WCR PHOTO | LASHA MORNINGSTAR
Fr. Dean Dowle incenses the Blessed Sacrament during Eucharistic Adoration for children.
Rapt silence envelopes the cloud of children sitting at the feet of Father Dean Dowle.
A piece of incense is clasped in each child's hand.
"Don't eat it!" warns an adult voice as one youngster brings the black piece of plant material suffused with aromatic oils up to his nose.
The little ones listen as the priest lights the incense in the censure, gently swings it in front of the monstrance and tells the children that the incense carried their prayers to heaven.
That catechesis is part of the monthly adoration service St. Joseph's Basilica holds for children the first Sunday following the 12:15 p.m. Mass.
The structure is child-oriented - 18 to 20 minutes long, simple hymns, brief catechesis, minute-long adoration.
"We try to introduce something every month and review some things in the past," says Dowle. "Every month it changes because of the numbers, but we usually do very well. Last year we had about 20 and now it is usually about 35."
The young priest's easy engagement with the children and they with him makes this a precious time of learning and worship.
Dowle enjoys "seeing the innocence of the children and at the same time the recognition they find in the Eucharist they really do see Jesus.
"We try to do something different every time. Sometimes it is stories. Sometimes it might be different music or sometimes it is sounds or bells. Whatever we do, it is trying to engage them to leave them with an experience of the Church and adoration. That way they will be more aware every time they come back."
The children's Eucharistic adoration was inspired by Annette Williams.
She quickly defers, saying "I think the Holy Spirit had a lot to do with it. Spending time in adoration has been a significant part of my faith journey. It's a form of prayer I can't believe we can live without."
Eucharistic Adoration is an intimate teaching tool to affirm the real presence of Christ. Its practice is endorsed by Pope Benedict when he quoted St. Augustine's saying, "No one eat this flesh if he has not adored before it, for we sin if we do not adore."
Pope John Paul II also, for 26 years, appealed to priests and laypeople to restore their commitment to adoration.
The basilica children are certainly committed and the secret of their service, says Williams, is its simplicity.
"Father Dean and I decide what the catechesis is going to be and it's usually about 18 minutes. Sometimes we have 35 children, sometimes two. Our attitude is one child comes, you honour that child."
As quickly as the service begins, it is over and children, parents and adults who sit in the back pews to adore with the children hurry away to lunch.
As the little ones leave, the answer is always the same when asked why they come. "To be with Jesus and listen to the priest."
Randy and Angie Loiseau bring daughters Cassidy and Danica every month.
"It is important for them to get to know their faith better and to understand what we do in church," says Randy.
Angie says their daughters' attendance is reaping rewards, in that, "They understand more."
The priest reaps rewards too.
"I hope to see it grow. I hope to see more children come. There is something very valuable in it. It really does inspire me and all the other parishioners who come to watch and adore with the children."