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Rome Notes: Kids With a Mission; Music to the Rescue

1/14/2005 - 5:00 AM PST

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Message of a Pontifical Society Takes to the Streets

By Catherine Smibert

ROME, JAN. 14, 2005 (Zenit) - Last Sunday I could barely walk down my street without being caught in a sea of little people, all decked out in white and all following our parish priest.

What amazed me was the monstrance he held high above his head -- and the reverence each child showed for the Blessed Sacrament contained in it.

Despite the bustle of Roman life that went on around them, they seemed resolute in making their "Giornata della Prima Communione" or First Communion Day, truly holy.

Only days earlier, some of these children had been in St. Peter's Square, participating in Epiphany celebrations.

There, they heard the words of John Paul II when he implored the world to remember the "little victims" of the tsunami disaster and other crises.

At the core of his message was the Pontifical Society of Missionary Childhood, which marks the feast of Epiphany as its own, according to the group's general secretary, Verbite Father Patrick Byrne.

"The Epiphany is really our celebration," he told me. "It's a mission celebration when we have the three Wise Men who were not Jewish, coming to see this newborn Child. So it's symbolic of God revealing his Child to the whole world ... and of course, the Child Jesus is always our model for this organization of the Holy Childhood."

The group's motto is "Children Helping Children" and that is what the society aims to promote.

Father Byrne explained: "Every child, whether he lives in the United States or West Africa, is part of the overall drive to make Christ known to everyone. That was the desire of Charles de Forbin-Janson, the French bishop who founded the organization in 1843."

With a mission that works on collecting funds for the world's children and setting up diocesan programs of prayer or catechesis, the society will face an intricate challenge in the wake of the tsunami disaster, the priest said.

"We'll keep in touch closely with the situation, and when the dust settles it'll be up to us to help start rebuilding schools and orphanages that we had been setting up there already but have now been washed away and destroyed."

The priest emphasized how he is "getting in touch with our network of national directors in every country at the moment to ask kids to pray."

This appeal recalls the Pope's message to children on the 160th anniversary of this pontifical society, in 2003. "Every small missionary should be committed to reciting a Hail Mary every day for his or her distant peers," John Paul II wrote.

One group taking up such appeals by the Pope and the Pontifical Society of Missionary Childhood is the World Apostolate of Fatima. It is encouraging all parishes and dioceses to organize events like the one I witnessed here in Rome with their children.

One board member of the U.S. branch of the group, Connie Schneider, told me how the organization is internationally arranging chances for children to pray the rosary before the Blessed Sacrament.

"As you know, Jesus said 'Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them,' so we want to invite the worlds children to gather before him," she said.

Schneider (connieschneider@earthlink.net) is part of the team co-coordinating prayer excursions for children in both their Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and beyond. They are about to release a communiquť presenting the proposal of shepherding children to a local chapel for a holy hour.

"Anyone can do this," she explained, "all they need is to plan a one-hour program and, during this year, begin to bring the children before Jesus at various intervals to introduce the concept to them.

"The ultimate aim is to prepare them for a world day of prayer for children which we have scheduled for October 7 this year; the same day the Pontifical Society of Missionary Childhood has set aside for their day of prayer."

Schneider says that we need to help children understand that the Holy Father has entrusted a mission to them.

"We purchased a 43-inch monstrance from Poland and it was quite a sight to see 3,200 children in a cathedral staring in awe and devotion," she said. "I wish you could have been there to see their little faces as they gathered before the monstrance and said 'Wow!' in unison."

Visual aids assist children when accompanied by direct catechesis, said Schneider. Her group has begun to make a video of the children's responses to such occasions, along with launching a prayer-writing competition to encourage them to petition Jesus "for the needs of the world."

She told me how the "internationally acclaimed Catholic singer and politician, Dana Scallon, has agreed to put ...

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