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 | By Joey Reistroffer

Authentic Joy of the Faith Helps Catechists Teach the Truth of Jesus

“Teach the truth,” Adorno Father Liam Panganiban said. “And what is the truth? Jesus. You are going to meet these children where they are, then you are going to journey with them and teach the truth.”

Father Panganiban is the pastor of Jesus Our Risen Saviour Church in Spartanburg. He was one of the speakers for about 60 catechists in the upstate who gathered in the fall for prayer, Mass and a workshop for teachers of the Catholic catechism.

Teaching the truth sounds easy enough. Standing in front of a classroom of youngsters from every background imaginable, however, can be intimidating.

Some squirm. Others stare into the distance, their thoughts on kid things. Some children have a look in their eyes like they might be hypnotized and some are downright scared. 

Then, there are those eager to learn.

Getting them on the same page, zeroed in on a lesson, is the goal of every catechist.

Norma Stokes, director of religious education at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Spartanburg, brought in Nina Obier, who organized a workshop for the catechists.

Obier is a Catholic author, motivational speaker and coach. She urged the teachers to bring energy and clarity to their classrooms by first putting themselves in the proper frame of mind.

“Do a brain dump,” she explained. “Take a deep breath and believe. Put pen to paper and write down your thoughts to gain clarity. It opens the creative pathways.”

She also told the teachers to be confident in front of their class.

“Focus on what’s going right. It’s so simple, but powerful. Sometimes we need that energy by saying, ‘What’s going right,’” Obier stated. “It’s such a small thing, but we are looking to gain confidence.”

Obier said she puts her relationship with God first and calls it her power move.

“Christ is the power source,” she added. “When you remove all your distractions, you can serve better.”

Slowing down helps discard those distractions, too, by removing all the things that waylay our thoughts so Christ is front and center.

“Above all, trust in the slow works of God. … When you finally, really do God’s will, and not your own, things fall into place,” she said.

Marilyn Serpa, who has taught fourth graders at St. Mary Church in Greenville for five years, said she can understand slow starts. It happens in her class at the beginning of every year.

“Every class starts out quiet, then they open up,” Serpa said. “I like to keep real, open discussions of what’s going on with them.”

It’s not always about the lessons, she remarked. It’s about the interactions. “I want to make something fun so they will remember.”

Maria Rosario-Alonso agrees. She teaches first communion to third graders at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Simpsonville. Her class includes those who might be a bit behind.

“We do crafts and manuals — things they can touch and feel,” she said. “This year we are going to create a Eucharist with paper. I want to point out where everything started — Jesus. I want to get them to see Jesus.”

Michelle Sundquist learned about Jesus as a youngster at St. Paul, where she attended Masses and went to school. She even received the sacraments of first communion, reconciliation, confirmation and marriage there.

Now, she is ready to step forward. Sundquist said she was “compelled to help,” adding that she was inspired by her mother, Yanette Marzouca.

“I teach the Mexican children,” Marzouca said. “They are eight, nine and 10 years old. They are different levels, but it’s all about Jesus,” she said.

Dr. Michael Martocchio, director of the Office of Catechesis and Christian Initiation for the Diocese of Charleston, said the focus needs to be just where Marzouca has placed it — on Jesus.

“All the statistics show that two-thirds don’t believe in the Real Presence,” Martocchio said of Catholics. “People have trouble believing that God wants a relationship with them. We have to propose that to them.”

How? By being a witness, Martocchio said.

“The biggest impact is exuding the joy of the faith,” he explained. “That personal witness is important. When it becomes personal … the fact that it means something in my life — they will remember that you are authentic.”

Personal witness can make all the difference to somebody questioning the Real Presence. 

“Our bishop, he exudes joy. And that’s contagious,” Martocchio said.

Linda Jackson, a representative on the Diocesan Board of Catechetical Advisers for the Greenville Deanery, senses that same joy in the catechists who attended Obier’s workshop. She said now they need to bring that energy, joy and clarity of faith to the classroom.

“We need to be clear about what we’re doing in order to lead the kids,” Jackson said. “We have to live what we’re teaching. We have to have a clear message in order to lead the kids toward discipleship.”

That message starts by teaching the truth.

The truth is Jesus, and he is with us today in the Eucharist.

Joseph Reistroffer is a long-time writer who teaches religious education classes at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Spartanburg. Email him at