MANDALAY, Myanmar (UCAN) – Catholic children in Mandalay, Myanmar's second-largest city, are pulled or pushed in several directions.
As major seminarian Paul Thet Khaine puts it, their parents and teachers badger them to achieve high grades in school, seen as passports to good jobs and better lives. Then there are "cool" things to do, such as hanging out with friends or playing video games. Then there is the church, trying to get them to attend "boring" catechism classes to learn lasting life lessons.
Thet Khaine, 28, understands the challenge facing him when he helps teach catechism during holidays at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Mandalay, 580 kilometers (about 360 miles) north of Yangon. He knows he needs to make his classes "fun."
His daily two-hour sessions for youngsters 5 - 14 years old are lively blends of tales, jokes, newsy items and fun songs, all aimed at keeping the kids engaged. Active games, including hide and seek, help them let off steam.
He blames "city life" for his struggle to "entertain" while instructing children, who are busy not only with their formal education but with extra tutorial classes and homework.
The seminarian also feels a time pressure, saying he has to "get them when they are young," because they think they don't need to attend catechism classes anymore after they receive confirmation, normally at around age 14.
Thet Khaine told UCA News he feels "more satisfied teaching catechism in the villages," where he says it is easier to keep children sitting in their chairs. He observed that parents there do not emphasize formal education as much. "Parents send their kids to daily catechism class and they also attend daily morning Mass."
Even in the city, however, "the kids are happy and enthusiastic when we arrange songs, tales, jokes and role-playing in the catechism class." Thet Khaine expects that through these fun activities, the serious messages will sink in.
The seminarian said he tries to get children to form images in their mind, rather than memorize words. For example, he teaches them that Baptism is the same as entering the main door of a house or church. "Only after entering the main door can you begin Catholic life."
Nuns usually teach catechism in parishes. Seminarians help during their Christmas and Easter holidays. They teach about the church, the sacraments, the clergy, Mass and moral values.
Sister Gertrude Than Than Oo, who teaches catechism at St. John's Church in Mandalay, told UCA News that about 20 children attend her class regularly, but more come to prepare for their first Communion and confirmation. "I try to teach them what being a Catholic means," she said.
The Franciscan Missionaries of Mary nun would like to see a better program for the children. She suggests a training program for seminarians, nuns and catechists on how to make catechism interesting.
Children should have "a new environment for listening to catechism lessons," she says, one that includes playing games and fun. For her, a catechism class ought to be the youngsters' "happiest place on the weekend."
Some parents shared their views on catechism classes with UCA News. Julian James Min Min Soe of Sacred Heart Cathedral agreed that "nowadays children are struggling with their education and do not have much free time."
The 35-year-old father has a different view. "My first priority for my children is catechism and second is education," he said. "At home I arrange for my kids to watch videos about Christ," he continued, but he admitted that some difficulties arise because his wife is a Buddhist.
The church should attract children by providing extracurricular activities such as table tennis and music appreciation, he suggested.
Emily Ma Khin San of St. Joseph Parish in Mandalay agrees the church should pay more attention to formation of young people. The priest and nuns urge the children to go to catechism class, but the nuns do not always attend to them, she said. The 44-year-old mother thinks the parish priest should do more than just announce classes.
Thet Khaine also thinks priests should do more than encourage parents to send their kids to catechism class. "Priests should teach catechism to adults, something they have not done," he said.
Republished by Catholic Online with permission of the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News), the world's largest Asian church news agency (www.ucanews.com).
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