One way some parishes in the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter are evangelizing is through offering the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. One of them is St. Alban’s Catholic Church in Rochester, New York. This is an excellent program for introducing children to the Gospel, one that does not bore them the way my Sunday school experience did, as I wrote here.
St. Thomas More, Toronto’s ordinariate parish, is also preparing to offer program, getting its catechists trained and setting up the atrium where the catechesis will take place.
The picture above shows Fr. Evan Simington, pastor of St. Alban’s Clifted from St. Alban’s highly active Facebook page. Here are some more, including a picture of the atrium, where the teachings of the Gospel can be handled and made concrete for young children.
I first heard about the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd at a New Evangelization Summit, a yearly event in Ottawa. A young woman named Meghann Baker shared her experience of being a trained catechist for the Montessori-based program. I came away impressed by her testimony and later interviewed her and others for an article I did for Catholic papers timed for Christmas.
It is a “total sensorial environment,” said Ruth Ann McClure, coordinator and director of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd at St. George’s Parish in Ottawa. “The child will tell you it smells like God.”
The Montessori-inspired catechesis program exposes children aged three to 12 to the Christmas story in five narratives, McClure said. These include the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Birth of Jesus Christ and the Adoration of the Shepherds, the Adoration of the Magi, and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.
The program is held in a child-friendly space called an atrium and begins with the Bible and a geography lesson, McClure said. The children use a “beautiful globe of the world” and a puzzle map of Israel to become familiar with the Holy Land. Later on, they use little characters made of clay or wood.
“We proclaim the Word to them, then together we ponder, we listen together,” said Meghann Baker, a catechist from Russell, Ont. “We really have to … see what the Holy Spirit stirs in these little souls.
“There’s a movement of the Spirit within them,” she said. “It happens and it’s real.”
The preparation for Christmas begins by entering deeply into the Advent season.
“We talk about how long before Jesus came the Jewish people had been waiting and heard prophets who listened to God with the ears of their heart,” said Baker.
The children also discuss “when Christ will come again,” Baker said.
“It’s so natural for them,” she said. “Some of them have these moments, like ‘Oh, wow, I get it!’ Other times it’s a lot more peaceful than that,” she said. “Sometimes it’s peace, contentment, a quiet sigh. They’ll say things, like ‘My whole body is happy.’ They feel it in their entire being. They feel the profundity of it.”
Baker said every time she is in the atrium with the children she understands what Jesus meant when He said, “Unless you become like little children you will not enter into the Kingdom of God.”
“I watch these little children and the ease with which they receive God’s love, God’s promises and God’s gift and the joy,” Baker said.
The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd began in Italy in the 1950s when a Scripture scholar was asked to give religious instruction to a boy of seven. Since then, the program has spread to 37 countries. In Canada, it involves about 2,500 children, with its biggest concentration in Ontario.
This program is a great way to attract and keep young families. At St. Alban’s, the program is offered in the morning before Mass for children three to six years old, and the parents hang around together over coffee beforehand. This sounds like a great way to build community as well as introduce children to the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.