By SUZANNE HAUGH, Staff Writer | Published June 16, 2006
Magnifying glasses, time travel, secret handshakes and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament—all were part of the fun and faith adventure as children and adult volunteers from around the Atlanta Archdiocese came together Saturday, June 4, for the “Good News Clues” KidTrack of the 2005 Eucharistic Congress.
Secret agents and daring detectives—alias kindergartners up to middle-schoolers—with the help of trusted volunteers, worked together to solve the mystery of the glowing heart, Christ’s presence with us in the Blessed Sacrament.
“It’s dangerous, but with Christ’s love, we can do anything,” said emcee Anna Mazurek, who dressed as Sherlock Holmes for the event.
Early in the session, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory visited the children.
“I do believe that if we had a Eucharistic Congress back in the time of Jesus and the New Testament … the place Jesus would want to start would be with the children. Welcome to all you little ones and the big ones hanging out with the little ones. Thank you for being here.”
Mazurek led those gathered in a cheer for Archbishop Gregory before he left, and then the children resumed their efforts to solve the mystery of the glowing heart by learning a secret handshake with the help of lead detectives John DePalma and John Gaskin, both sixth-graders at Pinecrest Academy in Cumming. Mazurek reminded the children of the virtues needed to complete their mission.
“We’re all agents trying to uncover the mystery of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. We must be brave, strong and persevere.”
As the groups of children colored and crafted Palm Sunday donkeys and sang songs, both boys spoke on the meaning of the day.
DePalma, a parishioner at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Cumming, commented that having the Congress was “so we can be unified, be together, and remember what we’re trying to do here as Catholics, to follow God.”
Gaskin, a parishioner at St. Brigid Church in Alpharetta, added, “It’s a good chance to get together and share our faith. It reminds me of what it’s all about. (Jesus is) everybody’s friend.”
Returning again this year, the band “Barefoot Missionaries” had the children singing and dancing to familiar songs: “Lord, We Lift Your Name on High,” “Our God Is an Awesome God” and “Jesus, We Adore You,” among others.
A favorite activity of many early in the day was bumping large and small beach balls from team to team. Joe Neiner, who manages the facilities at Pinecrest Academy and attends St. Benedict Church in Duluth, provided security for the KidTrack and watched as the children playfully batted the balls. This was the third year he attended the Congress as a volunteer “to help God and the kids.”
“It could never happen without so many volunteers. And every year there are a number of conversions afterward. It makes it all worthwhile.”
Not too far away Mary, 10, watched out for her brother, Lenny, 4. Both attend St. Peter the Rock Church in The Rock, Ga.
“It’s an important day to get to know God better in a fun way,” Mary explained. “He’s very merciful and forgives our sins when we’re very sorry for them.”
Amid the backdrop of brightly painted murals created by students under the direction of Daisy Davidow, Patrick Chapin, 10, helped his brothers Ben, 5, and Luke, 6, use gold rivets to make their donkey legs move. Patrick enjoyed the fun songs played during the track.
“We do arts and crafts, and it’s fun to show our parents what we did. It’s important to hear the Bible stories and to be together with other Christians to celebrate them,” he said.
As the boys showed off their wristbands, Luke Chapin added, “It shows our parents we can do good stuff. I just enjoy it and you don’t have to have brothers here to have fun.”
Ben chimed in and gave his reason for coming to the KidTrack, “It’s about our blessings.”
The children munched on chips, turkey and cheese sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies, and drank juice for lunch as section leaders, dressed in orange, blue or red, escorted groups of children to the restrooms, distributed lunches or addressed other needs of their assigned groups.
Adult volunteers are essential to meeting the needs of so many children. With dynamic tracks for the adults the challenge can be finding enough people power devoted to enriching the children’s faith. Each year, however, the Lord supplies.
Group leader Mary Frances Pidgeon from St. Theresa Church in Douglasville helped the children in her group with their lunches. She came to the Congress expecting to attend the adult track but offered to help with the KidTrack when it became apparent that, for whatever reason, some volunteers did not show up to help. Her daughter, Mary Jo, 5, chummed around with another girl her age in the group next to hers. Pidgeon had quickly digested the group leader instructions earlier in the morning and began cutting squares for the New Testament bingo.
Bypassing the adult track was a sacrifice, Pidgeon admitted, but the KidTrack “had a lot of good activities. And just jumping around with the kids was fun.”
She also appreciated the children’s exposure to the Blessed Sacrament, saying that her church offers time to adore Christ in the Blessed Sacrament on the first Friday of each month.
“For many other people, and myself as well, it was more important to share what we know about the Eucharist,” said Stacey Persichetti, one of the main organizers of the KidTrack.
The quickness in addressing the volunteer shortage and that many of the volunteers who did come had prior experience with the KidTrack helped for a smooth and fun afternoon, said Sory Govin, director of Children’s Ministry and Initiation for the Atlanta Archdiocese.
“The volunteers know what they need to do.”
Persichetti also credited the volunteers for a well-run afternoon.
“There were few volunteer glitches. When the kids started to walk into the room, I knew we’d do our best and God would take over and make the day what it was supposed to be.”
Close to 1,200 children attended the track, and some children arriving later in the day had to be turned away because it had reached capacity.
The experience of the KidTrack organizers proved again that putting that many children in a large room for over five hours was not just possible but inspiring. The most touching moments for many came when the doors opened, tiny bells rang and the Blessed Sacrament entered. It was no mystery to the children that someone special was in their presence.
Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue accompanied Jesus in the Eucharist, along with others who had processed into the room. The children knew who the archbishop was and answered “Jesus” when asked who the Blessed Sacrament was.
“We must be grateful to God that He has the ability to be with us; He wants to stay with us,” the archbishop instructed the children. “We must acknowledge His Real Presence.”
He asked the children who had recently received their first Communion to raise their hands. “You’ve just received Jesus Christ. It’s wonderful to have Jesus with us.”
Before Benediction, Archbishop Donoghue expressed his appreciation to all for coming and added a piece of advice. “Thank your parents, too, that they give you this opportunity, and also let us thank Jesus that He gives us the wonderful gift of the Eucharist … Stay close to the Lord and you will live a very, very happy life.”
The 2005 Congress was the first for section leader Amy Pember and 3-month-old son, Henry, who was content for the afternoon to remain snuggled in a baby carrier. Allowing for children to participate in the Congress is “entirely appropriate,” she said.
“What we just witnessed with Benediction proves how much kids do understand, how they can go from horsing around and having fun and go to the reverence they showed for the Blessed Sacrament. They are able to grasp that and it’s important to provide these kinds of opportunities.”
Mary Claire Klooster, who led her Pinecrest Academy drama students in writing the script for the KidTrack, contributed to the fun factor of the day.
“It’s all about making it really fun for kids and then it will seep in.”
She also marveled at the stillness and reverence the children showed when the Blessed Sacrament was present, which moved beyond any level of silence asked for at other times during the day.
“Nobody said anything. They heard the bells, and they knew … To me, there is no doubt that Christ was present in that room. There were 1,200 children in that room and they were on their knees. There isn’t anything more awesome.”
Benediction was also a touching moment for Persichetti.
“I think it is so important to lay the foundation for kids to learn about the importance of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist and what better year than in the Year of the Eucharist.”
Outside of the mission of the glowing heart, Persichetti had a personal mission. “This was really a way to give back to Pope John Paul II, to do it for him.”
An event like the Eucharistic Congress should welcome young Catholics.
“It is important that children be included in the Eucharistic Congress,” Persichetti said. “This way the whole family, as they go home, can share on each aspect (about which they learned).”
Heidi and Steve Doyle, parishioners at Holy Trinity Church in Peachtree City and parents to three young sons, couldn’t agree more.
“This is a good summer opener,” Heidi said. “It’s like vacation Bible school all in one day. I think they’re having fun.”
The Doyles waited until their youngest child was old enough for the KidTrack before attending the Congress.
“We wanted to go as a family; it was important for me.”
Teaching their children about the Eucharist is also essential, she said, as “the Eucharist is the basis, the foundation, of the Catholic faith.”
The Eucharist is what distinguishes Catholics from Protestant denominations so it is essential to nurture an appreciation for and understanding of the Eucharist, she explained.
“This is a good thing for adults, too, so we do not take (the Eucharist) for granted.”
Heidi complimented her parish for its active religious education program that includes classes on different aspects of the Catholic faith.
Steve Doyle, a cradle Catholic, also wanted the family to experience the day together.
“I hope the boys didn’t get too overwhelmed, but it’s important to stress the faith as a family. Hopefully, they will have a better understanding of the Eucharist … I’m not sure it was impressed upon me when I was their age back in the ‘60s.”
Marty Milukas, who attends St. Matthew Church in Tyrone, watched as his daughter Anna, 6, interacted with her group leader and new friends. She colored fish and made friends with Stephanie, also 6. Wearing sunglasses and eating goldfish crackers, Anna shared that her favorite activity was forming a train with other children and dancing around the room.
Milukas brought his daughter to the KidTrack so she would learn more about her faith as opportunities like this “keep (children) close to God.”
He added that having the support of a positive peer group is important as well. “And they have people they can go to talk to.”
Volunteer Tri Trinh, of Our Lady of Vietnam Church in Riverdale, enjoyed the questions his group members asked throughout the day, particularly why they had to kneel when the Eucharist came into the room.
“I like to tell them what’s going on,” he said, and added that he learned a lot from the children, too.
“I hope they come here to learn from their friends and know better about friendship and teamwork,” he said. “It’s people of the same religion and how they get together.”
Other members of the KidTrack skit included Michael and Sean Klooster, Sofia Munoz and Nate Boster. Sarah Boster worked with Persichetti as co-organizer of the KidTrack.
For another faith-building summer experience for children, check out the Summer in the Spirit camps, June 20-24 at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Atlanta, or July 18-22 at Pinecrest Academy in Cumming. For more information, contact Anna Mazurek at (678) 947-0957.