PRINCEVILLE, Illinois, OCT. 5, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Thanks to a French priest’s vision and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, hundreds of children are engaging in Eucharistic adoration and experiencing the real presence of Christ.
Father Antoine Thomas, 46, a priest of the Congregation of St. John, has been working in youth ministry for 15 years and began leading children’s holy hours more than 10 years ago.
Now he has started a program, Children of Hope, that helps others lead adoration for kids.
The priest, who came from Paris, shared with ZENIT how children can embrace and be enriched by spending time with the Blessed Sacrament in their schools and parishes, and what adults can do to encourage the practice particularly during the forthcoming Year of the Eucharist.
Q: Why is it important for kids to engage in Eucharistic adoration?
Father Thomas: Jesus said, “Let the children come to me”; I think we had better obey and bring him the children.
Pope John Paul II said back in 1996: “I urge priests, religious and lay people to continue and redouble their efforts to teach the younger generations the meaning and value of Eucharistic adoration and devotion. How will young people be able to know the Lord if they are not introduced to the mystery of his presence?
“[…] By learning the words of the prayer of the heart, they will be closer to the Lord, who will accompany them in their spiritual and human growth. … All interior life needs silence and intimacy with Christ in order to develop.
“This gradual familiarity with the Lord will enable certain young people to be involved … and to take a more active part in Mass; for young boys, to be near the altar is also a privileged opportunity to hear Christ’s call to follow him more radically in the priestly ministry.”
The Holy Father continues to stress this importance today.
What we learn as children will remain in us and help us to stay close to Jesus. Before young children have received their first holy Communion, Eucharistic adoration is a great way to help them receive Jesus in their heart through spiritual communion.
And afterward, it helps increase in them a desire for more frequent Communion. Hopefully during the teen years these same children will find in Jesus a best friend, strength and light. They also may be more disposed to hear and follow their vocation in life.
Q: What benefits have you seen from children spending time with our Eucharistic Lord?
Father Thomas: The children have a great excitement about being part of this kind of prayer group. They enjoy being at the feet of Jesus, resting under the loving gaze of he who is no longer hidden in the tabernacle. The children experience a pacification of body, mind and spirit.
They have a deeper desire to pray, are more attentive at Mass and have an unshakeable faith in the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
Q: How do you help kids understand adoration and get the most out of the experience? How do you keep them focused and engaged for an entire hour?
Father Thomas: None of us will ever fully understand this mystery. What we do with the children is to remind them of the love that Jesus has for all.
On the night before he died 2,000 years ago, driven by love and a desire for us not to forget, he chose this way, the Eucharist, to remain close to us in a more visible way. He chose this not out of necessity, but out of his infinite and merciful love.
They are reminded of the words of consecration and that Jesus gave this power to all priests. Once they realize they are spending time with Jesus they are thrilled to come each week; it is their time with him.
Parents are usually the ones who are worried at first about the children being bored. After attending a children’s holy hour, they are amazed at how fast the time goes by.
One 6-year-old boy remarked at the end of his first hour, “Can we stay a little while longer, Mommy? I am not through talking to Jesus.”
Another exclaimed, “I had the best talk with Jesus!”
Far from being bored, these little ones begin to feel that love which Jesus has for them. They come to understand they are important to him, and their prayers are heard and answered.
Here’s one example of the power of prayer of a child.
A 9-year-old boy came each week to pray for his sister, who was to be married outside of the Church. He asked his mother many times if his sister had come back to the Church yet.
After six months his sister called saying, “I have come to believe the Eucharist is really Jesus, and only the Catholic Church has this.” She went back to the sacraments and was married in the Church.
Then the little boy then began praying for his future brother-in-law to become a Catholic. Fourteen months later they got another call around Christmas. Guess who had started RCIA and became a Catholic last Easter? All due to the faith of a child and the power of prayer.
To keep them focused, we developed a simple format, leading the children through prayer, Scripture, silence and songs.
It is truly an introduction to a contemplative way of life. We are trying to teach them to live in a spirit of adoration all through out their day as Mary did. The format is only an aid, as the Holy Spirit is the true guide for the leader.
Q: What has the response been to this initiative? How many parishes, schools and children are participating?
Father Thomas: Sandy Rongish and I began working together in February of 2000. With the help of others we put together a kit to assist those seeking to start this in their own parish. We hoped to make it easy and understandable.
Now our program, “Children of Hope,” is spreading. In the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas, there are now six groups that meet weekly and several Catholic schools that now have adoration either weekly or monthly.
We are hearing this same thing from parishes all over the United States and other countries as well. With the number of materials we have sent out we can only guess that there are hundreds of groups out there now.
This response has been absolutely overwhelming. It is beyond any expectation I had 10 years ago when I first began to lead the children in France, at the request of some mothers. I didn’t plan this; God wanted it to happen.
He is making use of Sandy and me for the moment as little and very poor instruments to educate a whole new generation of children, not only to believe in the real presence of Jesus in the sacrament of the Eucharist, but to adore him as well with thanksgiving!
Q: What can parents, parishes and schools do to encourage kids to attend adoration regularly?
Father Thomas: Parents, first and foremost, must bring them before Jesus and adore with them regularly. Make time either before or after school for a visit. Arrive early for Mass to visit Our Lord in the tabernacle for a few minutes. Stay after Mass, praying in thanksgiving together.
Many schools have begun adoration in anticipation of the Year of the Eucharist which begins this Oct. 10. For schools, we recommend a shorter format. It works well to bring the children in groups each half-hour all day long until all have had a turn.
For the parish, we recommend one hour weekly adoration for children ages 5 to 12. Younger siblings are welcome as long as they are able to sit still and the parents remain to supervise them.
There are three other things we can recommend to encourage the children.
First, read and share with them the “Letter to Children” written by Pope John Paul II. In (it he shares his thoughts on the importance of the prayers of children for the world.
Second is the story of Fatima. When the angel first appeared to the three shepherd children he prostrated himself and said, “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love you. I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love you.” He told the children to pray this way because the hearts of Jesus and Mary were attentive to them. This helps the children to realize how important their prayers are.
Third, share with them the sixth day of the Divine Mercy Novena.
On this day, Our Lord told St. Faustina: “Today bring to me the meek and humble souls and the souls of little children, and immerse them in my mercy. These souls most closely resemble my heart. They strengthened me during my bitter agony. I saw them as earthly angels, who will keep vigil at my altars. I pour out upon them whole torrents of grace. I favor humble souls with my confidence.”
In these words we see how these children today fulfill this. They are the angels keeping vigil at his altar. Praised be Jesus Christ now and forever.