by Tena Allain
A meaningful way to involve children and their families in a special Good Friday tradition is to host a Children’s Journey to the Cross. This is a specially adapted Stations of the Cross in which children and their families participate together. The children learn about Jesus dying for us on the cross and what it means to be a follower of Christ. To help the children fully unnderstand the journey, we include the fifteenth station, “Christ has risen.”
Our parish has successfully hosted this wonderful event for the last seven years. Our first year we had about 40 people join us; last year we had over 550 make the journey! Here’s how to organize a Children’s Joureny to the Cross in your parish:
1. Make posters of each of the stations by drawing them on pieces of poster board. Have the children draw them; using stick figures is appropriate, as this may be how students understand the scenes. Or you can use pictures of the stations from the internet; print them and paste them to pieces of poster board. It is important to keep the pictures age-appropriate and colorful so as to ensure the children’s understanding of the stations. Affix each station to a piece of foam board and tape a yardstick or dowel rod (for carrying) to the back of each. Give each station to a family; you will need 15 families. The family carrying the first station will leave the image of the first station at the first station along the journey; the family carrying the second station will leave the image of the second stastion at the second station along the journey; etc.
2. Determine where each station will be along your yourney to the cross around your parish grounds and draw a map of the journey. Give a copy of the map to each family participating. This helps you take advantage of opportune areas around your parish grounds. For example, we use the shrine of Mary for the fourth station (Jesus meets his mother), and we have a large wooden cross on the grounds that we use as the twelfth station (Jesus dies on the cross). Make signs for each station and position them along the joureny so that stations are clearly visible.
3. Determine items to hand out at various stations along the journey. We give a small cross to each child at the second station (Jesus carries his cross); a Mary prayer card at the fourth sStation (Jesus meets his mother); a piece of muslin at the sixth station (Veronica wipes the face of Jesus); a picture of a nail or spike at the eleventh station (Jesus is nailed to the cross); a sticker of a cross or flower petals at the twelfth sStation (Jesus dies on the cross), and a plastic Easter egg at the fifteenth station (Christ has risen). These trinkets engage children and allow them to have a tactil learning experience at these stations. We put these items in a bucket at each station and ask one family at each station to be responsible for handing them out.
4. Have on hand a cross—about four feet high—that will be carried at the front of the group, from station to station along the joureny. Also have on hand the numbers 1 thruogh 15 on index cards, each attached to a short loop of cord. Before the joureny begins, give one number each to fifteen families. The family with number one will drape the number over the cross and carry the cross to the first station. The family with number two will remove number one and drape number two over the cross as the group journeys on to the second station.
5. Create a booklet for families to use along the journey. There are several Stations of the Cross booklets available commercially; there also are bilingual booklets available. Or you can write your own booklet or find reproducible ones on the internet. What we have found effective is to select a book that has a prayer and two paragraphs at each station: one paragraph about Jesus and another paragraph about how this station applies to our daily lives.
6. Include a song to sing as you journey from one station to the next. It works best if you find one song to sing the entire way, e.g., “Come Along with Me to Jesus” or “Jesus, Remember Me.”
7. Select two leaders. Over the years, we have had deacons, seminarians, and teen volunteers lead the journey. We have found it effective to have one leader read the prayer and first paragraph and the other leader read the paragraph about how the station applies to our daily lives.
Now you are ready to begin your new Good Friday tradition, your own Children’s Journey to the Cross. I hope you will find that this event helps your elementary and preschool children understand the meaning of our traditional Stations of the Cross, while engaging in an age- appropriate and memorable experience with their families.
Tena Allain has been the Director of Pre-School Religious Education for 17 years at St. Ann Catholic Church in Coppell, TX. She holds a Master Catechist Certification for the Diocese of Dallas.
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