IMAGE: CNS composite; photo courtesy the Canavan and Murawski families via The Catholic Spirit
By Joanne Ward
METUCHEN, N.J. (CNS) — May is the month many eagerly await because it is the time many children receive first holy Communion. Sadly, this year the coronavirus has made pastors postpone this momentous milestone in the spiritual lives of waiting first communicants.
Not wanting her young students to think they have been forgotten, Coleen D’Amato, who has been preparing her 78 boys and girls to receive Jesus into their hearts sacramentally, decided to talk to them via social media.
In a heartwarming message to the children, D’Amato, who has served for the past three years as parish catechetical leader at Immaculate Conception Parish in Annandale, New Jersey, told her class: “I know that you have waited and longed to receive our Lord’s Most Precious Body and Most Precious Blood in the holy Eucharist and you will.”
She acknowledged they had done a lot of preparation for the sacrament and many parents had planned parties and family get-togethers for their special day, but now everything was put on hold because of the coronavirus.
Continuing, D’Amato said, “Sometimes it’s hard to wait for something we really want, but you are going to have to be patient.” She then posed a question, “Being patient can be hard, can’t it?”
“I struggle with that, too,” she added.
Having gotten the attention of her boys and girls, D’Amato then told them, “The good news is as much as you’re waiting to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, Jesus can’t wait to meet you there either.” She said that while they are waiting they should pray to Jesus and ask him to help them be patient.
The catechist then went on to give the children some challenges. She had sent their parents links to pictures of chalices and hosts.
“Pick the one you like best and color it as best as you can, cut it out and hang it on your bedroom window,” she instructed. “When you wake up each morning and see your picture, I want you to say a special prayer to Jesus, and each night before you go to bed, I want you to say that prayer again,” she added. D’Amato had sent the prayer to the parents.
“Jesus, I trust you and I will be patient while I wait to receive you in first holy Communion. Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I adore you. Jesus, I trust you. Amen,” was the prayer D’Amato wrote for the children to keep by their bedside and say daily.
She said she had colored a picture of a host and chalice and showed them where it was on a window in her home office. “Every time I come in here, it reminds me to pray for you,” she said.
Speaking again about her challenges to them, D’Amato asked the children to send her a picture of their artwork, telling them if they wanted, they could be in the picture. She said she planned on doing something special with the artwork and would share it with them the next time they were together. She ended her special message saying, “Be patient, know that Jesus loves you, know that we all miss you at church, and we’ll see you soon to celebrate. God bless.”
Asked how she decided to send her special message, D’Amato said once parishes were closed and public Masses and events canceled, she began thinking about her students who were to receive sacraments this year.
“One of the blessings of parish catechetical leaders is that we are always happy to share our ideas with each other,” she told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.
She explained that her message for her Facebook post and prayer “was a compilation of ideas” gleaned from other parish catechetical leaders, and email discussions with Carol Mascola, director of the Metuchen diocesan Office of Discipleship Foundation for Children, “as well as through various national and international faith formation and youth ministry groups on Facebook.”
“I put all of the ideas together,” she added, “and shaped them into what I wanted to get across to my own first communicants, through my own personality and my own personal relationship with Christ.”
A catechist for more than 20 years, D’Amato noted that in addition to talking to her first Communion class, she hoped to evangelize their families as well as others who might see her message, which she shared on her personal Facebook page and was posted on her parish’s and even the diocesan Facebook pages. She wanted people to know they were loved. The response was unexpected.
“I was surprised by how much I touched people that were not getting ready to receive communion for the first time,” she said. “Many told me ‘I really miss Jesus. I really miss receiving Jesus in the Eucharist.'”
“I, too, really miss receiving Jesus, and I think that’s true for all of us that are Catholic,” stated D’Amato.
From the reaction she has received to her heartfelt message viewed by far more than just her first Communicants, it seems that once parishes are opened and the faithful return to Mass, many may receive Jesus as if it were their first time, too.
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Ward writes for The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.
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