John Schneider, teacher at the Waterloo Catholic District School Board who was key in dreaming up this project, chats with students. Photo courtesy Diocese of Hamilton and Waterloo Catholic District School Board

The cathedral through a child’s (virtual) eyes

By  Anne Jamieson, Director, Catechesis Office, Hamilton
  • September 6, 2019

They came for a remarkable project ….

These words mark the opening of the a video, “A Child’s View of the Cathedral,” a joint project of the Waterloo Catholic District School Board and the Diocese of Hamilton. This collaboration of school and diocese came from the vision of educators at the Waterloo Catholic board, which presented their classroom-created, virtual-reality parish tour last October at the Catholic education conference When Faith Meets Pedagogy. 

A small group of teachers were eager to show how students as young as Grade 5 could harness new technologies to film interior scenes of their local parish and then create a virtual-reality online tour that could be viewed by other students and their families. The intention was to allow older students in the school an opportunity to describe their parish as a gift to younger students who may be preparing to receive Holy Communion for the first time. 

Even young children would be able to navigate through the parish online at their own pace, learning more about the many aspects of the parish building, such as the ambo, the sanctuary light and the presider’s chair.

At that conference workshop, the teachers not only showcased their virtual-reality tour of St. Agnes Church, Waterloo, but also shared their hope that students anywhere could use this simple technology to open the doors of their local parishes to a wider online audience and to share their knowledge and love of their own parish buildings. 

Part of the work of the Catechesis Office is to promote co-operation between parishes and Catholic schools in programs and projects that assist young people in their faith formation. This was clearly a perfect opportunity. It was so successful that planning began for a virtual tour of the Cathedral Basilica of Christ the King to be created by school children from the Waterloo Catholic board. 

The day of their visit was split between an informative tour of the Cathedral Basilica by the rector, Fr. David Wynen, and an experience of visio divina with The Saint John’s Bible, reflecting on the illumination from the Acts of the Apostles entitled “Life in Community.” In both settings, the students and teachers shared their wonder at the beauty of the cathedral and the richness of the symbols of their faith. 

In their reflections on Sacred Scripture they also shared how they could see themselves as part of their Church — having a place at the table and having many more places to fill as well.

They worked hard over the next few weeks to create the virtual tour. Bishop Douglas Crosby called it “a gift of joyful disciples.” The online tour can be enjoyed by desktop or tablet but takes on an even greater impact when viewed with virtual-reality goggles. 

Fascinated by the clarity and realism of the virtual reality experience, Crosby remarked, “I’m standing in the cathedral!” as he turned from one side to another in one of the chancery’s meeting rooms.

In a letter to youth, Pope Francis encourages young people to use the new communications technology to transmit the Gospel, to communicate values and beauty” (Christus Vivit, 106). Clearly, the students of St. Anne’s Catholic School, Cambridge, and St. Agnes Catholic School, Waterloo, have done just that. 

It was an honour for us in the Catechesis Office to facilitate and support the vision of these Catholic educators. The Bishops of Ontario, in their pastoral letter, “Renewing the Promise,” affirm that Catholic schools can be powerful allies to parishes in helping connect with students and their families.   

In this case, by the gracious invitation of the bishop and with the assistance and enthusiasm of Fr. Wynen, the Diocese of Hamilton opened its doors to our schools and our young people so that their gifts could be offered to the service of children and their families across the diocese. Hopefully, this collaboration will inspire many other innovative works of parish-school co-operation. 

It was a remarkable project indeed! The video “A Child’s Tour of the Cathedral” that chronicles the making of the virtual tour as well as the virtual-reality tour itself are available on the Hamilton diocese website: www.hamiltondiocese.com, or the Cathedral Basilica website: www.ctkbasilica.ca.

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