Friday, March 11, 2011

Praying the Stations of the Cross with Kids

I wrote this article in 2009 for 4Marks, the social networking site for Catholics. Unfortunately, 4Marks recently closed. This was one of my most popular articles on that website; it was even translated into Italian by a man from Naples so he could share it with his friends! I have updated it and will re-post it in two parts.

One of my favorite things about Lent is the Way of the Cross (Stations of the Cross) devotion. I look forward to each Friday and the chance to delve more deeply into the passion, death and joyous resurrection of our Lord. But with a young child in tow, I feel lucky if I am able to say even one repetition of “Because by thy Holy Cross thou hast redeemed the world.” My daughter is usually bored by the second station. Her “hide and seek” game between the pews is not conducive to deep prayer for me or the other poor souls who had the misfortune of sitting by us.

So I came up with a new strategy that would allow me to attend the Stations of the Cross and still maintain a somewhat peaceful, prayerful atmosphere for everyone around us. I know that other parents face this dilemma, too, so I thought I would share some of my time-tested techniques.

1. Attend “child-friendly” versions of the Stations of the Cross.

Some churches offer afternoon sessions for children. Although the basic story of Jesus’ passion does not change, the wording, music and prayers are designed to appeal to children. Our parish’s school children attend the devotion on Friday afternoons. My daughter, who wants to be “like the big kids in school,” tends to behave better at these devotions. So check with a parish that has a Catholic School and find out when the children attend. The other benefit is that your child will be more aware and less crabby (hopefully), than she would be attending an evening devotion.

2. Make a tour of local churches

If your child is not overly-stimulated by new environments, consider attending a different church each week for the Stations devotion. Sometimes a new environment will keep a child entertained for at least half of the devotion time. I especially like to attend the Stations at older, more traditional churches. My daughter loves checking out the statues, stained glass windows, beautiful altar and other artwork. If she is good, she can help me light a votive candle by a statue of her choice after the Stations devotion is over.

If you live near a larger city, you may find a church that offers a “Living Way of the Cross” procession, marching through neighborhoods and to various churches while praying the devotion and using costumed individuals to re-enact Jesus’ passion and death.. For example, in Chicago there are several processions held in the Little Village neighborhood, and one in downtown Chicago. Check with your diocese or archdiocese to find out which parishes offer outdoor processions. Then plan to attend -- it is a wonderful experience for children and adults.

3. Do a Stations of the Cross Walk Through Your Neighborhood.

If you live too far from a large city and your own parish does not offer an outdoor procession, consider taking a Stations of the Cross walk throughout your neighborhood. This article, published on the St. Anthony Messenger website, describes how you can use common things around your neighborhood to reflect on the messages inherent in each station.

4. Attend an outdoor Way of the Cross devotion.

Another option is to find a parish that has an outdoor “Way of the Cross” path or garden. Physically walking  the path or garden, which may use statues or shrines to mark each station, will help retain your child’s attention. You could walk the stations with your parish or alone as a family. Doing it as a family gives you the flexibility to tailor the prayers and length of each station to your child’s attention span.

When I was young, my cousins and I walked the Way of the Cross outdoor path in New Ulm, Minnesota. We did this independently without parent prompting or attendance. Granted, we didn’t spend 10 minutes in deep meditation at each station. In fact, we often just stopped for a few minutes and said a quick “Our Father” before racing to the next station Yet, despite our lack of deep prayer, we still reminisce about walking the Way of the Cross path!

Here is a link to the Way of the Cross path that we walked as children: New Ulm, Minnesota Way of the Cross

This website lists some of the outdoor Stations of the Cross gardens and paths in the world:

Waymark: Way of the Cross
5. Create your own Stations of the Cross devotional area.

By doing this, you can pray the stations whenever the mood strikes you, or when your child seems most receptive. Your devotional area could be indoors (for example, a long hallway in your home); or outdoors, (for example, a plot of garden that you have turned into a prayer path). Your devotional area could be as simple as mounted prints on an blank wall or as elaborate as little shrines strategically placed throughout your yard. Creating an outdoor Stations of the Cross path might be a fun family project for the summer.

I once read about a children's home in a third world country that developed its own stations of the cross. I was struck by its simple beauty. They made little crosses out of branches and positioned them throughout a field. The children then carried a statue of Jesus from station to station while meditating on the passion and death or Jesus.  Simple often resonates the deepest with children!

My next post will include more tips and techniques. Please check back!

1 comment:

  1. love the stations of the cross...trying to find ways for my new catholics to enjoy lent more (four being baptised this easter!)