Advice from Master Catechists—February 2014

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by Janet Schaeffler, Kate Ristow, Dan Thomas, Chris Weber

What is a unique way to pray the Stations of the Cross?

Q: I’m planning to pray the Stations of the Cross with my students two times during Lent. The first time, I’m going to use a standard format. We’ll go to church and walk from station to station and use a prayer book. But I’d like to do something unique the second time we pray the Stations. Do you have any suggestions?

—N. N.

Janet Schaeffler’s Answer

A: Not knowing the specific age level of your learners, I suggest that we look at a few ideas that can be adapted and tweaked for various ages.

Talk with your students about the reality of the Stations of the Cross today, that the Stations are experienced even today in many different ways. For example, in our own lives, in the lives of others around us, and in different cultures around the world, people are condemned to death (the First Station); people carry heavy crosses that are unjust (the Second Station); people fall under the weight of what they must endure every day (the Third Station), etc. Have students offer “pictures” that reflect the Stations today. Depending on how many students are in your class, you might have two children work together on one Station. The “pictures” could be offered in various ways: photos, paintings, dioramas, sculptures, drawings, verbal descriptions, newspaper clippings, etc. Older students might produce a movie or PowerPoint with illustrations.

You might introduce your students to Pope John Paul II’s Stations of the Cross ( This version of the Stations was prayed by Pope John Paul II at the Roman Colosseum on Good Friday 1991. These Stations are based very closely on the scriptural accounts of the passion of Jesus.

The Stations of the Cross with which we are familiar is referred to as the Via Crucis, and it is an important devotion in our tradition. We also have the Way of Light (the Via Lucis) or the Stations of the Resurrection (see Inspired by an inscription found in the Roman catacombs, these Stations were developed in the 1990s and officially sanctioned by the Vatican in 2001, in the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy: Principles and Guidelines: Chapter 4: The Liturgical Year and Popular Piety, Section 153. These Stations combine the events mentioned in the catacombs’ inscription with other post-Resurrection events to create 14 Stations. They begin with the Resurrection and end with Pentecost. Often we focus on the 40 days of Lent (a very important thing to do); praying the Stations of the Resurrection is one way to help us remember and celebrate the 50 days of Easter.

Use this opportunity of praying the Stations to involve students’ families. For instance, invite each child, with his or her family, to write an explanation and prayer for one of Pope John Paul’s Stations or one of the Stations of the Resurrection—and use what the family creates in praying the Stations.

After many years in parish and diocesan catechetical ministry, Janet Schaeffler, OP, is currently involved in catechetical/adult faith formation consultation, writing, workshops, days of reflection/retreats, and teaching. Her website is

Chris Weber’s Answer

A: Try this classroom activity to prepare for the second time you pray the Stations. Arrange students in pairs and assign one Station of the Cross to each pair. If you don’t have 14 pairs of students—one pair for each Station—select Stations that cover the main moments of Christ’s passion. For example, omit the Stations where Jesus falls the second and third times. While the result may be an abridged prayer, it is more important that students experience one of the Stations in a deeper way. Provide each pair with writing implements, lined paper, and a brief summary of its Station. Lead students through the following prayerful reflection.

Set the mood by playing quiet instrumental music and dim the lighting. Start with the Sign of the Cross, and then inform your students that they are going to spend some time with one of the Stations. Pray aloud for the Holy Spirit to guide this time of reflection on what Jesus did for us when he died on the cross. After a prayerful pause, invite everyone to pray the Glory Be or the Lord’s Prayer. Then lead your students through the following process:

1. Read. Invite students to quietly read their Stations with their partners. If you have a large class they might have to read it silently.

2. Imagine. Invite students to imagine what it would have been like to witness this scene. What do they see? What do they hear? What are the crowds doing? How is Jesus responding? 3. Reflect. Invite students to think about how this Station makes them feel. What would they like to say to Jesus?

4. Write. Invite each pair to write a poem or a prayer about this Station.

Incorporate each pair’s prayer or poem into your next Stations of the Cross.

Chris Weber has worked in the field of catechesis for over 20 years as a catechist, a parish catechetical leader, and a diocesan staff member. He is the author of Jesus-Style Recruiting: A Fresh Look at Recruiting and Forming Parish Volunteers, published by Visual Dynamics Publishing. He currently serves as Registrar at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, MD.

Where do I begin to help students and catechists grieve?

Q: Our rural community has had some tragic deaths in the past three months (deaths in natural disasters and house fires, a shooting in a high-profile domestic violence situation, the death of a favorite teacher in an auto crash). I feel compelled to do something for the children in the program or to help catechists deal with their students’ grief. Where do I begin?

W. C., DRE


Dan Thomas’s Answer

A: Rural communities are usually close-knit communities. This allows for people to respond to tragedies in especially personal ways. Also, tragedies in rural communities tend to be more personal because everyone is associated with everyone else.

The first concern is how directly your children and catechists are touched by these events and with what intensity. These tragedies are difficult challenges that call for deep sensitivity and openness to ministering to those affected by them.

Also, it is important to explore what has been or is being done already. For example, local schools sometimes provide counseling when someone in that school is involved. Looking for ways to support what is going on elsewhere is essential.

It seems to me that both the children and the catechists may need help dealing with the situation. You can find some valuable resources on the internet about how to help children deal with grief. Searching “helping children deal with grief and loss,” I came across a plethora of suggestions for both the classroom and personal use. There is even a Children’s Grief Education Association ( that is full of ideas, activities, children’s books, and other resources. You might also find I Will Remember You: My Catholic Guide through Grief (by Kimberly Schuler from Pauline Books and Media) to be helpful.

A parish prayer service or a specific prayer service for your program could be offered with input from the young people. Older students could be involved in the preparation and celebration of this service.

Your desire to help is an outstanding example of how we as catechists and parish leaders can preach the Good News of God’s love for all, even as we respond to the situations that arise in our communities.

Dan Thomas served in catechetical leadership for over 30 years and remains involved in the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership (NCCL). He and his wife, Eileen, are the parents of two adult sons.

Kate Ristow’s Answer

A: Hopefully you have been helping the staff and students respond to each situation as it has occurred—praying for those affected and discussing how scary and sad life can be sometimes. However, in the wake of all that has happened, it sounds as if you are wondering if there is something that you should be doing about the cumulative impact of these events. Good thinking!

Email the catechists or conduct informal assessments during your interactions with them before and after class sessions. Ask them how they are feeling and how their students are coping. This will give you some direction in deciding what to do next.

For example, if a number of catechists admit to being stressed out or tell you that some of their students seem traumatized, consider inviting a psychologist or grief counselor to come to your next catechist meeting to listen to and advise the staff. Encourage catechists to be open in sharing their feelings and asking questions about how best to help the kids. Make sure they understand that some of the kids may need professional help, and they can assist in identifying those children by being observant and reporting any troubling behavior.

As a group, brainstorm different activities catechists might do in their individual classrooms or as a staff. For example, plan a fundraiser for those who lost their homes in the natural disaster you mention, or make an all-program sympathy poster for the family of the school teacher, and invite all the kids to sign the poster or write a personal message on it.

You might also plan a community Mass for program families. Most parents are probably struggling with what they can do while, at the same time, worrying about what their kids are feeling and what they can say. After the Mass, invite families to participate in a session with the psychologist.

It is vital that you and the staff project a positive attitude that demonstrates our belief in a loving and caring God. Help students have faith in our belief that God is always here for us—in good times and bad.

Kate Ristow, Contributing Editor to CATECHIST, has worked in Catholic publishing for over 25 years as a national speaker and writer, building on a wealth of experience in the religious formation of children and catechists in both parish and Catholic school programs.

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