Sunday, February 09, 2014

Learning together

One of my responsibilities in the parish of Dulce Nombre is preparing materials for religious education and facilitating workshops with catechists on the materials.

This has been a challenge and a blessing for me.

It is not easy writing in a language I’m still learning. But the bigger challenge is to prepare material that is understandable and that helps the catechists grow in their faith and teach children and youth in a way that makes faith real.

Most of the people in the parish have, at most, six years of formal education. Some of the catechists cannot read or write and a fair number of religious education students can’t read or read with great difficulty.

But the biggest challenge – and the one I find exciting – is trying to prepare materials that encourage participation and learning by doing.

Much of the formal education here is rote learning – memorizing information.

But we want formation that involves the young people in discovering their faith in their lives.

This month I have four workshops with catechists – one in each of the zones of the parish.

Last week there were two – one in El Limon and one in El Zapote de Santa Rosa. In El Limon, we had 17 participants, including three new catechists. In El Zapote there were 25 catechists, including five new ones.

I began with a prayer – but decided to have them offer their talents and capabilities to the Lord, writing or drawing them on a piece of paper and placing them before the Lord.

In El Zapote, they had exposition of the Eucharist, as they do all Thursdays, and so we prayed in church and they placed their talents on the altar, before the Eucharist.

After that I explained the processes of sacramental preparation we have in the parish and then went over some of the themes in the preparation for confirmation.

We did a sort of puzzle to help understand the order of the parts of the Mass.

But the first theme was the Church. I had prepared material on this theme but I was trying the week before to find a way to make it more understandable and active.

Looking at 1 Corinthians 12: 14-27, I noted how Paul uses the image of the body for the church.

So after asking them their ideas of what the Church is, I read the first few lines and then drew a silhouette of a body on paper.

I then asked them to write the names of the body on the paper.

After reading the rest of the passage, I asked them to write their names – or draw a symbol - by the part of the Body of Christ which they most closely identified with.

It was moving to watch them come forward and sign the Body of Christ.

We talked a little and I emphasized how all of us are needed, all are important, all have a part in the Body of Christ which is the Church.

Then, to make it a little more real and to show the element of mission, I read the prayer of St. Teresa of Avila:
Christ has no body on earth but yours;
no hands on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which Christ looks out
with compassion on the world.
Yours are the feet with which he chooses
to go about doing good.
I added this prayer at almost the last moment, just before I took the material to the printers last Monday. I had often used this prayer in my work with college students at St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames. It fits so well – and presents a message so needed.

We are the Body of Christ – and all have a role. All have a dignity and a mission.

In a world that looks down on the poor and sometimes despises them, this is a critical message.

Pope Francis wants “a poor church, a church for the poor.” I also want, as Pope John XXIII did, “a church of the poor.”

This is one of the ways we can continue this process, helping the people deepen the faith they already have.

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