The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is an approach to the religious formation of children. It originated in 1954 with the founding of the children's center or "atrium" in Rome, Italy and was designed by Hebrew and Scripture scholar Dr. Sofia Cavalletti, author of The Religious Potential of the Child, and Prof. Gianna Gobbi, colleague of Dr. Maria Montessori and educator of children and adults. It now extends to many countries, including, The United States, Africa, Brazil, Mexico, Columbia, Argentina, Germany, and Canada. The program has been described as a meeting place of two mysteries: the mystery of God, and the mystery of the child. The main objective of the program is to provide an environment where the child may fall in love with the Good Shepherd and where the relationship between the child and Christ may be nurtured.
The place where children meet for the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is called an atrium. It is a sacred space rather than a classroom. It is a quiet, focused place where children are drawn into worship, where Christ is encountered through Word and action. In preparing the atrium, everything is made child size., designed with simplicity, beauty, and dignity. In our atria, the children will make bouquets of flowers, polish brass candlesticks, fold the fair linen. They will set the tiny altar for the Eucharist, and learn the special name for each item at this very special feast. They will hold tiny mustard seeds in their hands.
According to Sofia Cavalletti, children grow closer to God as they hear His Word, and then reflect on it while working with carefully prepared and age appropriate, sensorial materials. Each of the stories about Jesus' life and ministry, each of the parables, and all of the lessons on history, moral formation, and discipleship, are done with the use of handmade materials. Emmanuel parishioners have made almost all of the materials in our atria, because we, as a community, are deeply committed to the religious education of the children of our parish. It is worth a visit to our atria just to see the beautiful materials that have been offered with great love by so many of the adults here at Emmanuel.
The atrium is quieter than other Sunday School rooms. It is more like a tiny children's chapel, especially in the 3-6 yr. atrium. We use very soft voices for the time of prayer and meditative work. During group time, we pray and sing and introduce new materials. The format includes time for the children to work individually and independently with the materials to which they have been introduced. In the older levels, the children are more likely to prefer working in groups. Each activity helps provide time to learn focus and concentration, both necessary for meaningful prayer. The curriculum includes presentations on liturgy, sacraments, and scripture. There is emphasis on the Kingdom of God as described by Jesus in the parables. The older children encounter presentations, as well, on moral formation and the history of the Kingdom of God.
The Bethlehem atrium, located in Havermale Hall, is for children from 3-6 years of age. The Nazareth atrium, located in Classroom One in the new building is for children ages 7 to 10. New children are welcomed at any time during the year. They will receive extra assistance in getting acquainted with the materials. Both the methods and the tone of the program are new and a little different for most children, yet it only takes a few minutes to get involved. Catechesis meets beginning at 10:00 a.m. during the time that parishioners are celebrating the Liturgy of the Word in church. They are then brought into the church to share in Eucharist with the whole community.
Come join us. We would love to have you. Questions? Call The Rev. Lyn Crow at (714) 879-8070.