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Saturday school helps reconnect with church

  • August 27, 2007
TORONTO - The last place you might expect to find school-aged children on a Saturday morning would be, well, at school. But at St. Andrew’s Catholic School in Toronto, 150 children, youth and parents attended sacramental preparation classes every Saturday morning for nine months last year.
The St. Andrew’s “Saturday School” program, founded by Fr. Carlos Sierra, pastor of St. Andrew’s Church, began in September 2006 and will run again this year from September to May. The program prepares young people to receive the sacraments of Baptism, Communion and Confirmation while giving parents an opportunity to be involved in their children’s religious education.

Although sacramental preparation is a mandated part of the Catholic schools’ religious education curriculum, Sierra says that the Saturday school program is preparing for the future.

“We believe there is a chance that some day the Catholic (school) board may no longer exist. If that happens, it will be difficult to run (sacramental preparation) programs in public schools,” said Sierra.

“If it does not happen, whether we have the (Catholic) schools or not, the sacraments belong to the church.... By running the Saturday school program, we can enter into the training, teaching, practice and demonstration of the sacraments from the church’s point of view.”

The program also welcomes children and youth from non-Catholic schools and adults who wish to receive the three sacraments. Many children who do not attend Catholic schools don’t have access to sacramental preparation courses. In some cases, there are children in Catholic schools who have immigrated to Canada but have not received the same sacraments as their peers because of differing practices between their native countries and Canada, said Sierra.  

Sierra hopes Saturday school will reinforce the relationship between church, school and family.

“We believe that there is a triple composition of the administration of the sacraments: the integration of schools, family and church. In order to be transmitters of faith to the children, we need to act together,” he said.

The program also aims to foster future investment in the Catholic school boards, especially since enrolment in Catholic schools in the GTA is declining.

The vision of St. Andrew’s Church is to be a missionary parish, said Sierra.

“Because of the context of the world in which we live, which is a context of non-Christianity, we have to make our parish known and attractive. ”

Sierra believes the archdiocese of Toronto should be concerned with missionary work because of its multireligious population. He is hoping to set up religious education programs in some of the 37 high-rise buildings that surround his parish.

“This would free the parents for the morning to do their activities or go to work while we are taking care of the children,” said Sierra, adding that such a program could also help to reduce youth crime in at-risk neighbourhoods.  

The classes run for about three hours a week and are taught by catechists and supervised by parish priests.

“We priests try to share with the students. We try to always be there for activities and to supervise,” said Sierra.

To register for classes beginning in September, contact St. Andrew’s Church at (416) 749-4391 before the end of August.

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