Last year, Our Lady of Good Counsel in Forestville concluded a six-month adult education program using the Journey into Truth program on the Catholic faith. The response – and the results – show just how much a parish can achieve for the new evangelisation when it sets its mind to it.
Journey into Truth is a series of DVDs with 24 half-hour talks on the faith based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church delivered by Fr John Flader, possibly one of the best known priests in Australia for his ongoing work as a columnist, author and speaker on Church issues.
They are enhanced by high-definition film clips, images and quotations.
The accompanying book of the same title contains the full text of the talks plus an introduction to each session, questions for discussion and points to remember.
Even Lilian Schmid, co-ordinator of the program in Forestville, was delighted by its success which she described as “huge”.
Lilian heard of the program when it first appeared and thought it would be a good way for adults in the parish to grow deeper in their faith.
She spoke with her parish priest about running the program as an evening activity and he readily agreed.
Lilian and her husband Bjorn undertook the task of advertising the course and training those who would assist in running it.
In the end dozens of parishioners were able to attend, joined by people from nearby parishes and others from as far away as Croydon and Concord West.
A group of candidates and catechumens preparing to enter the Church at Easter from the parish of Waitara were also able to attend some of the sessions.
After an introductory session at which Fr Flader was present to explain the program, a group of parishioners came together in the parish hall every Tuesday night except during school holidays to watch one of the 24 sessions.
According to Lilian, the extensive planning and organisation that went into the program were crucial to its success.
For several weeks before its commencement, training sessions were held for all those involved in running the program, especially those who would lead the small group discussions.
Each week a flyer of up to eight pages was prepared for each participant, including the questions for discussion and points to remember taken from Fr Flader’s book, quotations from the Second Vatican Council or papal encyclicals and points from the Catechism of the Catholic Church relevant to the topic for the evening.
The format for the evening involved the group leaders arriving early to pray together, asking the assistance of the Holy Spirit, before preparing everything for the night.
Each session began with a prayer led by Fr Stan Skibicki, one of the priests in the parish, after which one of the leaders explained what was going to be studied that night.
Leaders who were designated as presenters for a session, were also responsible for reading the relevant chapter of Journey into Truth beforehand in order to introduce the participants to its content before they watched the DVD.
After the DVD there was a break for supper, followed by discussion of the topic in small groups, each with a leader. At the end the priest was available to answer any questions that arose in the small groups.
The response of those attending was overwhelmingly positive. Catharine Chu explained that she had received a solid formation in the faith from nuns throughout her school years but her husband Leonard was an adult convert.
They attended the first session “out of curiosity” to see what it was about, not intending to continue for the whole program, but were drawn by it and ended up attending for the full 24 weeks.
She commented: “As Journey into Truth progressed, so did our knowledge of the Catholic Catechism, the context of the Catholic Church’s teachings in history, the saints, Church Fathers and the Catholic Bible and how they relate to our daily lives today. The program was structured in such a beautiful way that concepts and even controversial issues were explained and taught in simple ways by Fr Flader.
“These were highlighted by film clips, lovely graphics and quotations from the Catholic Catechism and the Catholic Bible. Through film the ‘medium became the message’ and we understood immediately the truth of what was being taught.
“Indeed, each segment was a refreshing, riveting and unforgettable experience.”
As regards the small group discussion, she said: “We loved the small group interaction and sharing that followed. It was wonderful to get to know fellow Catholics, whom I respected as I could see how deeply committed and knowledgeable they were in their faith. This is a side one does not get to know from just attending Mass and family group outings.”
Speaking for her husband and herself, she concluded: “In our opinion, Journey into Truth is a must for all levels of our Catholic Church and schools today. This resource is relevant and economical and can easily be adapted in levels of difficulty, even for our primary schools.
“For the Church to be revitalised from within, the Catholic Catechism and the Catholic Bible must be taught in fresh and accessible ways. Journey into Truth is the answer.
“The RCIA would benefit tremendously; so would Catholic priests, teachers and educators at university, seminarians and schools, catechists and everyone involved in the teaching and learning of the Catholic catechism, not to mention small groups meeting in Church halls and homes.
“It would be ‘back to basics’ with a bang!”
Gillian Henery, who also thought at first she would not be able to attend the full course because it was too long, ended up doing so and was thrilled with the result: “The sense of community that developed during Journey into Truth was fantastic – as our knowledge of what the Church teaches grew so did the relationships between those present.
“It was really wonderful to be a part of it and I think it would be fantastic if the parents not only in our Catholic schools here in French’s Forest, but parents of Catholic children in state schools were encouraged to attend a Journey into Truth program. Indeed, I see it as invaluable if the Church is to have any chance of seeing an increase in attendance at Mass in the near future and beyond. Having attended Journey into Truth week in and week out, I can attest to the benefits of seeing it through to the end and firmly believe it would be of benefit to all if run by every parish across Australia.”
Steven Lia, who came to the course from Concord West, said: “I enjoyed Journey into Truth so much that I attended all 24 weeks. I thought I knew my Catholic faith but I finished the series with my faith not only deepened, but with a better understanding of it. I would urge all parishes around Sydney to run this excellent program.”
Fred Pace said: “My brother Bob and I found the course compelling and consoling.
“It was a clear, refreshing and succinct presentation of the undiluted truths the Catholic Church teaches to guide us on our pilgrim journey towards heaven.”
Finally, Lilian Schmid herself, giving thanks for the completion of the program, spoke of her hope that the program would be used widely: “I recommend this program to every Catholic parish, house, school and workplace across Australia.
“The beauty of this program is that you can run it for 24 weeks and have breaks during school term or you can break it into small sections over a longer period of time, for example according to the four parts of the Catechism.”
Lilian offered her services to any other parish or group that would like to run the program.
And the program has borne fruits in all sorts of ways.
One couple who attended were so inspired by the experience they established a Catholic Intercessory Prayer Group.
Others decided to launch a seven-week introduction to the Theology of the Body as a follow-up to Journey Into Truth.
The course is presently being used in a growing number of parishes in Sydney and beyond.
It will be reproduced and distributed by St Joseph Communications in the US and also by a firm in the Philippines.