Catechizing children ripples outward, educators say


   Parents of school-age children often are brought back to the faith through their kids, making it vital for school and parish leaders to look for ways to widen this natural gateway, said Catholic educators at Loyola’s Summer Institute for Catholic Educational Leadership.  
   Barbara Martin, principal of St. Francis Xavier School in Metairie, said she is continually amazed by the examples of children leading their parents to embrace tenets of catechism they either had forgotten or had never been taught.
   Something as simple as inviting parents to be in church as their children receive the sacrament of reconciliation can reacquaint adults with Catholicism’s opportunities for prayer and healing, Martin said.
   “We invited the parents (to go to confession) after their children, and this past time it was unbelievable the number of parents who went to the sacrament,” Martin said. “I think they are coming to their faith through their children.”
   Charlotte Crusta, a religion teacher at St. Cletus School in Gretna, said Catholic elementary schools and schools of religion also could nourish the faith lives of young families by encouraging the establishment of moms’ and dads’ prayer groups, recruiting the leaders for these through the existing parent-teacher organization. Other suggestions included initiating a parents’ rosary circle, which could meet after hours or before school Masses.

Parents as prayer partners

   “We (teachers) pray the rosary with our students all the time at school, but we sometimes forget that maybe some of the parents haven’t prayed the rosary in a long time,” Crusta said. “We can let the moms facilitate these groups; they can decide when they want to meet and what the format’s going to be.”
   The educators also touted “Pray and Play” ministries such as the one at Mary Queen of Peace Church in Mandeville. In this ministry, parents of very young children assemble at the parish center weekly to pray, reflect on their faith and share snacks as their babies and toddlers play nearby. Simple, child-friendly service projects, such as organizing canned goods for a food pantry, also can be part of “Pray and Play” gatherings.

God’s Word clarified

   Closer study of Scripture is another way Catholic school children are leading their parents back to church – or helping an already-observant parent become a more active participant at Mass, the educators said. For example, St. Cletus’ religion teachers devote their Friday class time to study and discussion of the upcoming weekend’s Gospel, and the school’s weekly newsletter publishes the Gospel’s full text and some related reflection questions. The Clarion Herald prints a similar weekly guide called “Word to Life” to acquaint readers with upcoming readings.
   “This is a good way for parents to read that Sunday Gospel and reflect on it at home, possibly with their children, before they go to Mass on Sunday,” Crusta said. “I think we all see a problem of parents not going to Mass, and therefore they’re not bringing their children to Mass. If (parents) can be introduced to the Gospel and reflect on it before they go to Mass, it might encourage them to go to Mass on Sunday with their children, who have also heard the Gospel at school during the week.
   “We don’t expect the children to take themselves to Mass, because they’re too young,” Crusta added, “but it is the children’s responsibility to remind their parents to take them to Mass.”
   Other tips to encourage faith formation within young families included:
   • Making a “prayer box” for classroom or home use into which children can place their original prayers and petitions. Teachers and parents can invite the young prayer authors to read their prayers to the larger group.
   • Bringing Scripture to life by inviting youngsters to dress up as Bible heroes and heroines, act out the Gospels and take part in other activities that get them out of their seats. “Children are very kinesthetic,” Crusta notes. “They really need to be physically involved in what they’re learning, rather than in just what they’re hearing and what they’re seeing.”
   • Asking one grade level of students to adopt another grade as its focus of prayer for the year. Introducing a “local” component to children’s daily meditations makes prayer time more personal and its fruits more tangible to youngsters.
   • Setting up a regular time for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at Catholic elementary schools and parish schools of religion.
   “I tell my second graders that (adoration) is their time to just listen to what God wants to tell them – ‘God has something special just to say to you,’” Crusta said. “One of my little boys came out of the chapel (last school year) and told me, ‘God told me he wanted me to become a priest when I grow up!’ I really believe God speaks to children because they’re so open, and they can listen like sometimes adults can’t listen.”
   While it is a plus to have use of the church, an on-campus chapel or a dedicated classroom for adoration, adults can expose young people to the practice at any time, as long as they have access to the Internet, noted Sally Ricca, a Stuart Hall religion teacher.
   “I have a big-screen TV in my classroom that’s tapped into my computer. I put adoration up on the big screen,” said Ricca, whose preferred sites include You Tube and Busted Halo. “They learn (about) adoration, but it’s all through the Internet.”
   Beth Donze can be reached at bdonze@clarionherald.org.

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