Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo By Thomas Spink/Archdiocese of Atlanta
Six-year-olds Olivia Pace, left, and Meryem Aksuzer lead the other children in song at the Adore! Kid Track, June 9.

College Park

Games, Meditation Help Kids Grow In God’s Love

By REBECCA RAKOCZY, Special To The Bulletin | Published June 21, 2012

Screams of laughter echoed in the convention hall as groups of children were “encircled” in the colorful stretchy bands. Standing in separate circles, they tested the limits of the bands by hopping up and down on their feet, and pulling and leaning back against the elastic. The bands—supple but always encircling them, no matter how hard they tried to pull away—were a tactile reminder for the children of God’s abiding love.

In another corner of the large room, groups of children sprawled on the floor, carefully drawing designs for small pots to be filled with soil and planted with vine cuttings. Their final products would be gifts for the residents of St. George Village in Roswell, a retirement home for seniors.

The stretchy band game and the pots were just some of the activities during the Adore! Kid Track at the 2012 Eucharistic Congress, held at the Georgia International Convention Center. Based on the parable of the true vine—John 15:1-11, “Jesus is the vine—and the followers are branches”—the children actively experienced different parts of this Scripture verse through tactile and meditative ways throughout the day.

Archbishop Gregory brings the Blessed Sacrament before the children in the Adore! Kid Track. Photo by Thomas Spink/Archdiocese of Atlanta

This year’s event was limited to 400 children, ages 5 to 11, and parents registered online prior to coming to the congress.

For the first time, the track was designed following the religious instruction of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS). Founded in Italy in the 1950s by Sofia Cavalletti and Gianna Gobbi, the CGS approach is rooted in the Bible, the liturgy of the church and the educational principles of Maria Montessori, said Nicole Hartman, family ministry program coordinator for the archdiocese. About a dozen parishes in the archdiocese currently use this for different levels of parish school of religion instruction, including St. Peter Chanel Church, Roswell, and St. John Neumann Church, Lilburn. (It is not limited to Catholics; many Episcopal churches, as well as some Methodist churches offer the program, she said.)

Hartman helped organize and direct the day’s activities with the children.

“The lesson is very interactive, and the kids are constantly moving from center to center—we are very busy,” she said. “This approach allows the children to get the day’s message in a variety of different ways—at their own pace.”

Volunteers Cherry Ho-On of Transfiguration Church in Marietta and Renette Vincent-Tippit of St. James the Apostle Church in McDonough concurred about the “busy” part of Hartman’s statement, as they supervised a group of  7- and 8-year-olds designing picture frames with vines and the Scripture verse.

“I come here every year to help, and this seems to be much more organized,” said Vincent-Tippit. “But we definitely could use more volunteers,” she said. Hartman noted that this year’s child attendance had to be limited because there weren’t enough volunteers.

Watching her children’s natural enthusiasm and inquisitiveness grow as they learned about the church is what drew Vickie Voll to CGS as a parishioner in North Carolina. She trained as an instructor and introduced the program at the Emory Catholic Center when the family moved to Georgia. Voll and her daughter, Frances, manned an information booth about CGS in the vendor area. Her booth held handmade wooden models of the “Good Shepherd” in a pasture with lambs, a learning tool for children to understand Scripture.

The creative and innovative approach to learning Scripture made her look forward to weekly CCD, said Frances, who remembered loving the interactive ways she learned in the program. “My priest was always impressed about how much I knew about the church,” she said. Now a college student at the College of Mary Magdalene in New Hampshire, she has been trained and teaches the program to 3- to 6-year-olds at the Emory Catholic Center.

The child-based approach of the religious instruction of CGS also appealed to Karen Maxwell, who was introduced to the program 21 years ago in another state, when her oldest daughter was just 4 years old.

Five-year-old Daniel Dipaulo puts himself within the vine of Jesus inside the Adore! Kid Track Saturday. Photo By Thomas Spink/Archdiocese of Atlanta

She found this innovative way of passing on the faith offered richness in Scripture and liturgy even to the youngest of children, she said. Today, Maxwell, now based in Atlanta, is director of formation for the national CGS association. She led the children’s contemplative portion of the day with Mary Mirrone, the national director of the program.

While volunteers helped children plant the vine cuttings and played with the stretchy game, Maxwell and Mirrone led the children to reflect on the Scripture in a quiet, curtained-off area. Called an “atrium” to recall the sacred space of the early church, the area was set up with small altars, each festooned with vine cuttings, a photo of a farmer in a vineyard, a Bible and a small statue of the Good Shepherd carrying a lamb around his neck. Despite the echoing din of the room outside the curtain, the children sat quietly in groups, focusing on examining the statue and listening intently, as Maxwell lit a candle and read the verses, emphasizing “I am the vine, you are the branches,” to the children. Then Mirrone held up each item, asking the children questions. There was no shortage of answers, as the hands shot up, each child eager to share with his or her thoughts on God’s love, what a vine’s “sap” was, or the relationship of the lamb over the shepherd’s shoulder.

For Hartman, hearing a child understand what it means to be the branches to Jesus’s vine makes the day’s lessons worthwhile. “We want them to say, ‘wow, I get it,’ to understand the connection, when they leave,” she said.

That connection seemed apparent for one 7-year-old girl, who answered Mirrone’s question, “How do we remain in him?”

“We can love him, serve him and care for others,” the little girl said.