By MARY ANNE CASTRANIO, Staff Writer | Published June 22, 2006
Approximately 360 children attended this year’s KidTrack at the 2006 Eucharistic Congress, led by the dynamic duo of APeX Ministries, Brad Farmer and Gene Monterastelli. Attendees ranged from rising kindergarteners to fifth-graders and comprised an enthusiastic and active set of participants, matched only by the enthusiasm and energy of the volunteers who were there to make sure that the day was perfect.
About 1,200 children participated in last year’s KidTrack, which was challenging for organizers and volunteers alike—the space available at the Georgia International Convention Center cannot hold that many comfortably. For this year’s Congress, the KidTrack did not include children under 5, which eliminated the very young participants. More children might have been accommodated this year, but not enough adults volunteered and so the number of spaces had to be limited to the number of children who could be safely supervised.
The program, “Conquered By Love,” enticed the imagination as the children “traveled back in time” to the time of knights, ladies, castles and jesters. With a focus on charity toward each other, participants enjoyed talks, music, games and juggling from the entertaining APeX team, along with face painting and lunch. Overall the experience was both prayerful and participative, incorporating lively fun with a focus on God’s love.
And the children spent quite a lot of time and giggles trying to learn to juggle under the expert tutelage of the comical APeX performers.
The “apex” of the afternoon in a spiritual sense was the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction. Beforehand, Deacon Lloyd Sutter, who leads the archdiocesan Department of Religious Education and Faith Formation, carefully explained the meaning of the service and Christ’s true presence for the children, asking for questions afterward. While one child wanted to know how long Benediction lasts, another was quite interested in knowing how old the archbishop is. Regardless of the distractions, the group was ready and reverent as the bells began to ring.
The children knelt while singing “Father I Adore You,” as the procession of priests, deacons and servers brought in Jesus in the monstrance. In his talk, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory told the children that Jesus “stays with us in the Blessed Sacrament out of love. All that he asks is that we love him in return and that we love each other.”
Earlier in the day, the group in the KidTrack made a spiritual bouquet of prayers for Archbishop Gregory, which they presented to him during his visit with the Blessed Sacrament in the afternoon. Monterastelli told the thankful archbishop that the bouquet was made to “take care of you” and that it included “479 Our Fathers, 479 Hail Marys, and 479 Glory Bes.”
Farmer and Monterastelli, who have evangelized and entertained at previous Congresses here in Atlanta in the teen and young adult tracks, describe their style as “Christian vaudeville.” While exhibiting “death-defying juggling,” their stories, humor, skits and testimonies elicit ready audience participation and laughter.
“It’s so much fun,” said volunteer Renette Vincent, adding that watching the children jumping around in happiness is great—and this year was even more fun than last year.
A parishioner at St. John the Evangelist Church in Hapeville, Vincent said that this was her third year serving as a volunteer in the KidTrack. Her children attend the session, but she is also happy to participate as one of those watching over the youngsters.
Gledia Finol from Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, Atlanta, was volunteering in the track for the first time and found the whole experience was “wonderful” and a worthy tradeoff for missing the other parts of the Eucharistic Congress.
Jeanette Bourn, looking much younger than her years in her wacky jester cap, left her two small children at home with their grandparents in order to work at the KidTrack. A parishioner at St. Michael the Archangel Church, Woodstock, she found that this year’s track was not as noisy and intimidating as last year’s, which made the pace of the day more conducive to fun and learning.
Bourn loves to see the participants in the KidTrack grow in their Catholic faith and feels “privileged” to be able to help in that growth. She said, “It’s so inspiring and awesome to see these kids in adoration.”