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Sept. 23, 2004 • Volume 13 Number2

Church 21 Initiative Will Be Extended

Fr. Leahy outlines plans for C21 center, online education courses

By Sean Smith
Chronicle Editor

Boston College is continuing its Church in the 21st Century initiative, prompted both by the project's successful first two years and a need for ongoing discussion of key issues facing the American Catholic Church, according to University President William P. Leahy, SJ.

New Church 21 activities will include three online educational courses on Catholicism offered through BC beginning Oct. 1 and the establishment of a permanent center for C21.

C21 will continue to sponsor or co-sponsor conferences, lectures and other events on campus during the academic year. These include an Oct. 18 lecture, "How Rome Views the American Church," by John L. Allen, Rome correspondent for The National Catholic Reporter; a three-part series of weekend classes on the future of Catholic identity with New York Times religion columnist Peter Steinfels; a Nov. 18 panel discussion with BC students on campus ecumenism; and a conference next June on the priesthood in the Catholic Church.

Another C21 event, a conference titled "Handing On the Faith," took place this past weekend. The conference, which featured a lecture by Boston Archbishop Sean O'Malley, OFM, Cap., brought together more than 20 prominent Catholic scholars and leaders to discuss challenges of passing on the Catholic faith to future generations.

Interviewed last week, Fr. Leahy, who announced the extension of Church 21 at University Convocation earlier this month, elaborated on the plans, and the reasons, for continuing the initiative.

C21, he said, had been envisioned as a two-year project, first as a means of helping Catholics to deal with questions raised by the clergy sexual abuse scandal, and then to provide venues and resources to discuss challenges confronting the 21st-century Catholic Church - including the roles of lay men and women, priests and bishops; the religious education of Catholics; and sexuality in the Catholic tradition and contemporary culture.

Response to Church 21 has been consistently positive, said Fr. Leahy, and it is clear that there is still much to be done.

"As we listen to our alumni and talk to people involved in the Catholic community, the need is so apparent for education, discussion, dialogue and partnership," he said. "The desire among many, many Catholics is they want to help the Church but they are not sure about how to do that. They want to be asked to help and they want to do it in a meaningful way. They want to be involved in activity.

"There are certain things a Catholic university can do, and we have identified areas in which we think we could engage specific issues. These will continue to provide the focus in Church 21 activities."

Fr. Leahy cited the on-line education courses, developed in collaboration with BC's Institute for Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry, as an example of the resources C21 can offer. The first course, What Makes Us Catholic, will be taught by IREPM Director Prof. Thomas Groome (Theology), a widely read author of books on Catholicism and Catholic education, and IREPM faculty member Barbara Radtke. It will be available to the public at a cost of $75.

The focus of the four-week course, which also will be offered in January, will be to integrate Catholic Christian faith into "real life," suggesting a spirituality to sustain people in the everyday. Along with the written text, brief video segments with Groome and Radtke as well as other resources will be provided to stimulate discussion. Each participant will be assigned to a small community for conversation and faith sharing.

In March, Radtke will lead another on-line course geared toward helping parents in their efforts to provide faith education for their children.

Fr. Leahy also said the University is in the process of searching for a person to direct the C21 center. The goal is to have a director by June, he said.

"Our intention with C21 is not to replace the Catholic Church nor become the Catholic Church," said Fr. Leahy.

"As a Jesuit and Catholic university, part of our mission is to help address the needs of the Church and the Catholic community. From all we have heard, C21 is doing that, and we believe it can contribute to assisting the Church and its members to move from crisis to renewal."

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