Engaging your Children in the Way of the Cross Devotion
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. http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/mar2001/feature2.asp
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 through 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’s the Way of the Cross path that we walked as children: http://www.dnu.org/shrines/wayofcross/index.html
This website lists some of the outdoor Stations of the Cross gardens and paths in the world:
(Incidentally, I am developing a list of locations that have outdoor Way of the Cross gardens and paths. If you know of any, please email me!)
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.
This link describes a Stations of the Cross observance done at a children’s home. In reading it, I was struck by its simple beauty. It could certainly be adapted for personal use at home or in your yard. Little wooden crosses are positioned throughout a field for each station. The children carry a statue of Jesus from station to station:
6. Make a game of it. I know that some people might not agree with this concept. It certainly isn’t right for every family. But I find that it works well with my daughter, who always needs to move a lot in order to absorb and understand things. I’ve set down some rules, however, to ensure that the game doesn’t become too boisterous and detract from the prayerful experience of the stations.
I purchased a beautiful set of prints from a Catholic bookstore. I put each print in different places around our house, then give my children hints on where they can find them. They must walk to the hinted location. When we have found the print, we discuss what we see in it, and what it means to us. Then we say an “Our Father,” after which each child makes up a short prayer about the station. Sometimes we might sing a song, too. I will then give them a hint about the next location, and we will walk there and repeat the process. We do this as long as I can keep their attention. Some days we might only do four stations; other days we might be very lucky and do all fourteen!
Another family prays the stations of the cross by filling a shoebox with small items that represent each station. The children then take turns taking the appropriate item out of the box before the station’s prayers are said. This link describes the items they use:
Others may opt to use the Resurrection Eggs, a set of 12 plastic eggs that contain little items symbolizing Jesus’ passion and death. These are available from many Christian booksellers and Amazon.com.
7. Use a candelabra while praying the Stations. Some families have successfully kept their child’s attention by using a candelabra. The devotion is done in a room illuminated only by 14 candles. A simple meditation or prayer is done for each station, after which a child extinguishes a candle. (Children love doing this!) The room is completely dark after the last station. This clever use of candles, light and darkness creates a lasting impression on children and adults!
These blogs and websites describe this unique approach:
8. Break it up and do only a couple of stations each day. Although it is best to pray all the stations in one sitting, this may not be realistic with young children. Instead, consider saying one or two stations each day. It could become part of your evening prayer time. You will then cover all station in about a week. By breaking the devotion into smaller pieces, your children will retain more, too.
9. Do the online Stations with your children. Here is one way you can use technology to build your child’s faith! There are many online sites that offer virtual stations of the cross. Here are two that I have used with my children:
This website shows photos of the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem:
10. Provide things for your children to do during parish devotions. You can still occasionally attend the traditional Stations devotion at your parish with your young children. Just try to be flexible and realize that you may not be able to stay for all fourteen stations. When I need to take my children with me, I bring a small cloth bag filled with appropriate and quiet things to keep them busy. My bag includes a Stations of the Cross coloring book and books. Here are some resources:
This link provides a printable coloring book of the Stations of the Cross
Here’s a downloadable book on Stations of the Cross:
Hope those hints help you this Lenten season.
Copyright 2009 Cheryl Schroeder Basile
Cheryl Schroeder Basile lives with her husband Jim and two children in western suburban Chicago. She is a certified catechist for the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program. After 25 years of writing and editing for the secular world, she heard God’s call to use her skills and knowledge to serve Him. The Holy Spirit led her to launch the “Diary of a Sower” blog in March 2009. In the blog, she uses her catechist training to help parents “cultivate rich soil” in their children’s souls. The blog can be found at http://diary-of-a-sower.blogspot.com/