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November 15, 2019
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November 15, 2019

Church’s faith formation programmes must change

Brent Augustus, a parishioner from Diego Martin, shares his concerns and makes some suggestions on the Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan.

I attended a parish consultation on the Pastoral Plan and over the past 5–6 months, I have read articles about or related to the Pastoral Plan and life in the community and how it is intended to change and improve the general faithful.

I am concerned that many of the initiatives and programmes are targeting a mature faithful. From my experience and talking to several of my peers (all over 40 years old) I firmly believe the target audience of our Pastoral Plan and Reform must be significantly broadened with a greater emphasis and focus on families with teenaged (Confirmation) and younger (First Communion) children.

Just look around at your regular Saturday/Sunday Mass—where are the hundreds of children that have come through the system over the last ten years?

In this regard I offer the following commentary on three areas: Family/Confirmation/First Communion; School Education/Religious Knowledge; Leadership in the Church.

Family/Confirmation/First Communion

In this context, I will describe family as mummy, daddy, children and extended family (grandpa, granny, aunts, cousins, neighbourhood friends etc.).

It is the interaction, sharing, thoughts, exchanges, sacrifices that occur from birth to death that defines the person coming out of this family, including Church leaders, priests, nuns, devout laity etc. Indeed, we hope that Mass, rosary and prayers are part of this growth.

One of the major difficulties in current family life arising from the decision of the Archdiocese is around First Communion and Confirmation.

The best way I can find to express the difficulty is by example.

I have four children with age differences between 2 years 4 months and 2 years 8 months. Under the current format, Confirmation is a two-year programme, so for eight consecutive years my entire family is tied to Saturday morning confirmation during the entire academic year. No Mayaro weekend, no beach, no morning sports or other extra-curricular activities, limited chores time etc.

The grumblings from my children are genuine and indeed well-founded. Even my wife and I—devout Catholics—find it very difficult. Indeed, there is something fundamentally wrong with this inadvertent strain on family life. It leaves a very sour taste for our vulnerable teenagers.

My wife and I with feedback from our now mature children, are convinced that the solution lies within our schools and education reform, centred around how First Communion and Confirmation are taught.

Compounding this is the relegation of the second biggest family our children are part of—the school family. Without knowing it, by moving First Communion and Confirmation away from the school, we have diminished the togetherness that comes from making First Communion and Confirmation with the next best family—the school family.

What better way to celebrate First Communion and Confirmation than with your friends with whom you spend hours, days and years.

The parish has a role to play as it is the place for those who are not attending Catholic schools.

My parents made First Communion and Confirmation on the same day. How and when was it decided that for example Confirmation Class is two years? What are we teaching that requires two years (72 Saturday mornings after 5 days at school)? And who is teaching the subject—Uncle Bryan, Uncle John, Auntie Marva etc. who are well-intended but totally not trained as teachers.

In the modern Information Technology era, the use of videos developed by true educators on the relevant material will be far more engaging and enlightening to the teenager. In that way the entire country can follow the same programme—from Mayaro to Toco to Port of Spain to Cedros, all are on the same page and importantly the children will be far more engaged.

And for what reason is the appropriate Confirmation age 14? When the child enters secondary school, waiting till Form 3 is much too long of a delay after primary school.

My experience suggests that the best age to capture the religious interest of the budding adult is in Form 1. This is the time to connect to their open minds that have not yet been muddled with all types of social noises that naturally come with secondary school life.

If we can adjust this entire connect between family life, sacramental requirements, school leadership and teaching techniques we can go a long way to a positive discussion about Church at home rather than the negative vibe that now prevails among young teenagers coming out of Confirmation. The most common statement on completion of the programme by both children and parents is— ‘Thank God that is over’.

School education

It is also my experience from my school days to an adult and my children’s experience at school, that Religious Knowledge/Education in secondary school is virtually non-existent and/or uninteresting.

I would like to suggest a change in the curriculum by way of video-led lectures that gives the student/teenager more insight into our Catholic faith and teachings.

The reason I suggest the above is because young and old Catholics do very little reading of the Bible and to develop greater interest, we can first start with understanding the beginning of our faith and the history of our faith.

Suggested curriculum at secondary school:

FORM 1 — CONFIRMATION TEACHING – VIDEO Get the Big Picture: Simple, engaging introduction to the Bible.

FORM 2 — BIBLE TIMELINE: The Story of Salvation

FORM 3 — MATTHEW: The King and His Kingdom

FORM 4 — ACTS: The Spread of the Kingdom

FORM 5 — LIFE AHEAD – discussions led by audio and trained laity. Topics include boyfriends/girlfriends; marriage; responsibility and freedom; teaching by example; by your actions I will know you; understanding the behaviour of men & women

As Church, we are far more likely to get a positive student/teenager response from this teaching approach than what currently operates as the Secondary School Religious Knowledge Curriculum. Indeed, the Archdiocese may have different curriculum ideas, notwithstanding, we need to adapt to change asap.

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