The hot weather has arrived – and I’ve been spending a hot afternoon in a South London office packing up books.
But I was very glad to be doing so. The books were copies of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and were going as prizes to children who had won them in the nationwide Religious Education Project run by the Association of Catholic Women. The Project is generously sponsored by the Catholic Truth Society.
The CTS was founded in the middle of the 19th century and is a thriving Catholic publishing organization. Its original idea was to produce small, cheap booklets explaining and defending aspects of the Catholic faith that were widely misunderstood in the rather anti-Catholic society of Victorian Britain. Society has changed, but the need to proclaim the truths of the Faith has not. The CTS now offers booklets, leaflets, DVDs, hardback and paperback books, and more. Its sponsorship of the Religious Education Project means that children in Catholic primary schools (ages 5-11) have had the opportunity to take part in a nationwide venture that brings the Faith alive for them.
This year’s project, “What I see in Church,” involved the children visiting their local church and choosing from a list of things that they must study and write about in detail: the tabernacle (and why do we genuflect?) the baptismal font, the Stations of the Cross, a statue of Mary, etc. Their essays went to a team of judges, and the three best in each age group will win a cash prize for the school, plus a trophy and personal book prizes for the children. In addition, there are a large number of prizes for the runners-up – hence my afternoon packing Compendium Catechisms – and every child taking part receives a holy picture.
Where possible, we arrange a visit from a member of the Association of Catholic Women or the CTS to a winning school to present the prizes. This is always delightful and enjoyable – a chance to engage with teachers and pupils to discuss religious education and ways in which it can be supported.
There are great challenges in teaching the Faith in modern Britain. Widespread family break-ups mean that every Catholic school has pupils who are undergoing the misery of a parental divorce. Confusion in catechetics over the past three or four decades means that many young people were not taught the Faith, and today it is not easy to find good teachers who are well-grounded in the truths of the Church and confident in passing these on. There is immense Government pressure on Catholic schools, which are routinely denounced as “elitist,” divisive, and unjust. But, as this year’s Schools RE Project has shown, there is much good work being done, and many children who are coming to know and love Christ, and feel at home in the Church He founded.