I had a lovely morning today visiting the Atrium at Holy Cross Parish in Winnipeg. I was very impressed by how willing the catechists and children were to have me sit in on their sessions. They offered wonderful hospitality while also fully engaging in their regular routine. One of the children made a lovely card for me during the session which is now on my fridge. I'm excited to go back tomorrow and engage in some discussion with one of the founders of the Atrium at Holy Cross.
The Atrium is the space in which children are immersed in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a program developed by Sofia Cavalletti which is based on the pedagogy of Maria Montessori. If you're interested in learning about the program in detail the About Us section of The National Association of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd United States website has more information. It's fairly detailed, but it includes a lot of good background. Cavelletti's book The Religious Potential of the Child is also a fabulous resource and one that I have gone to many times in the past as I've explored the topic of spiritual formation.
While I have read Cavelletti's work many times, and have read other works that draw from Cavelletti, today was my first opportunity to see an Atrium in action and it was beautiful to behold. In many ways the session resembles many other Sunday school classes that I have taught or in which I have participated. There are gathering rituals, there are Bible stories, there is a time of prayer, but what was the most touching to me was the 1 1/4 hours in which the children immersed themselves in sacred activities. I watched a young boy quietly stirring flour and water together, then carefully adding a small amount of yeast and allowing it to react, remembering Jesus' parable of the yeast. I saw a young girl recalling the story of the lost coin using wooden figures and other miniature props. I saw children reflectively engaged in art projects, laying out pieces of the creation story on the floor, learning the meaning of the Priest's actions in the Eucharist, doing puzzles depicting biblical characters, problem solving together when several children wanted to engage in the same activity, praying quietly in a corner, and simply reading the Bible. And in the midst of all of the activity the catechists simply moved quietly, assisting where necessary and answering questions when asked. The atmosphere was calm and reflective, yet active and alive.
It was holy space.