Helping Catholic Kids Learn with Head and Heart

When Pope John Paul II released the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Catechesi Tradendae in 1979, it was intended to emphasize the importance of catechesis, especially for youth and young adults. Originally begun by Pope Paul VI, then continued by the short-lived Pope John Paul I, Catechesi Tradendae reflected discussions by committees of the Fourth General Assembly of Bishops, which had as its theme “Catechesis In Our Time.” It explained that while doctrine is important, there must also be a focus on prayer and on deepening our relationship with Christ.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, promulgated in 1992, reflected the importance of both catechesis (teaching doctrine) and evangelization (leading people to Christ). It focused on the Church’s “Four Pillars” of Creed, Prayer, Sacraments and Morality.

In 2011 the YOUCAT, the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church, was released under the direction of Cardinal Cristoph Schönborn. With its companion materials including the YOUCAT Bible, the YOUCAT brought the ideas delineated in the Catechism to a level appropriate for high school and junior high school students.

And now, Ignatius Press has just released the YOUCAT for Kids – a resource that gives parents a starting point to help their younger children learn about the Catholic faith. Recommended for children ages 8-12, the YOUCAT for Kids is packed with cheerful pictures, kid-friendly language and thought-provoking questions. It is organized to focus on the Four Pillars as delineated by the Catechism. YOUCAT for Kids makes searching for answers easy, incorporating an index of keywords as well as indices of Bible passages and names.

Pope Francis, in his introduction to the YOUCAT for Kids, offers encouragement to moms and dads who want to impart the faith to their children. “Dear parents,” he writes,

“…keep this catechism on hand and find the time to look at it with your children – page by page, mystery of the faith by mystery of the faith, question by question. Help your children to discover the love of Jesus!”

The Register talked recently with Mark Brumley, president and CEO of Ignatius Press, regarding the YOUCAT for Kids. Brumley explained that the book provides simple answers to questions children may have – but it encourages the reader to probe more deeply. Simple stick-figure illustrations will capture the attention of little readers. At the same time, texts in colorful boxes at the bottom of each page offer interesting facts as well as quotes from famous Catholics, past and present. Its longer explanations may prove informative to parents and grandparents who read the book to small children, as well as to the kids for whom the book is intended.

The smaller-print boxes, Brumley explained, are intended to draw in adults – parents, grandparents or religious educators – who might be presenting the material to the kids. “It’s no secret,” Brumley noted,

…that often the parents themselves need to be evangelized and catechized. Many parents grew up in a generation that didn’t get solid Catholic teaching. YOUCAT for Kids can help to evangelize and catechize children at an early age…. The two approaches [evangelization and catechesis] are not identical, but they are not totally separate from one another.

YOUCAT for Kids has a dual goal. It helps kids and young people to achieve a better grasp or knowledge of the faith, but also to get to know Jesus better and to deepen their personal relationship with Him.

In comparing YOUCAT for Kids with its older counterpart, the YOUCAT, Brumley noted one other unique feature of the YOUCAT for Kids: There is more use of traditional religious art, in addition to the contemporary figures of young people. Often, he says, children are not exposed to classical Catholic art and later, when they encounter it as adults, they don’t understand its deeper meaning. The YOUCAT for Kids incorporates works by Rembrandt, Fra Angelico, Gaudenzio Ferrari and other Renaissance artists. “If you help kids to appreciate the art when they are little,” he explained, “then later on, they will have a deeper appreciation for their work.”

In marketing the YOUCAT, Ignatius Press is working with schools and religious education programs. Brumley reported that many schools have purchased 400 books for their students; and YOUCAT has become a regular feature for many parish youth ministry programs for junior and senior high school students. Many parents, including home school educators, have YOUCAT in their homes and refer to it each week. The book has become a popular gift for Confirmation, graduation or other special occasions.

Brumley recalled that in the ’80s and ’90s, there were those who reacted against what they perceived as an over-emphasis before the Second Vatican Council on the cognitive dimension of religious education. Whether or not the “over-emphasis” on memorization and doctrine was true, some sought to develop a program of religious education that was affective, experiential, emotional. Those critics believed that by setting aside doctrine and focusing instead on a relationship with Christ, they could advance the faith.

So in the 1990s, the Church gave us the Catechism of the Catholic Church which brought together the two dimensions of religious education, the cognitive and the experiential. However, Brumley noted, not all religious educators embraced the Catechism when it was first released. “Only in the last 10 years,” Brumley reported, “have we begun to see a turnaround among catechists, who have begun to use the Catechism effectively.” He cited many organizations and programs – the Augustine Institute, Ascension Press, Bishop Barron’s Word On Fire, Matthew Kelly’s Dynamic Catholic, and others – which today offer educational programs which both inform and evangelize. “But we are playing catch-up in a lot of ways,” Brumley says. YOUCAT and YOUCAT for Kids are an important part of this process – reaching people at an earlier age, so that in 20 or 30 years when they are raising their own families, they will be strong in the faith and able to impart that faith to future generations.

Asked what he’d like people to understand as the YOUCAT for Kids and other texts reach a wider audience, Brumley expressed his hope that there will be a powerful outcome. “I want them,” he said,

“…to take away the idea that there is an opportunity for the next generation, but that the solution isn’t simplistic. It is not just a matter of [traditionalists] saying, ‘We need to go back to the Baltimore Catechism,’ nor [liberal Catholics] saying ‘We need to have prayer services with kids sitting around a candle holding hands.’”

Brumley insisted that both dimensions – the interpersonal, but also the cognitive, achieved through presentation of content and doctrine – are necessary for proper formation in the faith. YOUCAT for Kids is an important element of that robust project.

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