by Lynn Ballas
Stations of the Cross are a beloved tradition for many Christians, who
could not conceive of Lenten devotion without them. But how do adults
teach the stations to children when the stations present the very things
we wish to protect children from, injustice, cruelty, suffering, and
A writer, an artist, and a lifelong religious educator, share their
unique ways of shepherding children through the pain of the cross to
the love of Jesus.
at Jesus, Look at Your Heart
In her book, "Stations of the Cross, Children and Their Families
with Jesus," writer and educator, Lucille Perrotta Castro, tells
"Stations are places where people wait while they are going
from one place to another. A school-bus stop is like a station
of some stations where you have been.
Stations are also places where people take time to think about Jesus
as he went to die on a cross. They are Stations of the Cross.'
They show us how much Jesus loved us."
At each station, Castro, invites children to "look at Jesus"
and then to "look at your heart." Here is Castro's interpretation
of the Second Station, "Soldiers Put a Heavy Cross on Jesus' Shoulders:"
Look at Jesus
When the soldiers put a big, heavy cross on Jesus' shoulders,
Jesus doesn't fight with them or say angry words to them. He knows that
he has to carry this cross a long way, and he knows that the way will
be very hard for him at times. But Jesus knows that God is with him,
and he asks God to help him to carry this cross, even though it is heavy.
Look at Your Heart
Have you ever had something happen that was very hard for you?
Sometimes children are very sick, or someone in their family is very
sick. Sometimes adults or older children do not treat younger children
nicely. Sometimes we just can't have things the way we want them.
Take some time to look at what your heart is like when this
happens. Then, when you see what your heart is like, show your heart
to Jesus. See Jesus loving you when you show him what happens in your
heart. When you are ready, you can ask Jesus to help make your heart
more like his.
Castro's soothing words assure children that Jesus loves them no
matter how they feel. She gently encourages children, when they are
ready, to ask Jesus to make their hearts more like his.
A Children's Video
Recently, six children from the Religious Education Program at St.
Mary's parish in Colts Neck, New Jersey, took part in the making of
a DVD about the Stations of the Cross. Produced by Passionist Press,
the DVD is designed as a tool for teaching children.
Cinematographer Mauro De Trizio, filmed the children, who ranged in
age from three to ten, as they listened to parishioner Gina Barnett,
read to them from Castro's book. Castro is the Director of Adult and
Family Ministry at St. Mary's.
The children were very attentive to Barnett's calm voice. They were
also guided in their experience of the stations by looking at the colorful
drawings of each scene, created by the book's illustrator, Sister Mary
Clement Pagliari. At the conclusion of each station, Barnett invited
the boys and girls to share their thoughts about what happened to Jesus.
Thomas Barnett, age 10, was able to connect the Passion with his own
life. "If someone is mean to you, you shouldn't be mean back to
him," Thomas said, adding "try to work things out."
Understandably, the children did not like it when Jesus is nailed to
the cross and dies. They did not want to talk about Jesus being stripped
of his garments. Their favorite part was when "Jesus came alive
As filming wrapped up, the littlest member of the group, 3-year-old
Trinity Dalmazio, proclaimed in her tiny voice, "He is our Savior."
Images for Children
The stations come alive to children in the telling of the story
in both words and images. Artist Sister Mary Clement fills her stations
with vibrant colors and soft familiar images.
Throughout, children appear in various scenes, bearing witness to the
suffering of their Lord, just as the adults do. In Pagliari's stations,
children encourage Jesus as he carries his heavy cross, their little
faces show how upset they are to see him fall, and they are comforted
by Jesus when he stops to talk to the crying women. A young child stands
at the foot of the cross as Jesus dies.
"When I was asked to do this project, I had to renew my self sort
of. I had to go back to the Passion and read my Scripture a little more
carefully." Pagliari said she prayed and asked the Lord to help
her. As she made the Stations of the Cross herself, she started to visualize
"From the beginning, I made up my mind that this was not going
to be like the Mel Gibson movie. This is a children's book, something
that would attract children, but still (let them) see the suffering."
Pagliari's stations are rich purples, deep oranges, and bright yellows.
In some of the sadder stations, as when Jesus fall the first time, the
sky is indigo. As Jesus hangs on the cross, a circle of light envelopes
him, but beyond the light the sky is dark. The resurrection is in bright
yellows and white.
One of the challenges that the artist encountered was depicting Jesus
as he succumbs to the weight of the cross. "How do I make him fall
without looking clumsy or like it's his own fault?" Pagliari decided
to use a mannequin, which she could then position into the various postures
that she needed to capture in her illustrations.
what she would like children to take away from her art, she recalled
a little five-year-old boy she taught years ago. Upon coming into the
classroom and seeing Jesus hanging on the cross, he burst into tears
and said "I don't want to see that anymore."
"I want to tell children, don't be afraid,'" Pagliari
said. "I want them to realize that (the suffering) is over. Jesus
to bring us to heaven. I want them to see the positive side."
Sister Maeve McDermott, principal St. Patrick's Grammar School in
Jersey City, said that the children of her parish travel their own Via
Dolorosa each Friday night in Lent as the make their stations walking
the blocks of their neighborhood. According to McDermott, the custom
comes from the Spanish and people from Central America.
"They walk the neighborhood and see where a shooting took place
or where a building burned down
It's much more contemporary."
she said. They relate Christ's suffering to the that of their neighbors,
classmates, families, perhaps themselves.
While not every teacher can make the experience so visceral, McDermott
encourages teachers to relate the stations to "something of the
day." If necessary, supplement teaching materials with words that
are meaningful to children, she suggests.
McDermott expresses her hopes for children in this way, "I pray
that all young people that might have committed their first sin
get discouraged, but get up and try again."
Thomas Brown: Instructor to Instructors
At what age should children learn the Stations of the Cross? Thomas
Brown, a consultant to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Office on Parish Cathecetics, believes that children as young as kindergarten
age can be taught the stations.
Based in the Paterson Diocesan Center in Clifton, New Jersey, Brown
provides guidance to religious educators. Before assuming the consultant
position, Brown taught in Catholic school for 37 years.
asked if the method of teaching the stations has evolved over time,
Brown said that adding the Fifteenth Station - the Resurrection, was
a big change. "You can't understand the Passion, unless you understand
his teachings, his life, his resurrection," said Brown. "All
four Gospels deal with the Passion in slightly different ways, but all
conclude with the resurrection," he pointed out.
Traditional emphasis on the Passion is understandable, according to
Brown. "The crucifixion was a cataclysmic event for the first disciples,"
said Brown. "It was their 9/11."
For Brown, the value of this devotion is clear. "The stations help
us to learn the story of Jesus' last day and they challenge us to know
it well enough to live it out now."
Brown sees a two-fold message that educators can convey to children
when teaching the Stations of the Cross. "First, Jesus had to remain
faithful to the Father's will no matter what the consequences."
A young child could relate to remaining faithful to going to Sunday
mass even if a friend makes fun of him or her for doing so, Brown offered.
"Second, emphasize Jesus' love for us," said Brown. "He
loved us to the very end. That is important to young people who may
not feel love."
When asked what reaction has most struck him during his nearly four
decades of teaching the stations, Brown said that his most memorable
experience came just a few weeks ago. While sitting in a darkened movie
theater watching "The Passion of the Christ," Brown heard
a young child cry out "Why, Mommy, Why?"
this child, and to all our children, we must respond: love!
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