Our Ecumenical Journey

October 2019

by Catherine Maresca

The work of Sofia Cavalletti and Gianna Gobbi that comprises the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is beautiful, essential and good, both in regard to its method and its content. And yet much of our work over the years has involved considering ways to adapt or adjust the materials of CGS. Why? Context. The consiglio, led by Sofia, formally wrote in its 32 points that CGS “can be realized in any social or cultural setting.” This is a reference to poverty and wealth, but what about white and black, abled and disabled, non-traditional families, European and non-European? In addition, point 29 says, “CGS is open to all Christians of various denominations and of different commitments within the church.”

In pointing to the various places and times in which CGS would be used, the flexibility of adaptation is implied in the word “realized.” We are not expected to make an exact replica of  Sofia and Gianna’s atrium but to use it as a model. To recreate materials as originally found in Rome could be a disservice to both CGS and the families of our atriums. However, this “realization” must be done with care and study, and remain rooted in the responses of the children being served. 

Since Sofia and Gianna began their work in 1954 the somewhat insular Catholic Church has “thrown open the windows of the church and let the fresh air of the spirit blow through” (Pope John XXIII, Vatican II). This fresh air affected the liturgies, the reading of the Bible, its relationships with other Christian denominations, and its sense of kinship with other faith traditions. The atrium in Rome needed new liturgical materials as the Roman Missal itself changed in the wake of Vatican II. As catechists of the Episcopal Church and other denominations joined CGS in the 1980s the need to make materials that reflected their own liturgies was easily understood and accepted. 

At Christian Family Montessori School (CFMS), where I have been a catechist since 1982, we began to celebrate graduations with a Mass, as Catholic schools had been doing for decades. But like many Catholic schools, the children we served were from several denominations, and two years in a row there were no students among our graduates who were Catholic. Should we have a Mass? The first of those years we did. But the second year the graduates sat down with me and envisioned a graduation liturgy that would be open to the full participation of all our graduates and their families. It is not a Mass, but it does incorporate meaningful liturgical signs rooted in our common faith. 

We’ve made some of the same kinds of adjustments in our atrium as well. The materials are Catholic, but we supply resources for work with other liturgies represented in our student body, and always acknowledge that the liturgical work represents the practice of some followers of Jesus, or some churches, and allow the children to offer their own experience alongside that represented by the material.  

This willingness to be both Catholic and ecumenical has made the atrium a comfortable place for families with more than one tradition (or no tradition). It shows deep respect for people of all denominations, and even of other faith traditions. We’ve had numerous families with a Jewish grandparent, a Buddhist or Hindu parent, and members who have left formal religion altogether. In addition to expanding our experience of communion at CFMS, we prepare our students for good citizenship in a country that is not tied to any one religion.

This week, Oct. 24-27, Episcopalian and Anglican catechists are gathering in Atlanta to address some of the particular issues of starting and sustaining Catechesis of the Good Shepherd in their churches and schools. May theirongoing effort to serve children well with CGS, despite the additional work of adapting materials this requires, be abundantly blessed, and may this weekend bear fruit in the whole community of CGS catechists and children.

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