Children from St. Patrick’s Parish in Victor and St. Bridget/St. Joseph Parish in East Bloomfield recently brought new meaning to the well-known biblical quote “and a little child shall lead them.” The first evening of the Northwest Ontario Planning Group’s three-night interparish retreat was led entirely by children and teens.
Thirty elementary and high-school-aged children and teens from St. Bridget/St. Joseph and St. Patrick’s led the March 7 event, which was held at St. Bridget/St. Joseph Church. Several formed a choir and sang songs related to baptism and living water — the evening’s theme — while others led the congregation in Lenten evening prayers. In the meantime, eight of their peers helped emphasize the songs and prayers through interpretive dance and movement.
“They were a big hit. We had a really nice church full of people, and their response was real positive. They just love to see the children leading the liturgy,” said Sister of St. Joseph Diane Dennie, pastoral administrator at St. Bridget/St. Joseph.
At Sister Dennie’s suggestion, children from St. Bridget/St. Joseph led one evening of the interparish retreat last year. After receiving positive feedback from retreat participants and the children themselves, she decided to give them the opportunity to lead the retreat again, this time opening it up to children from St. Patrick’s as well.
Although the speakers, singers and interpreters were only able to practice once together before the retreat, they led the congregation from beginning to end, Sister Dennie said. Because they were so responsible, no adults needed to be present in the sanctuary during the evening, she added.
Speaking in front of a church full of people was not a new experience for 15-year-old Colin Samoriski. Three years ago, he decided to become a lector at St. Patrick’s.
“I wanted to actually be a part of the whole Mass celebration, and I thought that I was a pretty good public speaker, and so I decided to give my talents,” Colin said.
Colin was nervous the first few times he lectored, but said the experience helped prepare him for the retreat, where he wasn’t nervous about speaking at all.
Fellow parishioners Marcus Belmore, 14, and Andrew Shephard, 11, also began lectoring at St. Patrick’s about three years ago.
After attending Catholic school all his life, becoming involved with his parish just seemed like the natural thing to do, Marcus said. Although he’d been lectoring for years, he was at first uneasy about participating in the retreat.
“At first I wasn’t sure how much I would like it, but actually getting into it and getting to know everyone was kind of fun,” Marcus said.
Like Colin, Andrew said he was at first nervous about lectoring in his own parish, but decided to give it a try anyway because it looked like fun. Once he stood at the pulpit, his nervousness usually melted away.
Andrew decided to become a speaker after watching kids from St. Bridget/St. Joseph lead part of the retreat the year before.
“I went to one of the retreats before and I was kind of curious about what it would be like to be in one,” Andrew said. “It felt kind of cool because usually the adults are leading us.”
The interparish retreat was a family affair for the Hart family of St. Bridget/St. Joseph. Katie, 9, sang in the choir, and siblings Sarah, 13, and T-Bill, 14, were interpreters. Katie joined the choir hoping the experience would ease her stage fright, and it did.
“I didn’t get scared,” she said afterwards. For Katie, the strangest part of the evening was seeing their sacramental minister, Father Peter Mandina, sitting in a pew instead of standing near the altar during the retreat.
Watching her children lead the retreat was a powerful experience for Bridget Hart.
“To see them up there, it was overwhelming. It was overwhelmingly spiritual,” Bridget said. “It hits me pretty hard.”
Josh Bean, 8, was an interpreter, and his 10-year-old brother, Ben, sang with the choir. It was obvious all the children enjoyed what they were doing, said their mother, Stephanie, who attends St. Bridget/St. Joseph with her family.
“They appreciate each other and they appreciate what they’re doing,” Stephanie said. “They gave their all. You could tell it was important to them to do a good job.”
Fellow St. Bridget/St. Joseph parishioner Mary Eveland agreed. Her daughter Alyssa, 8, was an interpreter at the retreat, and enjoyed being a part of something so special, Mary said.
“I think it was very nice being led by the children because they do have an innocence that we probably lose a little bit as adults,” she said. “I think (the children and adults) were both giving something to each other, which is what the spirit of the Lord is about.”