Diocesan News

Christ the King Program Participants ‘Reconnect’ With Faith During Pandemic

The Uwaechie family from Christ the King parish in Springfield Gardens grew in their faith during the last year of the pandemic. (Photo: Courtesy of Stella Uwaechie)

SPRINGFIELD GARDENS — One local parish’s faith formation program has supported and even strengthened faith journeys, a positive takeaway from the lengthy pandemic.

The 60 students enrolled in Christ the King’s faith formation program, as well as their parents and catechists, have become more immersed with their Catholic faith through both remote learning and in-person meetings.

[Related: New Catechist Ministry Shows Evangelization at Heart of Church, U.S. Leaders Say]

The primary goal was to provide parents, who are a student’s first teachers, with resources and key ideas, according to Robbin Johnson, director of Christ the King’s faith formation program. She explained that these resources could serve as springboards to help parents encourage their children along their faith journeys.

“Once the catechists, parents, and students felt comfortable with the new way of learning, everyone was on fire and ran with the curriculum,” Johnson said.

To ensure that the students keep up with their weekly lessons, the program’s seven catechists continue to go above and beyond — creating themed lesson plans, writing individual progress reports, and maintaining communication with parents throughout the year.

Students also participated in a program-wide rosary, Stations of the Cross during Lent, and celebrated Black History Month with class-led songs, plays, and speeches about influential African Americans.

“Robbin and the rest of the catechists have never given up through the out-of-classroom teaching and training,” said Father Gordon Kusi, pastor of Christ the King Church. “It hasn’t been easy this year, but by the grace of God they have done what they’re supposed to do.”

Odette Jones, who has been a Christ the King catechist for a decade, said the past year has been her best.

Jones admitted she wouldn’t have done additional research for in-person classes prior to the pandemic because they used and relied on workbooks. However, she says the move to remote learning has increased her own knowledge.

“I’m stronger in my faith,” Jones said, “and I know much more in all my years of being a Catholic and of being a catechist.”

Similarly, parent Rhonda Dieujuste said the pandemic forced her and other parents to be more involved in their children’s faith formation process.

“In all honesty, if COVID-19 did nothing more for our faith formation class, I think it forced us to reconnect with the things that we learned during our own faith formation,” she added.

Christ the King’s Faith Formation Director Robbin Johnson reviews students’ work on the Passion of Christ from catechist Odette Jones’ Communion I class. (Photo: Courtesy of Robbin Johnson)

Dieujuste has three kids enrolled in the program — a set of twins in first grade and a seventh-grader — who are preparing to receive the sacraments of communion and confirmation, respectively, next year. Together, they learned about the symbolism of religious objects, as well as the liturgical calendar.

“Because we’re not in church in person [due to health precautions], it encourages me to pay more attention to what my kids are getting out of the Mass, what parts stick out for them, and trying to figure out why those parts stuck out to them,” Dieujuste said.

A popular assignment Jones gave her 17 first- and second-graders included completing an ‘I Spy’ homework. Students had to find and identify 20 things that can be seen inside a church and list their meanings.

Stella Uwaechie said the “I Spy” homework particularly helped her children Audrey, Tiffany, and Bryan (ages 10, 8, and 5 respectively) recognize and better understand significant church objects.

“It’s not just reading about them, but actually seeing those things and being able to point their fingers like, ‘Oh, this is actually what she’s trying to talk about — this is the host, this is the bread before it becomes the body of Christ,’ ” Uwaechie explained.

“Even when we got little projects, I was more excited than the kids because I could see various ways that they could show their own creativity and join that into the religious aspects of their lives,” Dieujuste added. “It was definitely a fun experience for me and for them.”

Parent Ashlyn Hyacinthe, whose eighth-grade daughter received confirmation on May 13 at the nearby St. Mary Magdalene Church, commended the catechists and Johnson for offering a well-coordinated program despite remote circumstances.

“I think it’s absolutely excellent. I’m pushing my daughter, now that she is confirmed, to maybe help with teaching the upcoming class of next year’s kids,” Hyacinthe said. “Anything to keep her involved in the parish and to make sure she’s always grounded in her faith.”

Encouraged by the positive reactions she has received from students and parents over the past year, Johnson hopes to keep the momentum going.

“Our catechists went beyond their calling to share their gifts [while] consistently providing a safe, compassionate learning environment for our children,” Johnson said. “Christ the King’s Faith Formation Program continues to be the ‘light’ to our families.”