Children attending the March 30 Lenten mission assembly at St. Peter School in Reserve had a revelation: There was endless fun to be had in kicking around “soccer balls” made of plastic bags and rubber bands.
The makeshift athletic equipment – used to teach American youngsters about the clever ways their peers in the developing world make their own fun out of items found on the street – was one of 20 stations available to Catholic elementary school students last month at four separate mission assemblies held across the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
Mounted by the archdiocesan Missionary Childhood Association (MCA), the educational and fun hands-on assemblies exposed participating children in grades 4-7 to the instruments, flags and games of children from around the globe. Activity stations included putting together puzzles of the world, trying out Chinese character writing, yo-yos and math games; and writing “Peace” on cards in the language of their choice and placing them on a “Peace Pole.”
At another station, children drew a numbered ball out of a jar and completed the corresponding positive action attached to that number, such as extending a greeting of peace to a random adult; picking up something from the floor and putting it in its proper place without being asked; thanking teachers for their vocation of education; and dedicating a Hail Mary to missionaries working in the Americas.
“Did you know that each and every one of you, through your baptism, is a missionary?” said Tanya Cenac, the MCA’s associate director, telling her young attendees that they had the power to “change the world,” even at home in Louisiana, through their prayers and sacrifices.
At the “Five Little Things” booth, the young missionaries received a page with the outline of a hand and were invited to write down a “little thing” they could do on each finger (each one corresponding to a different day of the week). Those promised good works included going to a daily Mass, singing Gospel music, reading the Bible and “being kind.”
The children also got a glimpse of how their peers in foreign lands care for God’s creation. During a slide show, Cenac explained to her young audience why the coconut tree is nicknamed the “Tree of Life” in the Philippines. In addition to its most obvious use as a source of food, coconut juice is used in mouthwash; the tree’s roots for dental floss; its wood for boat-building; and its leaves as a roofing material.
“The Tree of Life reminds us that God has given us everything we need on this earth,” Cenac said.
A video detailing Japan’s school lunch program drew gasps from audience members when they learned that Japanese students grow some of the food used in their school lunch on campus farms; help serve the meal, clean pots, plates and floors after every lunch period; and faithfully recycle their milk cartons every day, flattening and washing them before placing them in the bin.
Local youngsters also got to demonstrate their own care for God’s creation by making simple toys and games out of recycled materials for the Mission Office’s annual toy contest. The submitted toys, made available at the assemblies for use by all attendees, included a foosball table whose “players” were made of clothespins; a drum set made of tin cans; and a checkers set with bottle-cap pieces.
Seniors from Cabrini High were on hand throughout the day to help staff the activity stations. The seniors also led a poignant Way of the Cross, holding up poster-size photographs that connected every scene of Christ’s passion and death to a challenge experienced by residents of the Third World. For example, to put a modern face on “Jesus Meets His Mother,” a photo of a Bangladeshi woman cradling her dying son was held aloft.
For “Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry the Cross,” two young boys team up to carry a pallet of river rocks – to show how Third World children often are forced into labor prematurely.
The long morning of activities delayed the participants’ customary lunch hour, but even this was used as a teaching tool. Cenac reminded the children that their peers in some parts of the world receive only one meal a day, typically consisting of bread, rice and beans.
“When I get hunger pangs I think of them, and I ask God to help all his children get the food that they need,” Cenac said.
Mission assemblies also were hosted by Resurrection of Our Lord (New Orleans); Our Lady of Lourdes, Slidell (northshore); and Visitation of Our Lady (West Bank). The MCA is part of the archdiocesan Pontifical Mission Societies office.