Twenty years ago in the course of Christian religious formation with children ages 9-12 using the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, we began to "taste" the world's religions. We found ourselves at a veritable feast of sacred signs, writings, and traditions. As we slowly developed a library and materials to enjoy this feast we have deepened our understanding or our own Christian tradition, discovered similarities and differences between our traditions, and come to appreciate the Holy manifested in wonderful ways among humankind.
Our director Catherine Maresca's paper, Children, Signs, and Spiritual Literacy: An Interfaith Experience explores the foundational theory behind the Children's Interfaith Center.
CHILDREN’S INTERFAITH CENTER
The purpose of this Center is to help children deeply rooted in their own faith develop understanding and respect for other traditions.
We believe a good starting point for an interfaith experience is deep roots in the prayer and signs of one’s own tradition. The sacred signs of a tradition are like a language children begin to learn at their parents’ sides. They serve as a window into the Great Mystery, perceived through sacred objects, gestures and words. When children have a good foundation in their own sacred “language” they can begin to appreciate the deep meaning of other traditions’ sacred signs.
Our thirty year experience in Christian religious formation with children ages 3-12 using the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd has allowed us to observe the following: at ages 3-6 the child’s spirituality is deep and personal; at ages 6-9 this spirituality becomes interpersonal, with communal prayer and the moral implications (effects on the community) becoming very significant; and at ages 9-12 children's focus widens to include the world, with interest in the both the wider context of their own tradition as well as the existence of other religions.
These children are open and eager to begin to experienc the world's religions. This corresponds with the years the older child is curious about all aspects of culture—their own and others.
Sofia's Challenge for the Center for Children and TheologyYears ago, Sofia Cavalletti suggested that the Center for Children and Theology's work should be broader than only the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. Inspired by Montessori and Cavalletti's work, we have sought to create materials to begin introducing the sacred signs present in the heart of other traditions, using concrete materials to explore the meaning of essential acts, beliefs, and signs of the worlds’ religions.With the help of Montessorians representing Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Christianity, we are in the process of developing materials for use by older children and adults.
A Sensory Experience of the Sacred
Rather than rely on descriptions and pictures of religions we use materials that can be handled. These materials offer an experience of a meaningful story, object, or gesture from the world’s religions. This sensory experience invites the child into the mystery embedded in the sacred sign.
Announcing our first resource from the Children's Interfaith Center
Several stations allows a group to experience eleven key aspects of Nichiren Buddhism. These may be explored in various settings – retreats, workshops, interfaith days, or religious education programs. The materials are appropriate for use for children ages 9 or over, or for adults.
The themes introduced in Hands on Buddhism include
The Hands On Buddhism packet includes a set of 11 envelopes, each focusing on a carefully selected aspect of Nichiren Buddhism. They each contain quotes from their sacred writings, meditation questions, a tented instruction card to describe each activity to users, a list of easy to collect materials to aid the start the activity, and simple instructions for use.
Hands On Buddhism packet $40
The faciltator of the experience need not be a Buddhist to use the materials well, although the presence of a Buddhist is wonderful to answer questions about living Buddhism.
The Children's Interfaith Center is a project