Catechesis of the Good Shepherd
The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd takes its name from the parable and image of Jesus that seemed to appeal most to young children, no matter what their race, gender, or socio-economic status. The statue above is representative of the one of the earliest known Christian images, discovered in the catacombs of Rome. The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a meeting ground of two mysteries: the mystery of God and the mystery of the child. An interpersonal relationship is always a mystery; it is more so when it involves a relationship with God; when the relationship is between God and the child\ the mystery is greater still. (Sofia Cavalletti, RPOC, p. 30)
Children’s Religious Formation
The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is an approach to the religious formation of children that is based on the conviction that God and the Child are in relationship. Our role as adults is to protect and nurture this bond. In the Catechesis we present age appropriate themes from the Bible and our liturgy with manipulative materials the children use to internalize and ponder the great mysteries of our faith. We try to put the child in touch with those “sources” through which God reveals and communicates Himself in living form; namely, the Bible and Liturgy, in balanced proportion.(Rebekah Rojcewicz, RPOC, p.28)
Catechesis of the Good Shepherd
Developed by Sofia Cavalletti, an Italian Hebrew scripture scholar, building on the work and methods of Maria Montessori, the Catechesis seeks to give children the guidance and vocabulary which enable them to become aware of their relationship with God and give expression to it. With the Catechesis we help each child to continue to fall in love with God while building community among peers.
Creating an Atrium:
Part of the Deep Formation Process of a Catechist is the creation of the Atrium. The atrium is a calm and peaceful place where time seems to slow down. Children and catechists listen to God together through silence, scripture, liturgy, song, formal and informal prayer,ordinary practical life exercises, and movement In this setting, and given the opportunity children often reveal profound things about God that no one has ever told them. The materials and movement are an aid to their reflections on scripture and liturgy and their rich relationship with God. Most of the materials in an atrium are made by hand by the catechists and faith group associated with the atrium. Making materials by hand and searching for particular items are a deep part of the formation process of the catechists who train approximately 90 – 120 hours for each level.
The role of the adult in the atrium is secondary. It is the child’s own inner guide and teacher, the Holy Spirit, which directs the mind and heart. The importance of the catechist is to place materials within reach and share scripture that fills a particular longing at each stage in a child’s spiritual life. Geography materials of Biblical geography helps place Jesus in time and space.
Children need their own place to work with these essentials and many other key elements of our faith. This place is called an atrium. Montessori coined this term recalling the part of the Early Christian church building where catechumens would gather in preparation to join the church. Each atrium is specially designed with childsized furniture including a prayer table for gathering, a model altar, as well as materials to deepen their familiarity with more parables and the Mass itself. After being presented with new material in a small group,children are free to choose work which particularly speaks to them to foster the growth of their own relationships with God.
The atrium is a place where the child comes to know the great realities of life as a Christian, but also and above all, it is a place where the child begins to live these realities in meditation and prayer. There is nothing of the academic classroom about the atrium; it is not a place for religious instruction but religious life. (Sofia Cavalletti, RPOC, Good shepherd sheepfoldp. 56)
Each level of the child’s work explores the fundamental theme of covenant, God’s call and our response, as reflected in the Bible and as lived in liturgy.