It’s an ordinary day in December, at six in the morning. It’s still dark. Fortunately, it’s not biting cold: just three degrees below zero; a few flakes of snow are visible under the light of street lamps in the fog, scarcely illuminating the wet sidewalk. Approaching the church of Saint Andrew Bobola, in one of the central, elegant neighbourhoods of Warsaw, parade the candles carried by children who during Advent, from Monday to Saturday, take part in the morning service. Children arrive accompanied by their parents or grandparents, those in school-age are often alone or in groups.” There are more or less one hundred children, but some days they’re as many as 150. It depends on the weather and on school lessons”, Father Andrzej Splawski, Jesuit, in charge of pastoral care of children and young people in the parish since 1972, told Anna Kowalewska for SIR Europe.When did this proposal come into being? How does it take place? “For the past 12 years during the whole period of Advent we offer a small breakfast to children and youths attending traditional morning Mass and then we bring them to school. The children are happy and parents are content. The Mass celebrated according to a special pastoral program primarily involves children 8 to 13 years, but there also some older youths serving as altar boys and a few adults. This year the program is centered on the church community, the Community significance of the Church and the importance of the sacraments.”Aren’t these themes too complex for children? “The pastoral program highlights the symbolism of light. Precisely for this reason the faithful come to church with tea light candles. At the beginning of Advent children receive a notebook to paste a sacred image received by the nuns at the end of Mass. They are also given a set of tasks related to the theme of the homily delivered during services. After the celebration, there is a draw of hearts annotated with the good deeds done by the children as a gift to Jesus. The winner can have for one day an image of the Virgin Mary to bring to school and preserve at home, to be returned the next day and handed over to another boy.”What do these good deeds usually consist in? “Children do various things: they help their mothers or another child, they visit a lonely person. They come up with many initiatives as a gift to the Lord.” How large is the parish which you have been a vicar of for many years? “Our parish is one of the largest in Warsaw. The Mokotów district has an estimated population of almost 17 thousand residents. But the resident population is much larger, since not everyone here has a registered residence. Our parish is divided between the area with old houses inhabited mostly by elderly people, with few young couples and few children, and the area with modern buildings, inhabited mainly by young singles or by new couples. And there are many children. In the parish district we have two schools: a large and a smaller one, along with our Jesuit College and the Bobolanum Theological faculty. Since the teaching of religion has been included in school programs there are catechists in every school, some of them are our priests, who maintain contacts with other teachers and with the parents, as well as lay catechists and religious. Every Sunday about 5 thousand faithful attend eight services held during the day. The evening Mass for university and high-school students is attended by about one thousand young people, while the Mass for children in preschool age celebrated on Sunday at 10.45 is attended by 200 people, including over one hundred children.” How many parishioners do you know in person? “I have known some of the families for three generations. Traditional visits to homes begin on the first Sunday of Advent and continue almost until Lent. Last year we calculated that more than 30% of families opened the doors of their homes.”Catechism and religion classes in schools. What is the reality? “Up to their First Communion 90% of children attend catechism classes and participate in parish life, including those children who have not been baptized. But with time they start to grow distant. When in 1972 I celebrated the function for about a hundred children in a small chapel of the Ursuline nuns I had the impression I was standing in front of a wheat field. At that time, despite the communist regime forbade it, most of the children attended catechism. The children were happy in the parish, which was quite different from school. The adoption of catechism lessons in school programs has promoted contact with catechesis especially in small towns where children often live far away from their parish church and take school buses. But in large cities catechism classes are now considered just like any other school lesson. And children, just like teenagers, are not very fond of school…”.
Various initiatives ahead of the encounter with Jesus in one of the city's largest parishes. Children in the spotlight