by Catherine Maresca
It’s March! And good Irishwoman that I am I wear green all month, consider the lives of St. Brigid and St. Patrick, the Irish trinity (it’s female!), and completely expect my parish to give at least a nod to St. Patrick on March 17, even if he was never officially canonized by the Vatican. We Irish know better.
But in Wales, the patron saint is David, and he is also honored in March throughout Great Britain.
And in December Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated, along with the annual Las Posadas in Mexico. In Sweden and Italy, St. Lucy is celebrated. St. Nicholas, the patron Saint of Russia and Greece, is remembered on December 5.
June 3 is the feast of the Ugandan martyrs, and they were mentioned in almost every liturgy I attended there. On August 23, St. Rose of Lima, Peru is celebrated. I could go on and on, and invite you to add your special saint and their country of origin in the comments below.
Should any of this be part of the life of the atrium? Is it essential? Is it an important opportunity to widen the children’s understanding of church to embrace the world?
For the 3-6 atrium I would say, “No.” Sofia did not offer any materials at all related to the saints in either the Level I or Level II atriums. They are not essential, and knowledge of the saints does not meet the spiritual exigencies of the young child. The exception may be to offer a simple introduction to the saint for which one’s parish might be named. The focus of the young child is Jesus. Others are represented in the Infancy narratives, in the Cenacle, but they are identified not as saints but as people present in the life of Jesus. The sheep of the Good Shepherd, and people around the altar table (Eucharistic Presence) also hint at the widening community in both time and space gathered around Jesus.
For the 6-9 atrium, the children are still focused on Jesus, but the circle around him is also being introduced, his family, his followers, and others that he healed, blessed, or spoke with during his life, including Herod and Pilate. We also see ourselves represented in the International gathering of people at the altar, branches of the True Vine, part of the Gifts strip, and the community gathered at Baptism. But the emphasis is still on particular people in the life of Christ and the community that is gathered by him in history. Not on the saints per se.
Finally, in the 9-12 atrium, the saints begin to be seen. The older children are following the lectionary, seeing the role of people in building the Kindom of God, praying the litany of saints in Baptism, reading stories about the virtues in the lives of Biblical people as well as followers of Jesus since his resurrection. My experience of the saints in the lives of the 9-12-year-old children is that they are seeking to follow Jesus, to consider vocation, and are aware of the cultural holidays around saints. The saints can serve as models of Christianity, inspire particular kinds of work in the world, and ground the universal church in countries around the world. They can be woven into the prayer services, the stories of virtue, the spread of Christianity, and the practice of Christianity in the world today. Little of this is explicitly included in the 9-12 materials, but materials serve as jumping off point in the 9-12 atrium, and one direction they may follow is the lives of the saints.
Our 9-12 atrium has a good collection of books about saints. They are chosen carefully, since some of them are quite biased towards European saints. (Augustine of Hippo (Africa) is often illustrated as white man in such books.) Other collections seem to include a preponderance of virgins and martyrs rather than a variety of saints from different times, places, and ministries. Children have little concern for the “official” list of saints. They recognize one when they see one, and may often suggest people of our time who are not even Christian as saints, or holy ones. Saints also give us a good opportunity to appreciate the cultures of origin represented in the atrium or the community. We have Ethiopian families in our school right now – did you know about the Nine Saints of Ethiopia (5th C.) who brought Orthodox Christianity there?
In a time of seeking to embrace the cultures of our communities and our world, the saints are a gift to us. Perhaps we can seek their help in becoming the universal community of Parousia.