MFI celebrates 20 years of lay formation at Symposium


By Marge Bitetti

SAN BERNARDINO—In 1998 Bishop Gerald Barnes had the wisdom to establish the Ministry Formation Institute (MFI) with the goal of providing the Diocese with educated and trained leaders for the numerous ministries in the region. 

 The legacy of that decision was celebrated by hundreds of MFI graduates and current participants who gathered at the Diocesan Pastoral Center for the 20th Anniversary MFI Symposium on April 21. Two noted professors involved with the formation of lay leaders in the Catholic Church presented their reflections on the training and skills that are needed for 21st Century ministry.

 “In 2048 the Church in the USA will be transformed and different than it is today,” offered Dr. Hosffman Ospino, a Professor of Pastoral Theology and Religious Education at Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry. 

 He noted that today the Church reflects many cultures that now reside in the United States, including 20 million Catholics who are immigrants. 

 “People tend to romanticize the past, but we need to be in the now,” said Dr. Ospino, who encouraged attendees to celebrate the date of their baptism because that is the day when each of us are born again. 

 “We do what we do because we participate in a mission that has lasted 2000 years. Because we are baptized, we participate in the mission of the Church.” 

 People need to be “bridges” themselves to be the missionary disciples of Christ, Dr. Ospino added.

 “It was inspirational,” said Christ the Redeemer parishioner John Koss of Dr. Ospino’s talk. “He reminded us that we all have a baptismal call; to be church.”

 The second presenter at the symposium was Dr. Brett Hoover, the Graduate Chair and Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Dr. Hoover began his presentation by reflecting that the vision of the Church requires communion; that even with our differences we are all one. Dr. Hoover shared that the generation gap that exists in the church is a cultural gap. For many, the culture that was familiar to them in their teens and early twenties is carried with them into their adult years. Many adults preserve their youth in things that were familiar to them when they were young. 

 “We have both an amnesia about youth and a nostalgia in thinking about youth,” Dr. Hoover observed.

 He went on to explain that as people age their memory is often reconstructed. They leave out details or remember the past romantically. Lay leaders in the Church often project their way of thinking by remembering how they felt and acted at a certain age and then expect the same actions and thinking from the youth of today, he said. 

 “When people don’t understand or feel comfortable they often make moral judgements about cultural differences,” Dr. Hoover asserted. Lay leaders need to be aware of the struggles that teens and young adults are facing. These include various hurts and being part of a generation that does not believe as much in organized religion. He shared that many young people think that to be Catholic means that you are also politically conservative and that they take a risk to openly share their faith because so many of their peers are not religiously affiliated.

 Raul Ruiz from St. James Parish in Perris shared, “It’s good to hear someone talk about these issues. Baptism calls us to holiness and to evangelize you need to take it (the message) out everywhere. When sorrow comes people look for a way out, but we should look at the commitment that the Son had for the Father even unto death. That is love.” 

 Raul shared the many personal struggles that he has had to deal with in life but despite the challenges he has remained firm in his faith.

 After a video that highlighted the history of the MFI Bishop Barnes delivered a talk. He shared how those present need to continue to be open and spiritually nourished. 

 “The Lord feeds us through His Word, the Sacraments of the Altar and through our brothers and sisters gathered in his name. Eating once is not enough, we need to continue to eat and find new flavors. We need to stay young because we have something to do – go out into the world and spread the Good News.”

 The symposium concluded with the commissioning of the dedicated men and women who work as teachers for the various classes offered through the MFI, including the Parish Minister’s Formation Program (CMFP) and Coordinator of Ministries Formation Program (CMFP)

 Programming for the formation of lay ministers has been a hallmark of the Diocese since its creation 40 years ago. Prior to the MFI, lay formation was offered through the Straling Leadership Institute and through Escuela de Ministerios.

Marge Bitetti is a freelance writer and a parishioner of St. Matthew in Corona.