PROVIDENCE — Last March, as the Diocese of Providence was on the threshold of hosting its 53rd annual Faith Formation Convocation, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic caused life as we knew it to ground suddenly to a halt.
“We were obviously very disappointed at first, and because of the timing we really didn’t have a backup plan,” said Edward Trendowski, director of the Office of Faith Formation.
Last summer, Trendowski checked with Bryant University about the possibility of hosting the annual convocation there once again in 2021, but the uncertainty wrought by operating in the time of a global pandemic left the university unable to guarantee the facility would be available.
That is when he began to pursue the idea of hosting a virtual convocation.
“I had participated in some myself — I did a virtual men’s conference last April, so I had a conception of what our convocation could be like online,” Trendowski said.
With about 20 speakers lined up so far to offer pre-recorded presentations in English and Spanish, with some live sessions also offered — such as to recite the rosary together in real time — the diocesan Faith Formation Convocation will be offered online only this year during the weekend of March 19-21.
The three-day event, unlike the single-day convocation usually offered, will have the added benefit of allowing virtual attendees to sample many more presentations than they ordinarily would if attending in person.
The cost to register for the convocation is $10 per person, or household, to help defray the expenses of hosting the event, which will feature live and pre-recorded content, as well as links to exhibitors. Technical support services will be on standby through the weekend for anyone experiencing difficulty logging in to the convocation. Attendees can view a lineup of speakers and register on the website created for the event: www.faithformationconvocation.com, or by phone at: 401-278-4646.
“The talks will be password protected and people will have access to the videos the weekend of March 19-21,” Trendowski said. “We’re going to have great content. There will be talks for everybody but the focus is handing on the faith.”
Among the scheduled presenters are Michael and Lori Lavigne — parents of eight children — who will offer their insight on how to best hand on and teach the faith in the home.
There will also be presentations of particular interest to catechetical leaders and directors of religious education.
“Definitely the focus is on providing ideas for handing on the faith to people that you encounter and the people entrusted to your care,” Trendowski said.
Just like those who attend the virtual convocation, presenters will come from both near and far.
Parousia Media founder Charbel Raisch, an Australian, will offer a session.
He will speak about praying the Bible with the family in the home setting.
“He’s been in the virtual conference world for a little while now,” Trendowski said.
A speaker from the Augustine Institute will talk about the importance of adult faith formation.
Trendowski is working with the Institute to secure discounts for participants on membership to Formed, a media platform that has been likened to a “Catholic Netflix,” offering a wide array of programming.
Additional presentations will be offered by Father Philip Dufour and Father Nathan Ricci, as well as by local speaker, author and advocate Tyler Rowley, who will speak about the importance of fathers in handing on the Catholic faith in their families.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ theme for this catechetical year is: “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you,” in the words of St. Paul.
“St. Paul would have loved to have access to some of this technology I think in order to be able to evangelize and to bring the faith into Catholic homes and lead people in the process of conversion,” Trendowski observed.
And with all of the challenges this past year has brought, including keeping people apart when they’re used to coming together for such events as the convocation, technology has proven to be a useful tool to keep people nourished in their faith.
While it won’t be the same this year at the convocation, with its numerous opportunities for fellowship, the use of technology will allow some who may not have been able to travel to the event to still participate in it as they can access the content from anywhere as long as they have a capable device.
“We see that as a positive,” Trendowski said.
“We’ve really embraced the challenges we’ve had — the crosses we’ve had — and really tried to continue the Lord’s mission of evangelization.”
Learn more at www.faithformationconvocation.com.