WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Kathleen Nguyen wants to ensure no child misses an opportunity to receive the sacraments of initiation.
The sacraments of Christian initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist – lay the foundations of every Christian life.
However, many children in Catholic schools end up missing out on these sacraments because of confusion as to who should deliver these sacraments.
That's the view of Kathleen Nguyen, the coordinator of sacramental education in the Edmonton Archdiocese.
Nguyen said different practices are currently in place across the archdiocese. As a result, "parents and teachers are confused and kids are missing out (on the sacraments)."
Many parents enroll their children in Catholic schools with the expectation that they will receive the sacraments of initiation at school.
"Parents believe that sacramental preparation takes place at the school and then their children don't receive the sacraments because they think the school does it and the school doesn't."
To help remedy the situation, Nguyen has prepared draft guidelines on the sacraments of initiation and is currently piloting a project that seeks to have schools, parishes and families working together on sacramental preparation.
Ten school districts and parishes are taking part in the pilot, with one of its goals being to fine tune the guidelines.
"They are working on a collaborative model where they are meeting on a bi-monthly basis," Nguyen explained.
The idea is to define roles and have schools, parishes and families together.
"We are thinking of the home, the parish and the school as a triangle where everybody has a role to play but no one has more or less of a job," Nguyen said.
"We are trying to make sure that parents are aware of how this process takes place so that no child misses an opportunity to receive the sacraments.
"So that's what it is, it's working together to communicate more effectively but the key idea is making sure no child is missed."
This pilot also involves having more priests present in the schools "so that the priest is not seen as a visitor but as a staff member, a member of that Catholic school community."
Each of the pilot groups is choosing one or two goals for sacramental preparation on which they can focus. For instance, one pilot group is focusing on the order in which the sacraments are received.
Another pilot group has the sacramental preparation coordinator of the parish meeting regularly with teachers of a specific grade to talk about the sacramental preparation process "so the kids are getting the same information and the same language is being used."
One Edmonton parish involved in the pilot project saw the numbers of children registered for initiation double this year because of the close collaboration between parish and school, noted Nguyen.
"At the end of this pilot, at the end of June, I'm going to get all the feedback from these locations and these guidelines will be updated and then they will be promulgated throughout the archdiocese in September of 2014," she said.
Once promulgated, the guidelines will become a policy and procedures for all parishes in the archdiocese.
Ryan Ledene, associate superintendent of faith development with the Red Deer School Division, is happy with the changes undergoing sacramental education.
"I think one of the most positive things so far that I've seen from the pilot is the guidelines that have been presented from the archdiocese for preparing children for the sacraments," he said.
"That document is very helpful and is kind of a starting point for all of our schools and parishes to work from."
Ledene said the draft guidelines make clear "what our responsibilities are and who is doing what in the way of preparing children for the sacraments."
Sometimes there has been inconsistency on which job belongs to whom, he said.
"This helps us to clarify that. So that piece has been very good."
The meetings between parishes and schools have just started and will be an ongoing process this year, Ledene pointed out.
"I hope that we get from that some better communication between the parishes and the schools."
He also hopes to have an opportunity to share "some of our best practices." In Red Deer, the Catholic division has lots to share. It has, for instance, an extensive data collection of students and their sacramental status.
"That data is helpful in knowing if we are making a difference in bringing children to the sacraments and it also helps us in knowing which students could be helped or supported," Ledene said.
"By having all the names, we can share the list, we can follow up with families and say, 'We see you are not registered for First Communion; is there anything we can do to help?' We can work together on those things."
Ledene said the more confusing and complicated the steps for receiving the sacraments are, the more children will end up not receiving the sacraments.