By LINDA M. LINONIS
Alvera Bell develops visual and tactal projects to teach Catholic beliefs and practices to students.
The coordinator of religious education at Christ Our Savior Parish likened the teaching to “planting seeds in the garden, where they will flourish, remember as they get older and reach out as adults.” Bell, who retired after teaching 39 years at St. Nicholas, is in her second year in religious education. The parish is the merger of St. Nicholas and Holy Trinity churches.
During Lent, a traditional time of reflection and self-denial, Bell said she focuses not on “giving up” something like candy or a TV program but performing “positive” actions.
“We want to focus on the positive and the difference that it will make in students,” she said. “It teaches them about charity, kindness and compassion and the importance of reaching out to people in need.”
Confraternity of Christian Doctrine classes are offered at St. Nicholas School and Holy Trinity Church for kindergarten through eighth grades. A youth ministry is for seventh-graders through high school students.
“Tactile and sensory can be broken down into symbols for children,” she said. The symbols, she said, help youths understand the practical application of abstract concepts.
One example is using a carton with plastic eggs, each of the 12 containing a symbol relating to the Passion of Jesus. A piece of palm or picture of a donkey relates to Jesus entering Jesusalem; a cracker, the Last Supper; coins, betrayal by Judas; thorns, the crown of thorns; ropes, representing the scourging; feather, Peter’s denial when the cock crows; sliver of soap, washing the feet of apostles; dice, gambling for Jesus’ clothes; sponge, quenching Jesus’ thirst; toothpick, spear that pierced Jesus’ side; white cloth, the burial cloth; cloves or cinnamon, annointing for burial; and stone, the tomb’s boulder.
Symbols are “backed by Scripture,” Bell said. She emphasized this project is something that younger children can share with their families and talk about the sacrifice of Jesus.
The “jelly bean prayer” is another avenue of learning. The prayer, written out on a piece of paper, is accented by appropriate color jelly beans. “Red is for the blood He gave. Green is for the grass He made. Yellow is for the sun so bright. Orange is for the edge of night. Black is for the sins we made. White is for grace He gave. Pink is for the new tomorrow.”
One of the most potent projects is a Playdough crown with toothpicks, broken in two, stuck in the crown as thorns. “Do a good deed, take out a toothpick,” Bell said. This relates the idea of “erasing our sins” by removing a toothpick for a good deed like cleaning your room, going to Mass, taking out the garbage or helping Mom or Dad, she added.
“Service is the emphasis ... doing something to help someone,” Bell said. The teacher in Bell described the process as “be-attitudes.”
Bell said seventh-graders engage in still Stations of the Cross in which they “assume the pose of the action in the station.” Bell described this as a “powerful” learning experience.
Eighth-graders will enact a mime presentation of the Passion at 12:30 p.m. March 27 and at 3 p.m. Good Friday, March 29, at St. Nicholas Church. It is open to all.
Youth ministry and Confirmation classes are making palm crosses to distribute at Palm Sunday Masses. A free-will offering will benefit a mission trip.
The Confirmation class of eighth- and ninth-graders recently served a meal at the Rescue Mission of Mahoning Valley and made blankets for Mahoning County Children’s Services.
Bell said such Lenten projects help “give students an awareness beyond themselves.” And just as Jesus gave the Apostles the assignment to share his teachings, students understand that they are carrying on that legacy as contemporary apostles whose duty it is to evangelize.
Eighth-graders Michael Ginnis, 14, and D’Angelo Moore, 13, are making buttons with the words “Living the Eucharist” with a chalice symbol and Lent 2013 detailed with the face of the crucified Christ as a service project. Both said it was important to them “to help the school.” “We’re being like Christ in our own ways,” D’Angelo said.
Juliana Montanez, 12, a seventh-grader, assists at the church fish fries. Lenten lessons have showed her the importance of “treating people like Christ would treat them, not just in Lent, but through the year.”
Living the Eucharist, a parish Lenten program, includes the Lectico Divina. It focuses on reading a passage of Scripture then reflecting on how it “speaks to you,” Bell said.