2004/8 No.321

gLet us create a Church Culture that will provide a living Faith Formation for childrenh o ‘å’ËŽi‹³‚Ì–äÍà–¾
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Kyo.Prot.N.70/2004

Bishopfs Pastoral Letter (English translation)

gLet us create a Church Culture that will provide a living Faith Formation for childrenh

Reflecting on the Episcopal visitation to each Block in 2003

                                        Feast of Sts.Peter and Paul  29th June 2004

                                                  Paul Y.Otsuka, Bishop of Kyoto

Introduction

   The Faith Formation of children and young people is extremely important in order to pass on our Catholic faith to the next generation.  Last year (2003) in Kyoto diocese we chose the theme g Faith Development of Childrenh as a practical way of putting our efforts into gExperiencing a Community of Faithh.

   During the Pastoral Visitation of the Collaborative Ministry for Mission Blocks, we reflected on the actual situation in regard to the Faith Formation of children in the parishes, and thought about ways of working together on the Block level to provide Faith Formation in the light of Collaborative Ministry for Mission.  In conversations with the parents of elementary school children I heard at first hand their worries and anxieties, as well as many opinions and requests, and all this brought home to me very clearly the Churchfs responsibility.   The parish community should adopt a new awareness and attitude, and deal with the Faith Formation of children as a matter affecting everybody in the community.  By making greater efforts to seek a solution and provide the children with a substantial formation in the Faith, the parish community will find in the various steps of Collaborative Ministry for Mission a sure way ahead.

   In this pastoral letter I will be quoting from materials collected and arranged by the Faith Formation committeefs Church School section, based on last yearfs Pastoral visitation and questionnaire.  I am very grateful to all who cooperated in this.

   I offer this Pastoral Letter to you in the hope that it may be a source of reference for people in parishes and Blocks to discover points of contact and ways of cooperating with one another in the ministry of Faith Formation.

 

1. Forming people who can make choices for life  

   When dealing with the Faith Formation of children we need to examine the type of content and methods used in communicating the Catholic Faith to them, but I really feel that above all what we need most is a Vision that asks in regard to children living in this modern age, gwhat sort of Christians do we want them to become.h  I believe that an indispensable element in such a Vision would be gto become free human beings, able to make choices for life, before Godh.  That is because Faith is the human answer to Godfs loving call.  If too much attention is given to treating Faith Formation as a kind of religious training, or to memorizing prayers, going to Mass, mastering the Catechism and obeying ethical rules, it can hinder the much more important experience of communion of heart with God.  It would also run the risk of teaching the children a merely formalistic type of faith.  When that happens, true freedom does not develop and people cannot express the joy that could invigorate them. 

   Faith Formation helps everyone who has received the gift of Faith to choose to believe for themselves, by the power of Godfs Holy Spirit , and by onefs own free will before God to choose love as a way of living.  In a certain sense, Faith Formation could be called human education. People today are flooded with information and surrounded by a multiplicity of values.  If we do not choose anything or do not reject anything we can never become free people.  Life is a series of choices.  An attitude based on universal values that chooses life and enables children to respond voluntarily and not in any kind of forced way to the invitation of love received from God, this will be the type of education that offers children today the power they need for living.

 

2. Issues that emerged in sharing at the Block visitations

   I would like now to present what was expressed in some of the sharing at the Pastoral visitation of Blocks in 2003.  First of all, in regard to how people see the problem of gchildren not coming to Churchh, it can be classified according to the following gtypesh.  * Optimistic type: the reason gwhy children do not come to Churchh cannot be explained but we can wait and see how things will turn out.  * Trouble type: we made the children go to Church but because of various circumstances it did not work and we are very distressed.  *Responsibility type: we realize keenly our failure as believers to influence our childrenfs faith.  *Anxiety type: until the present, things have been going smoothly but we are worried about what might happen from now on.  *Conversion type: We should face this issue seriously as Church, and tackle it together as a community.

   Among adults themselves I noticed a certain vagueness concerning gliving onefs own faithh and ggoing to Church.h  When such is the case one can understand how some of the younger parents have difficulties in the Trouble and Responsibility gtypesh when it comes to gpassing on the faith to the children.h  Those complications are expressed in the following opinions.  * Alienation type: when I brought my child to the Church I worried as a parent whether the Church community would accept us.  *Anxiety type: my child goes to Church but I worry about how she will be treated in the community.  *Dissatisfaction type: I cannot prevent my child from staying away from Church because there is no Faith Formation program there for the children, especially for Junior High School children.  *Conversion type: first of all the adults have to live lives of faith more in line with Christfs teaching. 

   The parentsf review of Faith Formation can be described by the following gtypesh:  * Responsibility type: as parents they feel the responsibility of supporting the Faith of their children but they need the help of the Church.  *Self-examination type: not having appropriated the Faith themselves yet as parents, they were unable to communicate the gjoy of Faithh.  *Trouble type: even though the family environment makes it difficult to share the Faith with the children they want to pass it on.  *Optimistic type: the children naturally have a kind of sensitivity to being led by God, so there is no need to worry.

 

3. The Actual State of Sunday Schools            

   Next we will take a look at what kind of changes are taking place in the Sunday Schools. We will present now what the hardworking leaders in our Sunday Schools are thinking and hoping for.  * A change of atmosphere: the number of children has decreased and the conditions of society that surround them are changing so rapidly that the Churchfs response seems out of date.  *The leadersf own circumstances: most of the leaders now are parents themselves. There is a need for greater cooperation between leaders on the Collaborative Ministry for Mission gBlockh level so as to avoid the feeling of isolation.  They are being pulled in so many directions that it is nearly impossible to concentrate on the task of Faith Formation.  *Experience of fulfillment: they can learn with their children about Godfs Word and are empowered by the sparkle and brightness of the children.  * Conditions for Training: there is always a danger of Sunday School activities slipping into haphazard ways, so the Training Sessions for leaders are opportunities to look closely at their own Faith, and to be healed and encouraged.  *Anxiety and future tasks: shortage of priests and religious, decrease in Parentsf awareness, shortage of skills and ideas.

   The hopes of the teachers, leaders and parents in these conditions is described as follows: Friendly surroundings type: a Church where the children feel part of the community.  They want a place where Faith values can be shared by children of the same age.  Faith Experience type: to be part of a Church where Faith experiences are shared.  They hope for a community where priests, religious and lay people are united in spiritual fellowship, and where children can discover the way to live.  *A Church where people learn to live the Mass rather than merely attend Mass.  We need to revise our idea of ggoing to Churchh and our grelationship with the Massh.

 

4. The two elements of Faith Formation: Learning and Practice     

   The Church proclaims the Gospel of Christ, has received the mission to confer Baptism and from the earliest times has baptized not only adults but also infants.  The ginfanth referred to in Infant Baptism has not yet reached the age of discernment and cannot express that Faith as its own.  Because the Baptism that the children receive is the basis for Christian Formation, there are two indispensable elements involved.  The first involves gradual instruction about Godfs plan of salvation as revealed in Christ, which will be adapted to the childrenfs stage of growth, and the second is leading them to the stage of being able to consent personally to the Faith of the Church.  That is the goal of Faith Education.  It involves teaching children about God, how to recognize Godfs love and be able to assume by themselves the power of being able to respond to it.  This corresponds to the principle of Faith.  In other words, it is the principle that the more a person becomes aware of Godfs call, the more they can walk along the way of Faith in response to it.  When this is applied to the ongoing formation of adult believers, it is called gthe study of Faithh and gthe practice of faithh.  A person makes progress by the blending of the two elements.  Learning the Faith does not just mean mastering doctrines and acquiring knowledge, it points rather to a personal experience of listening to Godfs voice in a daily life of prayer which is nourished by Godfs Word.  This experience takes place as a matter of course when a person with free will seeks answers, and it will eventually be brought to completion. (Jas.1:23 &2:14).

 

5. Living the Faith and announcing the creation of a Church Culture    

   Reconfirming our important mission to pass our Faith to the next generation presents us with the task of creating a new Church Culture that will live the Faith and hand it on.  This applies to the Faith Formation of children as well as to the ongoing Formation of adult believers.  The object of Christian living is not just the handing on of Faith. The actual living of it to the full is what really constitutes the living tradition.  

   In the ceremony for Infant Baptism the priest says in the introduction to the gOur Fatherh: gThis child has become a child of God.  One day this child will receive Confirmation and take part in the Lordfs Supper at this altar, and in the midst of
Godfs people will call God eFather.f  Let us, today, on behalf of the child, recite this prayer that has been taught to us by the Lord himselfh.  The child receives Baptism in the Churchfs Faith, which is proclaimed by the parents, godparents and everyone present.  Accordingly, the child is baptized into the Faith of the Church and for the meaning of the sacrament to be make real must be brought up in that same Faith. Such Faith embraces everything to do with the living Christian community.  It does not mean that only the priest, Sunday School teachers and parents undertake the responsibility for the childfs Faith Formation.  What is being questioned now is the low level of awareness in regard to the Church communityfs way of dealing with childrenfs Faith Formation and the attitude of gleaving it up to someone elseh.  Accordingly, the goal of Collaborative Ministry for Mission is to gbecome an evangelizing communityh, and the steps involved in this are precisely what can be called the basis of Faith Formation.  In future, it will not be said that children were taught the Faith only by religious and Sunday School teachers.  I would like them to have memories of having been taught by the whole adult membership of the Church.  In this way the children will see and understand the Faith as something being glearnedh and gpracticedh in the lives of the older believers, including their parents.  In the Church inJapan I think this is what we will be able to call gthe Creation of a new Church Cultureh.

 

6. All the children are children of the Church community   

  I would like to emphasize that even if a family no longer has children in the Sunday school, they might look on all the children coming to the Church as belonging to their community and reaffirm that they too have a responsibility, in solidarity with the parents, for those childrenfs Faith Formation.  I would also add that in order to hcreate a new Church Cultureh a special effort should be made by the whole community, to understand and give support to parents and children from homes where not everyone is Catholic as well as to the families of non-Japanese members.

   Another problem that came up again in the sharing at the Block meetings was one that is peculiar to Japan, namely the difficulty of living the Faith in homes of mixed religion.  When one of the parents is not a Catholic, many problems arise, such as, how often they can go to Mass, Baptism of the children, relations with the Church etc. Trying to provide Faith Formation in such homes can be a very lonely task indeed.  These problems as well as the Faith Formation of the children need to be understood and taken up by the whole Church community.


@ The Church in Japan continues its efforts to build a multicultural Church community and this is a big challenge.  Many of the non-Japanese residents come from Catholic countries, and here in the non-Catholic society of Japan, where they are unable to bring up their children in the Faith like in their own countries, they find themselves very bewildered and facing many difficulties.  On top of that, there are those who are married to non-Baptized Japanese, with the added difficulties of communication in the Japanese language, who like the people mentioned above can often feel very helpless and alone.  I think we must make renewed efforts and seek practical ways to deepen the fellowship among believers through compassion and understanding, sharing more together about our Faith problems.

 

7. Ways of gOffering Mass together with childrenh

   The Liturgy itself effectively provides education for children as well as adults.  There is really no such thing as a gChildrenfs Massh.  What takes place is goffering Mass with the childrenh.  Therefore, at all Masses, including the ordinary parish Sunday Mass, we must take care that the children do not feel ignored or left out during Mass.  For instance, even when the language of the ceremony or the Scripture message may be very difficult to understand, children will easily pick up the essential elements of the Liturgy, like greetings, silence, praise in common, and especially singing together.  For certain parts of the Mass, the celebrant could speak in a simple way to the children, or the children themselves could provide some accompaniment for hymns, do the Readings, take part in the Offertory etc.  Please try, by all means, to devise ways whereby the children will become aware that they too are taking part in the Liturgy.  In that way the children will learn experientially that in the Christian community everybody has a task to do.

 

8. Joy and Pride in being a Catholic believer  

   In Japan, Catholics are a minority and belief itself is often held in doubt by a society that is becoming ever more secular.  This is where our children are going to grow up and we adults have a tremendous responsibility to guide them in a way that they can regard their Christian Faith as something joyful that they can feel proud of, and not as a burden or something to be ashamed of.  The teaching of Christ is not a disagreeable duty or a heavy burden to be carried out.  gMy yoke is lighth Christ said (Matt.11:30).  It is the Glad Tidings gGospelh announced in Mark1:15.  If the childrenfs Faith Education makes them feel fearful or repressed, they are likely to react negatively on reaching puberty.  On the other hand, if they realize that for their parents, being a Christian believer is seen as the most precious thing of all, and that Faith is their parentsf source of joy, peace, forgiveness, compassion and kindness, and the source of all their love for their children, if the children can sense this naturally in daily life, as well as realizing that their parents wanted the marvelous gift of Baptism for them as early as possible in life followed by a good Faith Formation, then they will most likely be able to accept all this with gratitude.

 

9. A word of Thanks 

   When I was going around on visitation last year I really felt gratified on seeing so many lay people, religious and priests engaged with such devotion in Faith Education, serving in the Sunday Schools.  I marveled at how much they love the children of the parishes they serve, and how they struggle with hardships and failures and the lack of understanding from parish communities.  I also felt the joy they experience on seeing the childrenfs growth, and when the whole parish is cooperative and supportive.  I want to express my deep gratitude once again.  I will make every effort from now on, especially through the activities of the Diocesan Committee for Faith Formation, to respond to the needs of your ministry.

   Even when the truth of Godfs love is growing in the hearts of children through Baptism, the world of adults is often moving against it.  Modern society with its pursuit of material affluence, suffering from the paralysis of living without love, is where our children are going to be sent.  Providing them with a good Faith Formation is not something we do for the Church but for the children themselves.  Let us move ahead earnestly as Parents, teachers, communities of the Collaborative Ministry for Mission Blocks, pooling all our resources of wisdom and strength, and cooperating together, to develop the Faith of the children who will take upon their shoulders the society of tomorrow.

 


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