In our parish, which has a vast population primarily composed of young families, catechism is characterized by its great numbers. There are more than two hundred children this year who are preparing for their First Communion and around sixty who will receive Confirmation. In Kenya catechism is important, not only for having an awareness of that which is one is to receive. In school, they study only ethics and the Bible, without ever entering into what is specific about the Catholic religion. The country is primarily Protestant, as it was an English colony: everything that is Catholic is, therefore, purged from the ministerial program.
For this reason, during the last seven years, Fr. Gabriele and myself have written a book of three volumes that provides a structure for the lessons for the entire triennial. Every lesson provides a plan of activities to do during the week: pray, organize moments of singing, color the figures of the persons that have been spoken about, etc. One intention is to get the parents involved as well, otherwise, they become disinterested, delegating to the catechists all of the preparation for receiving the sacraments. One fourth of the children enrolled in catechism are baptized the week before receiving their First Communion.
Often, the children invite their friends to catechism thus becoming themselves missionaries. Often, at the beginning of February we begin with sixty kids and then discover towards June that they have become one hundred. Laban, for example, came from a Catholic family and went to school with John, who came from a Protestant family. One day, Martin brought his friend with him to catechism, and this boy quickly became a part of our friendship. In the meanwhile, Martin stopped coming, also because his mom was not a very practicing Catholic. John stayed and will soon receive his First Communion. Shortly after, we reached out to Martin, who decided to return, and he will receive his First Communion along with his sister Mary. It is an example that is not uncommon of how kids can be missionaries, even when they are living amongst difficulties in the family. But the biggest surprise is that Martin’s mother as well has returned to going to Mass and receiving Holy Communion.
If the kids are attracted to catechism, it is also because the educators are good to them, at school they are commonly disciplined physically with the baton of their teachers. Also, the catechists, receive much from their children: they learn humility and simplicity of heart, they grow in their faith and love for Jesus. One of the catechists told me that she had learned to look at her kids with a gaze of love and gratitude. Another catechist recognized a growth in his faith because, when one shares a treasure, the treasures grows. I don’t teach any classes anymore, as I did at the beginning, but I try to interact and be present with the kids. In the parishes of Nairobi, it is rare to see a priest amongst the children. For us, a Christian education for the children is one of the pastoral priorities. A priest is also able to give them something important: the witness of a life dedicated with joy to the Lord, spent gratuitously for others.
Fr. Giuliano Imbasciati is the vice pastor of St. Joseph’s in Nairobi (Kenya). Above, with a few kids of the parish.