The St. Andrew School of Formation (Escuela de Evangelización San Andrés) is offering classes in Arkansas to teach Hispanic Catholics about their faith and how to evangelize others.
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor of the Diocese of Little Rock approved the program in March 2011 for use by the diocesan Hispanic Ministry Office throughout the state.
The program offers Hispanic Catholics in Arkansas an opportunity to learn more about their faith, so they can use that knowledge to promote the faith to others.
"The end goal of this program is of empowering people to live out faith and be fully converted. This is what I want for my people. They grow in faith and gain the tools to share it. It is a great gift for the diocese," said Father Tony Robbins, pastor of churches in Camden, Hope and Warren and at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Magnolia, Ark. where they recently offered the first course for 15 parishioners.
When Jaime Torres, associate director of Hispanic Ministry, joined the diocese of Little Rock, he knew this adult formation program could help people grow.
"We didn't have something established where the people could come and get formation. With my experience, I know how important that is," Torres said. "I used to be in a gang. I went looking for something. They didn't have anything for me. They said my calling was something else, not in church. This school opens the door for everybody – not just the movements or ministries – but for everybody."
These formation classes made a difference in his own life, he said, after he left his old life of gangs and drugs behind for his faith.
"At first when I started, it was hard for me to know about Jesus and about my faith. I used to say I was Catholic, but I didn't know anything about Catholic. When I started going to these courses, I started knowing better about Jesus," he said.
Torres first encountered the program in 2003 when he was searching for an adult formation program that offered more. He met the founder, Jose H. Prado Flores, at a retreat in Mexico. The program was founded in 1980 and is based in Guadalajara, México. In addition to the United States and Mexico, the program is taught in Colombia, Italy, Brazil, Hungary, Portugal, Canada and Argentina.
After reading some of the books Flores gave him, Torres came back to Arkansas. He attended additional courses in California and Texas. He encouraged others to seek out formation courses as well. He credits the formation with transforming his life, a transformation that eventually led to his working for the Diocese of Little Rock.
"Now that I'm here at the diocese, that's a big step. It was a dream when I started church. Nobody liked me before because I was a gang member. I remember once that I told this guy that I would like to be one day (working) in the diocese. He just started laughing and said 'I think that's never going to happen.' And I told him 'You never know. If that's God's will, I will be at the diocese some day,'" he said.
Now Torres is working to grow the school and presenting it to parishes around the state who are interested in offering classes.
He is also working with the Hispanic movements in the state to develop a group of leaders. The goal is to have a school in each region of Arkansas.
The program is divided into three stages with seven courses in each stage, a total of 588 hours.
The school is named after St. Andrew who brought his brother Simon Peter to meet Jesus. The goal is to train people to do the same with the other "Peters" in the world.
Father Robbins encouraged his parishioners to participate and hopes to involve all his parishes in the formation. The first course, Nueva Vida (New Life), was held in December 2011 in Magnolia, Ark. The second course, Emmaus, will be held later this month in Hope, Ark.
After the first course in Magnolia, Father Robbins has seen a positive outcome from those who attended.
"Initially, I've seen people becoming very motivated to continue. They're enthusiastic about the courses. They have a desire to share their experiences – that's a great start and a sign of conversion and God's presence."
Posted with permission from The Arkansas Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Little Rock, Ark.