By Beth Donze, Clarion Herald
A wonderful religion classroom can be found inside and outside every Catholic church if you just look in the right places.
On Jan. 26, more than 50 Girl Scout Daisies pursuing their “God Is Love” award discovered that “classroom” at Our Lady of Divine Providence (OLDP) Church in Metairie. During a Saturday retreat, they celebrated God’s love for them simply by documenting the beauty in their midst with their cameras.
“I’ve done this program with as few as six girls and as many as 50,” said Ruth Curcuru, the leader of OLDP’s Girl Scout Troop 40016, who coordinates the annual retreat as a member of the archdiocese’s Catholic Committee on Girl Organizations.
To earn the award – the Daisy component of the Girl Scouts’ Catholic Religious Recognition Program – the kindergartners and first-graders must complete the “God Is Love” workbook published by the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry. The single volume is written in both English and Spanish and is ideal for home use by any Catholic parent, Curcuru said.
“The book moves from recognizing that God loves us to realizing that we have to share that love with others,” she explained.
The Daisies, who are asked to bring a camera, lunch and an item to donate to a food bank, begin by focusing on the many things God made for them, with Curcuru using the Creation story from Genesis as a springboard. They follow up by making a collage of some of those divine gifts.
“I have a stash of old textbooks – mostly religious, but some others, too – and magazines,” Curcuru said of the simple craft project.
Next, the girls are sent outdoors for a 20-minute nature walk. Curcuru instructs the Daisies to take pictures of things God created and to thank him for each of them. The youngsters typically will take photos of flowers, trees and people.
“One time I got the question, ‘Did God make rocks?’” Curcuru smiled. “They run around the yard and take pictures of different things.”
Once their appreciation for God’s creation has been established, the retreatants shift their focus to the love God has for “me.” For example, they are asked to consider the ways God made them special; what it would be like if God had created everyone the same; and ways they might help others to see their own uniqueness. Curcuru invites them to place themselves in St. Matthew’s Gospel story about “Jesus and the Children” and to draw a picture of themselves with Christ.
After learning the song “His Banner Over Me Is Love,” the Daisies place the names of those whom they love on hearts in their workbooks.
Curcuru also tells the youngsters that there are symbols of God’s love inside every Catholic church, and then sends them off to find and photograph them.
“As far as Catholic churches go, (OLDP Church is) on the plain side, but we’ve got the stations, statues, a Divine Mercy painting and a picture of Our Lady of Divine Providence over the baptismal font,” said Curcuru, who also teaches third graders in OLDP’s Parish School of Religion.
Curcuru makes sure to point out one image of “Jesus” that children – and even adults – tend to overlook in the Metairie church: a stained-glass depiction of a vine. Curcuru reminds the Daisies that Jesus once described himself by saying, “I am the vine; you are the branches.”
“They really like getting to use their cameras in church,” Curcuru said. “I will even point out the different color carpet in the sanctuary and tell them not to step on that carpet.”
The retreat concludes with ways God’s love can be extended to others, with Curcuru retelling the story of The Good Samaritan. The girls’ food bank donations are placed on a prayer table as they ponder who their “neighbor” is, trace their hands, and list ways to show God’s love and a person to pray for on each finger. Two pictures also are drawn: one showing a way they can love God, the other on how they can show love to others.
“The ‘God is Love’ book seems to be written for family use and it is a great option if a girl is the only one in her troop who wants to earn the award, particularly if her family is very supportive (of the workbook project),” Curcuru said.
“The retreat turns out to be a fun day for the girls, and it makes possible to do as a group for girls who aren’t in Catholic school (based) troops,” Curcuru added. “You see the light in their eyes, and it does reinforce your own faith!”
To earn the award, each Daisy must complete her book at home using her favorite photographs taken during the retreat. Once earned, the award pin can be worn on the front of the Daisy uniform.
The “God Is Love” award, along with other ones connected with Catholic-focused programming offered by the scouts and other local girls and boys organizations, will be presented during a prayer service April 28 from 3 to 5 p.m. at St. Louis Cathedral. Archbishop Gregory Aymond will preside at the annual ceremony.
Curcuru said that while naysayers will always harp on a perceived conflict between incorporating faith-related programming into scouting activities, there are many similarities between being a good scout and being a good Christian.
“The Girl Scout promise says that ‘On my honor I will try to serve God and my country, to help people at all times and to live by the Girl Scout law,’” she said. “All of that reflects our calling as Christians.”
For a full list of the Catholic Religious Recognition Programs for Girl Scout Daisies, Brownies, Juniors, Cadettes, Seniors and Ambassadors living in Girl Scouts Louisiana East, email Curcuru at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the CYO/Youth and Young Adult Ministry Office at 836-0551.