JPII Fund to support faith formation, religious education

BRIDGEPORT — “The Church needs your energies, your enthusiasm, your youthful ideas in order to make the Gospel of Life penetrate the fabric of society.”

It was St. John Paul II who first uttered this sentiment, not about seminarians, priests, or lay leadership, but about young people in the Church.

Now, St. John Paul II serves as a namesake for a fund supporting religious education and faith formation in the Diocese of Bridgeport. And as the primary target of faith formation efforts, Foundations in Faith would like to see young people get increasingly involved in their own learning and growth in the Catholic faith.

The St. John Paul II Fund for Religious Education and Faith Formation provides a number of funding opportunities for creative and innovative approaches to how people learn about their faith. And the largest opportunity of them all is available parishes and ministries now.

Parish support grants are provided through the St. John Paul II Fund in order to fund religious education and faith formation efforts at parishes and other programs in the Diocese. While young people are usually the target of these efforts, Foundations in Faith has supported adult faith formation programs in the past as well.

“Funding parish programs for religious education and youth ministry is awesome, because you see so many excellent initiatives,” said Kelly Weldon, Foundations in Faith’s director. “I am inspired and filled with hope. The Catholic faith is alive and on fire. You just need to know where to look.”

Religious education and faith formation is a pretty large umbrella. And some parishes have taken some creative approaches to move these essential efforts forward.

For instance, St. George Parish in Bridgeport took learning about the faith out of the classroom and onto the stage. Their parish support grant helped fund the creation of a youth choir, which had its first performance this past Christmas Eve.

“Since arriving at St. George Catholic Church on July 1, 2020, my dream and prayer was to have a children’s youth choir,” Father Alexis Moronta, pastor of St. George, wrote in Fairfield County Catholic in January. “The children and youth of St. George have a great desire to share their musical talent and their love for God, and they do all of this for His Glory and Honor, and God blesses their love for him with great spiritual fruits.”

The Church of the Assumption in Westport chose to take youth faith formation outside of the classroom as well — literally. The youth group there used their parish support grant to create a prayer garden, which was built by the youth group and is used and enjoyed by parishioners of all ages.

Youth minister Michele Harding said she observed many parishioners enjoying the garden during warmer months. And as the weather turns to spring again, she already has a few volunteers offering manpower and plant donations for the garden.

But Harding has been especially impressed by the determination and commitment of the youth group.

“Never underestimate what teens can do,” she said. “They managed to shovel and spread two and a half tons of gravel in an hour.”

But it doesn’t always need to be young people at the focus of faith formation. In fact, St. Paul Church in Greenwich chose to target another audience entirely — parents. The church’s parish support grant is funding a four-time forum where parents learn about the essential role they play in their children’s faith formation. Essentially, parents are the primary religion teacher, even before their children’s formal religious education begins.

According to Christine Green, the director of religious education at St. Paul, participating in the program has had a positive impact on many parents, allowing them to engage with certain aspects of Catholicism more deeply.

“First Communion parents came up to me after the meeting and asked me to help them understand the Real Presence deeper, as it was a concept they always had trouble with,” Green said. “I was excited that they felt comfortable enough to do that.”

In total, 15 ministries throughout the Diocese of Bridgeport received funding via a parish support grant last year. Those grants totaled $87,500, once again cementing the program as Foundations in Faith’s largest.

And now, the invitation is open for even more parishes to apply for these grants. They’ll be able to do so until April 1.