BIS #6196 MHOC Naigaon nurtures faith through the pandemic

by Melba D’cunha Banz & Father Joaquim Fernandes

With the corona virus wreaking havoc everywhere, even spirituality has taken a beating. Churches around the world have had to cancel services due to the coronavirus pandemic. In India too most of the religious services for the faithful have been suspended and churches still remain closed. However every crisis is an opportunity to do good. The ministers and collaborators of Mary Help of Christians Parish in Naigaon (East), of Palghar District in Maharashtra found innovative ways to sustain the faith of its families and laity and offered several opportunities for faith education during the Covid lockdown .

Catechesis is a process of leading others to explore the mystery of Christ. Blended learning for catechesis simply implies the blending of traditional instruction and educational technology to enhance the promoting of the Gospel and Gospel values. Faith Education leads to a transformation in our lives. Pope Benedict referred to the 'digital continent' in his 2009 message for the World Day of Communications. He said, “I ask you to introduce into the culture of this new environment of communications and information technology the values on which you have built your lives." That leads us to the question, “What would Jesus do?” Jesus who reads the hearts and minds of us all as He did when He walked the earth, would tell us to stay home for our own good and the good of our neighbour during the Pandemic.

Father Dominic Martis, the Parish Priest requested the parishioners to attend the online masses as recommended by Archbishop Felix Machado of the Diocese of Vasai. Here are a few snippets on the blended learning that has taken place: “A number of families in our parish have sustained their faith and have attended the online masses, read daily scriptures and reflected on them both in written and audio form. They are also listening to podcasts and apps on their Smartphone or Amazon Echo. This has led most parishioners to sustain their faith during this pandemic,” said Fr Martis, who along with Fr Fernandes, Assistant Parish Priest initiated a meeting of the catechism teachers and a brainstorming session on how to sustain the faith of the parish-children. Melba D’cunha Banz, Sunday School Coordinator currently pursuing a Certificate Course in Biomedical Ethics by the FIAMC is also involved in strategies for a blended approach to catechesis.

“The Covid 19 pandemic is challenging us in ways we could have never imagined and predicted just a few months ago, ranging from extraordinary family time to home schooling, to working remotely or not working at all. Today the only way forward to communicate is by converging technology, even when it comes to Catechism. As a Christian. The gift of social media & technology shouldn’t slow our faith in God; it should assist us to grow in our faith. Hence the Catechism teachers have now commenced using education technology to teach children and to grow in faith,” says Banz.

She discussed with her team of faith formators and chalked out a schedule of commencing the faith formation programme for the parish-children. The idea was not to tax the overburdened children who are already studying their school syllabus online.It has been a challenge for parents to keep their children happy at home for over six months with no games, no school and no interaction with other children that could lead them into sulky and depressing moods and hence the felt need to vent their feelings and emotions.

“It helps me deliver catechesis anytime, anywhere by offering adaptability and mobility whenever and wherever families choose to access it for their children. I can communicate instantly with families through robust and modern messaging toolsI can involve families to play a critical role in the success of their children’s education, and even more directly in faith formation by linking religious education to the home digitally,” says Theresa D’Souza who teaches Catechism to the First Holy Communicants.

The faith formation teachers discussed and created a Whatsapp group to interact with children and teach them creatively and thus keep them engaged. The catechism children of classes III and IV were given the book “Jesus the Prince of Peace - First Communion Catechism” published by TejPrasarini, Don Bosco Communications, Matunga-Mumbai. This book offers an easy introduction to the teaching of the Catholic faith. The Marian Collection by Father Peter Gonsalves sdb, was also forwarded to the children. Fr Fernandes is presently engaged in producing animated Bible action songs for catechism children to facilitate learning of catechism and this will be linked to the YouTube channel.

“We all enjoyed learning about our Catholic religion and getting to know more about Christ through the Google Forms. I highly appreciate the efforts taken by the respective teachers in putting these materials together. Learning has become fun and instils a lot of creativity to learn the faith. Treasure Joseph Gomes loves it; as he gets to learn about his religious beliefs and habits in-depth and at his own pace, and he can also view it later in his free time,” said Cyril Gomes, dad of Treasure Gomes. “It helps the Catechism teacher to engage and inspire today’s digital kids with captivating multimedia to illustrate faith concepts and partner with their parents and godparents,” adds Banz.

“Usually the celebration of the feast of the Nativity of Our Lady happens with great pomp every year. However, this year it was challenging for the catechists too, challenging, in terms of teaching children with the same enthusiasm. During the Novena days, we reflected on the life of Mother Mary, by sending small write ups, photos and intentions for the Rosary. The children brought out their best, made colourful cards, wrote essays for Mama Mary, and showed their love for her by offering these beautiful bouquets of prayers and sending them through the social media platforms." The cards and essays of the children in the form of videos, was appreciated by many parishioners and children.

“Asher gets to know more about God through new ways of teaching and he understands it better as it's shown along with pictures. He just enjoyed making the card on Mama Mary’s birthday. He wants to make a card for everyone's birthday now,” says ArvinaDa Costa, mother of Asher Da Costa (Class I). Anthony Dias who teaches Confirmation Students also uses social media to teach in an innovatively to impart Gospel values to his students. “The Google Forms as well as the PDF presentations are quite simple and understandable. I’m reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The essay contest was good and interesting. I have never written anything about Mother Mary before. It helped me to know and understand her better,” says Wesley Reddy of class XI, who is soon going to receive the sacrament of Confirmation.

Resilience in the midst of the storms in our life, also leads to deeper faith in God.This is, in itself a wonderful way of spreading the Gospel message during COVID times.