The Littlest Adorers
Eleven years ago in France, a mother approached Father Antoine Thomas of the Community of St. John and asked him to teach her young children how to adore Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Little did she know that her request would plant the seed for an international movement of children's Holy Hours — a movement now known as Children of Hope.
Children of Hope is an apostolate of the Brothers, Sisters and Oblates of the Community of St. John. According to their website (childrenofhope.org ), they are ”dedicated to leading children into the mystery of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, so as to realize how much he loves them.”
In order to accomplish this mission, they have developed a Holy Hour program for children that combines prayer, singing, silence and catechetics. They also offer videos, leader manuals, prayer books and musical CDs to accompany the Holy Hours. Children are exposed to traditional prayers such as the Rosary, acts of faith, hope and charity, the Fatima prayers, and prayers for the souls in purgatory.
“When I arrived in America the following year (after meeting the young mother), I was surprised that there were no children at Holy Hours,” Father Antoine recalls. “So, although this started in France, I really developed the structure of the Holy Hour here in the United States. Things really started to take off five years ago when I was invited to be on ‘Mother Angelica Live.’ Things just exploded. I received over 1,500 letters after that show.”
In 1996, he points out, Pope John Paul II urged priests, religious and lay people to redouble their efforts to teach the younger generations the meaning and value of Eucharistic adoration and devotion. “How else can we respond,” he asks, “if not by bringing children to the Eucharistic heart of Jesus?”
Children of Hope children are invited to come before, but not on, the altar. The idea is to let them know that they are physically close to Christ. The priest or deacon then leads the children through the Holy Hour.
Father Antoine explains: “When I ask the children what things they really like in this special time of prayer with Jesus, they often have two answers. One, they feel closer to Jesus and, two, they like the quiet. This last point is to be made to catechists and parents who don't believe that their children are able to be quiet.”
Justine Schmiesing agrees. A member of Holy Family Parish in Steubenville, Ohio, she and her family helped found a Children of Hope chapter there.
“What I really love about this program is that it breaks the Holy Hour up into manageable chunks,” she says. “It has a little teaching time, a little singing time, but also quiet time. Father will start with a minute of silence, followed by singing. Eventually he works the children up to several minutes of silence at a time. It really helps ease the kids into the idea of praying silently before Our Lord.
“I really appreciate that it doesn't dumb things down for the kids,” she adds. “It raises them up.”
For his part, Holy Family's pastor, Father Rich Tuttle, appreciates the fruit that the Holy Hours are bearing.
“I think the more we devote time to praying with our youth at even a young age, particularly in front of the Holy Eucharist, the more they develop a sincere faith,” he says. “As they grow in that faith, they are able to see that Jesus is with them all of the time. It gets them started into what we hope is a lifelong habit.”
Father Tuttle also sees an easily overlooked benefit to the Holy Hours. Although the program is designed for children, parents come along with them.
“It's really catechesis and prayer for the whole family,” he says. “We tell the kids not to come by themselves, but with their family. I would really encourage other pastors out there who are thinking of starting this to do it.”
Although the Holy Hour is structured, its format is not so rigid that it doesn't lend itself to adaptation. Sister John Dominic, a Dominican Sister of Mary Mother of the Eucharist, is principal of Spiritus Sanctus Academy in Ann Arbor, Mich. She adapted the Children of Hope Holy Hour to fit the needs and schedule of her school.
“Our community is friends with Father Antoine, and he used to come to our school and give talks to the children from time to time,” she says. “Once he formalized the Holy Hours, I went to their website and figured out what I needed to do to adapt it.
“We have daily Mass here, and every Thursday we have an hour of adoration following Mass,” adds the nun. “This allows parents to spend time in adoration, but the teachers can also bring their class back to adore Our Lord. I lead them in a meditation before the Blessed Sacrament and focus their attention on Jesus present there before them. This is part of our effort to teach the children the proper reverence, disposition and prayers necessary so that adoration can become a part of their life.”
Veronica Wendt writes from Steubenville, Ohio.