often leads to finding others that you like. They can give you information, insight, and background that you can’t find anywhere else.

Keep up that desire to learn more about your Catholic faith. This is an essential quality to becoming a good catechist.

Dan Thomas has been a DRE for 28 years and is involved in the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership (NCCL). He and his wife, Eileen, are the parents of two college-age sons.

Can you help my students and me write petitions?
Fifty-seven young people will be confirmed in our parish this spring. The group I teach (13 students ages 13-15) has been asked to write petitions for the Confirmation liturgy. Help! I’m not sure where to start.
—Belinda, Greensboro, NC

Chris Weber’s Answer
The General Instruction on the Roman Missal sets out these guidelines for the Prayers of the Faithful: “As a rule, the series of intentions is to be: a) for the needs of the Church; b) for public authorities and the salvation of the whole world; c) for those burdened by any kind of difficulty; d) for the local community.

“Nevertheless, in a particular celebration, such as Confirmation, Marriage, or a Funeral, the series of intentions may reflect more closely the particular occasion” (n. 70).

Note that the progression is from global to local needs, from the needs of the worldwide Church to those of individuals in the immediate community. At the same time, the General Instruction gives you a lot of extra wiggle room for Confirmation.

With this in mind, try this “Gifts of the Holy Spirit” planning grid when brainstorming petitions with your students. Design a grid of eight columns and eight rows. Leave the first box in the upper left-hand corner blank. In the first column, list the following intentions in each area: The Pope, our Bishop, N., and those who lead our Church; Leaders of governments around the word; Our parish community of N.; The sick and those suffering from hurt or sadness; Those who have died; Those receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation today; All of us and the needs we hold in the silence of our hearts. In the rows across, list the Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom; Understanding; Knowledge; Counsel; Fortitude; Piety; Fear of the Lord. 

Incorporate this exercise into your catechesis on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. After you have reviewed each of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, ask students to brainstorm which gift they might connect to each of the groups in the grid. There are no right or wrong answers; just be sure to use each gift only once.

Once students have matched all of the items, have them compose intercessions. You could suggest this format:

“O Lord, we pray for the Gift of Wisdom. Grant this gift to our Pope, Benedict XVI; our Bishop, N.; our Pastor, Fr. N.; and all of those who faithfully lead our Church. We pray to the Lord…
O Lord, we pray for the Gift of Understanding…”

Modify the left column to suit your specific needs. However, I strongly recommend that you limit the number of petitions to seven or maybe eight with the opportunity for silent prayer. More than that will cause your congregation to drift.

You can use this grid year after year. A prepared structure like this will make the planning process manageable while allowing students to use their creativity.

Chris Weber has worked in the field of catechesis for over 20 years: as a catechist, a parish catechetical leader, and a diocesan staff member. He is currently Director of the Mount Summer Program at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Kate Ristow’s Answer
This is such a wonderful privilege for your class! Here are a few guidelines for you to follow.

1. Begin by brainstorming, with the candidates, images that focus on Confirmation: the Holy Spirit; the Gifts of the Holy Spirit; service; mission; witness; evangelization; and so forth. Try to incorporate as many of these images as you can into the intercessions you write.

2. Have students read and discuss the Scriptures chosen for the celebration. Incorporate one or more of the themes from the readings into the intercessions. For example, “That we might follow the example of the Good Samaritan in our daily lives, we pray to the Lord.”

3. Ordinarily, the first four General Intercessions follow a pattern. We pray 1) for the needs of the Church and Church leaders; 2) for civil authorities and the salvation of the world; 3) for those burdened by any sort of difficulty; 4) for the local community.

Encourage students to relate each category to Confirmation in some way: the celebration; responding to the Holy Spirit strengthening us in this Sacrament; the effects of the Sacrament. In other words, each intercession should relate to the purpose of the liturgy. You may add other categories as appropriate for your celebration, but it is never a good idea to pray more than seven intercessions.

4. Pick one of the following formats for each petition and use the same format for all of the petitions you compose: For ____; That ____; For ____ that ____.

5. Keep in mind that the General Intercessions are prayed by the entire assembly. Try not to exclude any group participating in the Mass. It is more appropriate to pray “That the Holy Spirit will bless and guide all those involved in our Confirmation program: candidates, sponsors, catechists, and parents” than “That the Holy Spirit will bless all those who helped us prepare to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.”

6. Some bishops prefer a simple format for the General Intercessions, with the response being very basic (Lord, hear our prayer). Check with your catechetical leader about any specific directions you’ve been given by the bishop’s office.

7. Caution the kids to keep each petition short enough so that it can be said in one breath. Otherwise, it will run on and people may forget what they are praying for.

8. Rather than writing six or seven petitions as a class—a very laborious process—divide the class into small groups and assign one of the categories above to each group. Ask each group to write its intercessions on the board so that the entire class can make suggestions about the wording of the final version. One or two additional petitions can be written by the entire class working together.

Kate Ristow, Contributing Editor to CATECHIST, is National Catechetical Consultant for RCL Benziger. She has been involved in children’s religious education for over 25 years as a Catholic-school teacher and parish catechist.

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