Lenten Mission assemblies put focus on play

By Beth Donze, Clarion Herald

Although most kids can’t travel to the ends of the earth to spread Jesus’ message of unconditional love, they can be “missionaries at home” each and every day, said archdiocesan Missionary Childhood Association (MCA) director Laura Arand, speaking to 140 third through fifth graders gathered for the March 13 Lenten mission assembly for east bank schools in the gym of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) School in Kenner.

Arand told the youngsters that there are three main ways children can be missionaries while living in their local communities: By praying with and for their peers around the world; by offering small, daily sacrifices of their time, talent and treasure to the less fortunate; and by simply learning more about the lives of children in other countries.

The young assembly attendees spent the bulk of their time together taking to heart Arand’s third tip: they learned about their foreign peers by playing an assortment of simple, games enjoyed around the world, breaking into small groups to rotate over 19 activity stations.

Although there wasn’t a single electronic device in sight, the OLPH gym exploded with fun, music and laughter for nearly two straight hours.

“Children in other countries might not have an iPad or even a phone. Sometimes they don’t even have a softball, so they have to create their own games,” Arand said, displaying hand-held mazes made out of recycled bicycle tires and wood that forced the children to work together to usher balls down an obstacle path without using their hands.

Some games didn’t even require equipment to play them. For “Chinese Get-Up,” pairs of children sat back-to-back on the floor and were challenged to rise to a standing position while linking their arms and using their backs as a brace. In “The Human Knot,” groups of children had to “untie” themselves without losing hold of one another’s hands and working collaboratively.

The attendees also assembled map-of-the-world puzzles, drew the flags of nations and were given cards that instructed them to do everything from saying “Peace be with you” to a random stranger in the gym, to praying for children in a particular country.

They wrote “Five Little Things” they could do to build God’s kingdom – on each finger of an outline of a hand – and folded origami hearts at the “Mission is at the Heart of the Church” booth.

One of the world’s simplest games – juggling – was also given a mission twist, with students first considering the things they had to “juggle” (homework, sports, chores, etc.) and then reading about what their peers in developing countries often faced, such as the greater possibility of their being orphaned and poor access to good meals, clean water and medical care.

The students also collaborated on a Peace Pole – formed out of Popsicle sticks on which the word “Peace” was written in different languages; played drums made of recycled items by Catholic school students for the MCA’s toy contest; dabbled in Chinese calligraphy; and played simple dot-to-dot games from Africa.

Earlier, the young people prayed the Hail Mary in English and Vietnamese, the latter with the help of Father Thien The Nguyen, parochial vicar of St. Francis Xavier Church.

Arand said another message of the day was for local children to be “grateful for the things that we do have.” Arand confessed that she once took for granted that her own parents were able to furnish her with real soccer balls. Children in developing countries often must make their own balls out of wadded-up plastic bags.

“Like (foreign) missionaries, you are also sent out to share what you’ve learned with your friends and family,” Arand said. “How is Christ calling you to be a missionary today?”

The Lenten mission assembly concluded with a mission-oriented Way of the Cross led by Cabrini High seniors and a bagged lunch in the gym.

About 500 Catholic schoolchildren in grades 3-7 and their adult mission coordinators attended this year’s Lenten mission assemblies at various locations March 12-15. In addition to OLPH, Kenner – the assembly site for east bank schools – Our Lady of Lourdes, Slidell, hosted the Northshore assembly; children from the River Parishes gathered at St. Peter, Reserve; and students from west bank schools convened at Visitation of Our Lady in Marrero.

For information on the MCA’s resources for schools and on upcoming events, call Arand at 527-5773.

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