Religious Education Programs Are Vital Piece of Spreading the Faith
By Bishop David J. Malloy
Last week this column highlighted the great work being done by our Catholic schools in the Diocese of Rockford. I noted with particular pride and appreciation the newly consolidated schools, Pope St. John Paul II Catholic Academy in Aurora that opened last year, and All Saints Catholic Academy in Rockford that opened in August.
But the work of our Catholic schools is only part of the story of the evangelization of our young people. There is another aspect of Catholic education and now is an important time of year to highlight it. That is our parish Religious Education (RE) programs.
For many reasons, including the reality that in some places there is no Catholic school nearby, many of our Catholic young people do not attend Catholic schools. Instead, they are part of the parish Religious Education programs designed to teach them the foundations and the practice of our Catholic faith. 
The classes are frequently taught by dedicated and trained volunteers assisted both by the pastor and the Catholic Education Office of the Diocese of Rockford.
The numbers of those involved in RE programs show just how important this aspect of evangelization is in the Diocese of Rockford. 
Last year, for example, approximately 1,780 catechists taught the faith to our young people. Over 18,500 of our young people — children and teenagers — participated in those programs.
As a result, through the RE outreach, 4,700 young people were prepared for their first Communion. A similar number went through Religious Education studies as part of their preparation for receiving the sacrament of confirmation last year.
But the RE programs don’t stop there. Last year, in preparation for the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), 220 catechists joined 503 adults on the way to full reception into the Catholic Church. Additionally, another 762 catechists helped 16,617 adults continue their faith formation through Scripture studies, apologetic classes, and other adult formation opportunities.
Just as in our Catholic schools, our RE programs are witnessing a resurgence of innovative and engaging opportunities within our diocese to help our youth encounter Christ.
An example of this is the rising interest in family catechesis programs. In these programs, both the child and the parents are invited to participate in faith formation. This creates a true partnership between the parents and the parish in the formation of the child. 
The Church has long recognized that parents are the primary teachers of the faith. However, at times, some parents feel ill-equipped for this task. The adult formation element of these programs helps parents grow in their own faith while equipping them to effectively share the faith with their children. 
The shared experience and dialogue generated in these programs enriches families and builds the parish community. At this time, approximately 34 parishes in our diocese have some form of family centered program.
In parishes, Religious Education classes are just now getting organized for the new school year. Parents, please don’t miss this opportunity to see to the most important aspect of your child’s formation. That is teaching them the Catholic faith.
Please, take the time to enroll your children now. And while you are at it, enroll yourself in an adult education program. 
But then complete the task. Go to Mass each and every Sunday, as a family. Set an example of regular confession, with your children. Pray at home. Discuss the faith and how it applies to us, even among the challenges of this world.
Catholic schools and Religious Education programs are vital pieces of spreading the faith. Thanks to all who are part of this effort. 
This instruction in the knowledge and living of the faith is a vital piece in preparing individuals to say yes to Christ and to His invitation to the one thing that truly matters: life in heaven itself.