By JOANNE FOX
When Krystal Shellabarger and her family were introduced to a program called Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS), she did not anticipate all of the benefits.
“I began to take our then-3-year old daughter and eventually I volunteered to help,” she said. “I had heard so many great things about this program and I wanted to know what all the hype was about. I didn’t realize how much I, personally, would get out of the sessions.”
This month, Shellabarger will share those good things with the religious education program for the cluster parishes of Salix St. Joseph, Onawa St. John and Blencoe St. Bernard.
According to Shellabarger, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd was developed in Rome more than 50 years ago, inspired by the Montessori principles of education.
“It has since spread to more than 37 countries,” she said. “Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity actually include CGS into their formation process and use it to catechize children.”
Shellabarger characterized CGS as “a gift from God,” waiting to happen in the next community that is open to it.
“We learned things about the Mass that I had never known before, such as the word epiclesis,” she said, referring to the motion the priest makes during the consecration. “We sang songs to teach—about liturgical colors and important cities in the life of Jesus. We learned the names of articles in the Mass (such as lavabo, chasuble, and ciborium) and different types of prayer.”
The Good Shepherd is the face of this program because the parable corresponds to the child’s needs: To establish a relationship and for protective love, Shellabarger noted.
“This program is needed because the Lord is calling us by name – each of us – and every child deserves to meet the Good Shepherd in a safe, child-friendly environment,” she said.
CGS will begin at Salix at its Level I atrium on Wednesday evenings, Shellabarger explained.
“The atrium was the place in the early Christian basilica where the first Christians received their formation in the faith,” she said. “It is a place of prayer, where the child can come, in which work and study spontaneously become meditation, contemplation and prayer.”
Level I is catechesis for children ages 3-6. Shellabarger pointed out the program allows God to speak to even the youngest child through the two pillars it is built on: Scripture and Liturgy.
“It answers the child’s silent plea: Help me to come closer to God by myself,” she said.
Parish cluster DRE Colleen Maule also felt an environment which fosters a place of safety and teaching everyday skills, while reinforcing the love of God, was a strength in the Good Shepherd presentation
“By starting at a younger age than regular religious education, it piques their curiosity and readies them for classes when they begin in first grade,” she said.
Targeting younger children, working with their natural curiosity and their need to learn is another aspect of the program Maule thought was positive.
“I like that it doesn’t ‘dumb down’ our religion, but teaches the correct names of things, something a lot of adults don’t know,” she said. “I especially like that it teaches about and gives a place for the children to learn of God’s great love for them.”
A strong parallel can be made between CGS and the Gospel parable on children, Shellabarger reported.
“Jesus said, ‘Except you become like little children, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God,’ and CGS brings out a positive response in the child,” she said. “We want the kids to fall in love with God. Then, they become more aware of the presence of God in their lives as a source of peace and joy and it is reflected in reverence at the altar and a greater prayer life.”
Not only is the atrium for the child but Shellabarger related it helps to build the spiritual needs of the catechists and the giving nature of the church community.
“Jesus said: ‘Feed my lambs.’ He also said, ‘Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these,’” she said. “We are hoping individuals would consider helping us to feed his little lambs and help them to come to him through donations of both materials and money.”
Those wishing to help with the CGS program may contact Shellabarger at (712) 946-5635 or firstname.lastname@example.org.