The Year of Faith — especially during Lent — is an opportunity for every Catholic, including children, to encounter Christ in a special way, especially in the Eucharist.
In proclaiming the Year of Faith last October, Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Porta Fidei, "Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy.
"It makes us fruitful, because it expands our hearts in hope and enables us to bear life-giving witness: Indeed, it opens the hearts and minds of those who listen to respond to the Lord’s invitation to adhere to his word and become his disciples."
Initiatives designed to engage youth in this important year get back to the basics of Catholic teaching.
Catholic author Kathleen Basi says the Year of Faith is a good time to get children to think about what faith in action means.
"Action is critical to faith, something you have to do with your head and your heart," she says.
Basi’s book Bring Lent to Life helps teach kids to think beyond giving up candy and to be proactive about growing in a particular virtue. Her newest book, This Little Light of Mine: Living the Beatitudes (March 2013), written for Ordinary Time, helps connect the beatitudes and Ten Commandments with real life.
Take the Fifth Commandment, she says, explaining: "Violence against the person is something we all partake in [in our words and actions] and to learn to recognize those things in ourselves and to try to then change that behavior and become more Godly is the spirit of what that commandment really means."
Basi and her husband teach their children to see the face of Christ in everyone. "That was a light-bulb moment — Christ is in this person, and they’re acknowledging him," she says. "I tend to try to explain everything, but sometimes the best teacher is to just let them process it. Over time, it will shape their consciousness."
Another resource for kids is MagnifiKid!, from the publisher of Magnificat (Magnificat.net/magnifikid), which explains Mass readings and offers other faith activities.
Vacation Bible School
"Growing With the Saints" (GrowingWiththeSaints.com) Catholic vacation Bible school includes Catholic history, the saints, Eucharistic adoration, Mass and other sacraments. While designed primarily for summer, it can be incorporated into any religious education or Sunday school program year-round.
"We’re all about having every year be a Year of Faith," notes co-founder Maryalice Beach. "All the richness and the complete fullness of the faith is included, so it’s very different from Protestant vacation Bible school programs, which do a good job, but the lessons are mainly around values."
In 2013, the program has added a "Vatican Express" feature centered on the theological virtues of faith, hope and love, represented by the lives of Sts. Juan Diego, Kateri Tekakwitha and Martin de Porres. The saints were chosen for their diversity of culture to show children that everyone is called to be a saint.
"The entire program focuses on faith first, and all of our Catholic identity is woven through the program, in terms of calling children to evangelization, to emulate the saints and to be disciples," says Beach.
"Vatican Express" comes with a poster of the Apostles’ Creed and a DVD on the treasures of the Vatican, such as St. Peter’s Square, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Gardens; it highlights the most important treasure that is found in every church: the Eucharist.
"Our whole ministry is about keeping our children Catholic, teaching them the faith so they can defend it, and faith formation of the entire parish, bringing parents back to the Church who have fallen away," adds Beach.
Call From Mary
A brand-new program is designed to teach children in five easy steps the call of Our Lady of Fatima, which she taught to the three shepherd children in 1917. These include the Morning Offering, visiting Jesus in the Eucharist, the Rosary, entrustment to her Immaculate Heart and wearing a sign of that entrustment, such as a scapular or Miraculous Medal.
Developed by Children of the Eucharist, an educational and evangelistic initiative associated with the International World Apostolate of Fatima, the program was unveiled this year as a New Evangelization initiative of the Year of Faith.
"In between getting their sacraments, many children are not catechized, and they don’t know what to do to put their spiritual life to work. This is just a tool to help them develop a daily spiritual life that anyone can use, teachers, clergy, faith formators, parents," says Connie Schneider, president and founder. "Our Lady at Fatima taught them the basics, Eucharistic adoration, reparation, the Rosary and sacrifices. This is the spiritual life of the saints."
During the Year of Faith, Oct. 13 will be celebrated as Marian Day, which will focus on the presence of the Blessed Mother in the Church. Oct. 13 is the day of the miracle at Fatima.
"Igniting the flame of faith in kids will ignite the flame of faith in the family. John Paul II always said Fatima was a call back to the Gospel," says Schneider. "If you want your kids to have a spiritual life, teach them about the value of prayer and sacrifice, so that in the morning they know that everything they think, do and say that day will be offered to God by a simple prayer. Take your kids as often as you can to adoration, even if for 10 minutes. Our goal should be to place our children under the protection of prayer."
Children of the Eucharist sponsors an annual Worldwide Children’s Eucharistic Holy Hour on the first Friday in October, broadcast live on EWTN from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. Families and schools can participate in their own churches and chapels on this day. They will also present a spiritual bouquet of prayers and sacrifices of children around the world to Our Lady at the Fatima Shrine in Portugal on Oct. 13. Schools, families and parishes can participate by registering at ChildrenoftheEucharist.org.
Retreats for Teens
Jen Messing works with teens and young adults as founder of "Into the Deep," which offers speaking engagements, outdoor retreats and study groups centered on the theology of the body. She is especially keen on catechizing young people in outdoor settings to help them see the connection between their physical bodies and spiritual souls and that their whole personhood is a gift from God.
"Using your physical muscles to climb a mountain is an analogy for the spiritual muscles you need to make it to the top of the mountain. That combination has been such an incredible eye-opener for me to work with youth," says Messing.
Being outdoors not only disconnects youth from electronics, but allows for discussion, especially around a campfire. The Year of Faith is a perfect opportunity to talk with teens about their Catholic faith and encourage them to ask questions.
"Truth is never afraid of questions, and that’s why it’s so important that kids are challenged to even ask the questions," she says, "and start articulating what it is they believe."
Blesseds John Paul II and Pier Georgio Frassati have inspired movements to integrate the faith with outdoor recreation. Frassati Societies sprang up all over the country in the 1990s, attracting young Catholics to outdoor faith-sharing expeditions. Organizations such as Catholic Youth Expeditions in Green Bay, Wis., and Camp Wojtyla in Golden, Colo., also serve to catechize youth through outdoor adventures.
Whatever young people participate in this Year of Faith, it should be focused on growing closer to Christ, something Benedict XVI reminded them of on Feb. 7, when he received participants for the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for Culture on "Emerging Youth Cultures."
"The Church has confidence in the young. She hopes in them and in their energy. She needs their vitality in order to continue living the mission entrusted to her by Christ with renewed enthusiasm," he said.
"I very much hope, therefore, that the Year of Faith will be, also for the younger generations, a precious opportunity to rediscover and strengthen the friendship with Christ from which springs the joy and enthusiasm to profoundly change cultures and societies."
Barb Ernster writes from
Family Prayer for the Year of Faith
O God our Father, in Jesus you call all Christian families and homes
to be signs of living faith.
By the light of the Holy Spirit, lead us to be thankful for the gift of faith
and by that gift may we grow in our relationship with Jesus, your Son,
and be confident witnesses to Christian hope and joy to all we meet.
In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen. — USCCB.org