I have lived in our house in Turin since last July, where I am entering into the life of the parish community of Santa Giulia. One of my spheres of mission is the catechism for the kids in elementary school. One afternoon, I arrived in the oratory to teach a lesson to the students of the second grade. I was planning to start with an introduction to the Old Testament. After we had prayed and sung together, I cieli [The Heavens], I started to recount the story of creation as told in the Book of Genesis. The lesson was prepared well: the text to read, the path to follow, the pictures to show them. After a few minutes, there were twelve hands raised. “You already have questions?” I asked. “Alright then, let’s hear them!”. At that moment, the avalanche let loose: “How is it possible that God created the Earth if there was the Big Bang?”; “How old is the Earth?”; “What does the Bible say about dinosaurs and Neanderthals?”. It only took a few seconds for my perfectly planned lesson to fall apart. I started to respond to the questions that the kids had, and without realizing it, an entire hour passed in which we spoke about the creation of the world, about what the kids had learned at school, and what the Church teaches. The play time at the end of catechism- usually the most-awaited moment – was by then completely forgotten.
This is one of the many examples that have made me understand that staying with kids is truly a learning experience: it is their questions that open them up to God, not the beautifully structured lessons of Catechism.
Another episode has accompanied me in these months: in previous years, many of the kids have invited their classmates to catechism. The oratory of Santa Giulia has become for them a stable point of reference, especially during the pandemic: a place that is always open, a place where they can look at others face to face, stay together and play, and ask their questions. A place, in fact, to propose to friends! Thanks to the missionary push of a few of our regular attendees, I have found myself in front of children who have never frequented catechism or received a sacrament. Together with the other priests of the house, we decided to accommodate all of them. At the end of an afternoon of catechism, one of them came up to me and asked: “Fr. Dennis, I want to be baptized. All my friends are baptized.” Stupefied by the confidence with which this kid had addressed me, I responded: “Beautiful! But we must talk to your parents.” A couple of nights later I went to dinner at his family’s house. After a long evening of chit-chat on many different themes, the father of the family said to me: “You know, Fr. Dennis, in my life I have had negative experiences with the Church. Lately, I have a hard time believing in a benevolent God who loves me. But who am I to impede my son from having a different experience. I agree that he should be baptized.” His reaction made my jaw drop: with immense wonder, I recognized the open-mindedness of this father that, notwithstanding everything, had intuited that his son had encountered a healthy place, a home that makes him grow. I have had the grace to baptize four kids in third and fourth grade. It was incredibly moving to ask the kids the questions that usually you ask the parents of the newborn during the rite of acceptance that precedes the baptismal liturgy: “What do you desire?”. “I desire to become Christian”. “Why do you want to become Christian?”. “Because I believe in Christ.” “What does the faith in Christ give you?” “Eternal Life.” This is the simplicity of children who allow themselves to be struck by a friendship that embraces them and renders them real and true missionaries.