Mom And Dad: Primary Teachers of The Faith



Rebecca Vitz Cherico

Mother and daughter pray together


Editor’s Note: The following column is based on a presentation the author made Sept. 25 at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

As the oldest of six children, I spent a good deal of my youth taking care of my brothers and sisters, but nothing prepared me for the depths of love I would feel when each of my own five children were born. In the days following my first baby’s birth, though, I was beset by horrible fears. Deeply disturbed, I called a friend, who wisely pointed out that my fears stemmed from my love. I was afraid precisely because I knew I had received a tremendous gift.

Something new and beautiful — a precious life — was now part of my world. Recognizing that our primary task as parents is to introduce our child to the reality of God’s love, it was clear that faith, too, was an invaluable gift to be received, before it was something to be passed on.

The first step in instilling faith is to recover our sense of wonder at this gift, which in turn reveals that our lives are about a relationship. We are here to know, love and serve God — to love and be loved — which is why we must teach our children to pray.

Our children are given to us so that we can love them and help them to love God. But they are also given to us so that we can be loved by them and learn to love God through them. Most parents know they have a responsibility to educate their children, but it’s more difficult to remember that our children are also here to educate us and to help us get to heaven. How true this must have been for the Holy Family. Just as God entrusted Jesus to a human mother and father — and Jesus (God himself!) was obedient to them — Mary and Joseph learned much about God’s love and tenderness for them by watching over Jesus.

Through our children, we gain an intuition of unconditional love, as well as a path to help us become closer to God’s perfection and to learn to love as he does. When our children look at us with devotion, they show God’s love and mercy for us. And when they won’t sleep as infants, or have tantrums as toddlers, or disobey us or get embarrassed by us when they’re older, they’re helping us learn to enter the heart of God, who loves perfectly and unconditionally.

To find Christ in the flesh today, we can introduce our children to Christians who joyfully live their faith, to the poor and needy, and to the fullness of the Church’s sacramental life in confession, Mass and eucharistic adoration.

We are also called to help our children to receive the gift of hope. The French poet Charles Péguy wrote that hope “loves what has not yet been and what will be in the future and in eternity.” Our hope is grounded in a great certainty: Nothing we might do can ever prevent God from seeking a relationship with us and with our children. As Pope Francis has explained, even our sins can become occasions of encounter with God’s mercy, and our awareness of this mercy is the basis of our hope.

Before becoming parents, we have many ideas about how to do things. But once children arrive, we may feel overwhelmed or discouraged. The task is just too big for us on our own. God wants us to be aware of this and to know he is there.

Though at times we may feel like giving up in the face of our limitations, God takes our efforts and can multiply them. In the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus doesn’t make a meal out of nothing; he takes the food people brought. When we say “yes” to him in our families and give the little we have, he makes it enough. Then we get to see the miracle of his presence.

REBECCA VITZ CHERICO teaches at Villanova University and is the editor of Atheist to Catholic: Stories of Conversion(2011). Her husband, Colin, is a member of St. Helena Council 14210 in Blue Bell, Pa.


Love Is Our Mission



Columbia staff

Pope Francis waves from the Speakers Balcony

Pope Francis waves from the Speakers Balcony at the U.S. Capitol Sept. 24. (CNS/Doug Mills, pool)

From Sept. 22-27, Pope Francis visited the United States for the first time, making numerous stops in Washington, D.C., New York City and Philadelphia. In the preceding days, the pope visited Cuba, where he urged citizens there to strive for justice, peace and freedom by living the “revolution of tenderness” inspired by Our Lady of Charity. The U.S. visit, organized under the theme “Love Is Our Mission,” culminated in Philadelphia, where thousands were gathered for the Eighth World Meeting of Families.

Knights of Columbus and their families participated in the major events, and the Order provided both financial and volunteer support for the papal visit and World Meeting of Families. This included printing 300,000 copies of the booklet used for the closing Mass Sept. 27.

Pope Francis personally greeted Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson in Washington and New York, and the Order was a visible presence at many of the events, including Fourth Degree honor guards, as well as Knights serving as ushers during liturgies while wearing K of C baldrics.

On Sept. 23, the pope canonized Junípero Serra, the Franciscan friar and missionary known as the Apostle of California, during the first canonization Mass ever to take place in the United States. The following day, Pope Francis became the first pontiff to visit the U.S. Capitol and address a joint meeting of Congress, as he urged all Americans to remain faithful to the nation’s founding principles.

He later addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York, in the footsteps of his predecessors Blessed Paul VI, St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. He also visited Ground Zero, as did Benedict XVI during his 2008 apostolic journey, which was the last time a pope visited the United States.

In Philadelphia, Pope Francis gave a historic address at Independence Hall, where both the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence were adopted. Speaking from the lectern used by Abraham Lincoln during the Gettysburg Address, the Holy Father called the location the “birthplace of the United States of America” and reflected on the fundamental right of religious freedom.

The primary reason for the pope’s apostolic journey was the World Meeting of Families, which began Sept. 22 in Philadelphia. The World Meeting concluded with welcoming Pope Francis to a large Festival of Families Sept. 26 and the pope celebrating Mass for more than 800,000 participants the following day.

Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of Congress

Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington Sept. 24. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

‘Let us remember the Golden Rule.’

In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continues to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices that can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.

Here I think of the political history of the United States, where democracy is deeply rooted in the mind of the American people. All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776). …

We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our “neighbors” and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.

Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way that is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12). …

The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick that time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

— Address to the United States Congress, Capitol Building, Washington, D.C., Sept. 24

Pope Francis addresses the General Assembly of the UN

Pope Francis addresses the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York Sept. 25. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Our common home and the sacredness of human life

The ecological crisis, and the large-scale destruction of biodiversity, can threaten the very existence of the human species. The baneful consequences of an irresponsible mismanagement of the global economy, guided only by ambition for wealth and power, must serve as a summons to a forthright reflection on man: “Man is not only a freedom that he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature” (Benedict XVI, Address to the Bundestag, Sept. 22, 2011, cited in Laudato Si’, 6). … Consequently, the defense of the environment and the fight against exclusion demand that we recognize a moral law written into human nature itself, one which includes the natural difference between man and woman (cf. Laudato Si’, 155), and absolute respect for life in all its stages and dimensions (cf. ibid., 123, 136). …

The common home of all men and women must continue to rise on the foundations of a right understanding of universal fraternity and respect for the sacredness of every human life, of every man and every woman, the poor, the elderly, children, the infirm, the unborn, the unemployed, the abandoned, those considered disposable because they are only considered as part of a statistic. This common home of all men and women must also be built on the understanding of a certain sacredness of created nature.

Such understanding and respect call for a higher degree of wisdom, one that accepts transcendence, self-transcendence, rejects the creation of an all-powerful élite, and recognizes that the full meaning of individual and collective life is found in selfless service to others and in the sage and respectful use of creation for the common good. To repeat the words of Paul VI, “the edifice of modern civilization has to be built on spiritual principles, for they are the only ones capable not only of supporting it, but of shedding light on it” (Address to the United Nations, Oct. 4, 1965).

— Address to the General Assembly of the United Nations, New York City, Sept. 25.




Marta Zaknoun

Students play soccer at a Greek Catholic Patriarchate school

With a church steeple and the minaret of a mosque in the background, students play soccer at the Greek Catholic Patriarchate School in Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem. (Photo by Afif Amireh)

On Sept. 6, the harmonious sound of hymns in Arabic, Greek and English filled Jesus the King Melkite Catholic Church in Markham, Ontario, as more than 300 parishioners and Knights welcomed Archbishop Joseph-Jules Zerey of Jerusalem for a special eucharistic celebration.

Archbishop Zerey’s visit marked the fifth year since Jesus the King Arab Christian Council 15045 launched its Jerusalem Students project, an initiative to help the Melkite Catholic Patriarchate in Jerusalem provide scholarships to children of needy Christian families in the Holy Land.

The project, spearheaded by Grand Knight Hikmat Dandan, was awarded the International Youth Activity Award at the 2013 Supreme Convention in San Antonio. Since its start, the initiative has invited donors in the Toronto area and beyond to sponsor students studying at the Greek Catholic Patriarchate School in Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem. Archbishop Zerey traveled to the Melkite parish in September to personally deliver new student files to the sponsors and to speak about the situation of Christians in the Holy Land today.

“We are living horrible days in the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq,” the archbishop said in his homily. “In the name of the Church, I thank the Knights of Columbus and all the parishioners of Jesus the King who are making large efforts to help the refugees as well as the Christians in the Holy Land, especially for your donations to the students of Beit Sahour who cannot afford tuition.”


The initial inspiration for the Jerusalem Students initiative came from a talk that Archbishop Zerey gave to parishioners at Jesus the King Church in 2010.

“The archbishop explained to us the hardships that families were enduring, specifically in the little town of Beit Sahour,” recalled Dandan, who is a native of Lebanon and a Melkite Catholic. “The Greek Catholic Patriarchate School was in serious financial difficulty and might have had to close down.”

Beit Sahour, whose name means “place of the night watch,” is a small town two miles east of Bethlehem and five miles southeast of Jerusalem. It is the site of the “Shepherds’ Fields,” where, according to tradition, angels appeared to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus (cf. Lk 2:8-15).

Speaking at Jesus the King Church, Archbishop Zerey said, “I always consider that our parishioners are the great-great-great-grandchildren of the shepherds.”

With a population of approximately 14,000, Beit Sahour is 80 percent Christian and 20 percent Muslim. Residents work largely in the religious tourism industry and as artisans, using olive wood, mother of pearl and embroidery to make religious and other handmade items.

In recent times, however, many families have struggled to make ends meet. The decades-long Palestinian-Israeli conflict and a precarious economy have taken a heavy toll on people in the Holy Land. Many have emigrated, hoping to find more stability abroad. Since 2000, the already tiny percentage of Christians in the region has halved — dropping from 2 to 1 percent.

After listening to the archbishop’s presentation in 2010, Dandan felt an urgency to respond.

“I went home and as a Knight I started thinking of how I could help,” he said. “As Knights, we cannot accept that the land where Jesus and the Apostles walked and preached become a ‘museum of Christianity’ without Christians.”

One way to sustain the Christian presence in the Holy Land, Dandan realized, was to give parents hope for the future of their families. This meant helping them provide a good education for their children and supporting Christian schools.

With the archbishop’s blessing, Dandan set to work by creating a website — — and giving presentations in local parishes and councils, ultimately gathering sponsors for needy students at the Greek Catholic Patriarchate School in Beit Sahour.

Sponsors are asked to pledge $500 to help families in need cover the annual tuition of approximately $900 per student. Each sponsor then receives a student profile, including a photograph and a personal letter of gratitude. Sponsors also receive homemade cards from the student at Christmas and Easter.

According to Sawsan Istephan, principal of the Greek Catholic Patriarchate School, the school currently enrolls 655 students ranging from kindergarten through grade 12, approximately 80 percent of whom are Christians, as are most of the teachers.

“Our school strives to serve the Christian minority, preserve the Christian spirit of the school and better communicate its Gospel values,” she said.

The school follows the local curriculum and maintains the highest standards and teaching methods in the liberal arts, science and technology. While most classes are conducted in their native language, Arabic, the students are also taught English and German from an early age.

Integral to the school’s mission is to provide an educational environment where Christian faith is cultivated and can be lived fully.

“Our students receive a strong formation in love, forgiveness, acceptance, respect and sacrifice, which are transmitted through our religious education classes, Mass and prayers in the morning,” Istephan explained. “Children who attend other schools, such as the public ones, do not receive a Christian education and are frequently deprived of it, as they must attend school on Christian holidays.”

It is also very important for parents that the school offers students the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities, such as music, drama, ballet and sports programs.

“In this way,” Istephan said, “parents do not have to enroll them in other institutions or centers, and they can use the money they save on the basic necessities of life.”


So far, 40 students have been sponsored through the Jerusalem Students initiative, and 123 more still need help. The majority of sponsors thus far have been Knights — including 16 individual members and eight councils.

One such council is St. Justin Martyr Council 11708 in Unionville, Ontario, which has sponsored a boy named Ramez, now in grade 10, since 2013. Because Ramez’s father suffers from a physical disability, the family has no regular income.

“When we read about Ramez on the website and his tough circumstances, we recognized that this is a real boots-on-the-ground situation,” said Randy Galluzzi, financial secretary of Council 11708. “Here’s an opportunity to provide support not just for one year, but through his academic career at the school.”

Council 11708 currently donates $750 for Ramez’s annual tuition, and for the past two years council members have communicated with Ramez through letters and photographs. Ramez has also sent the council an olive wood crucifix and a rosary in gratitude.

Students pictured at the Greek Catholic Patriarchate School

Students are pictured at the Greek Catholic Patriarchate School in Beit Sahour. (Photo by Afif Amireh)

Ramez’s father, Imad, described what the sponsorship has meant for his son.

“Ramez feels loved and accompanied because of the sponsorship,” he said. “He has gained more self-confidence, and he feels more responsible because he does not want to disappoint the people that are investing in his education.”

As a graduate of the Patriarchate school himself, Imad has a keen awareness of the value of the education his son is receiving.

“This is the school I went to as a child, and I know that Ramez’s capabilities can be cultivated here,” he said. “It is where he can be prepared to pursue studies in all major universities in the Holy Land and abroad.”

Following the Mass at Jesus the King Church in September, Ontario State Deputy Alain E. Cayer addressed the sponsors who were about to receive student files containing their personal letters.

“As you will realize today, you have made a difference in someone’s life,” he said, adding that the Jerusalem Students initiative is much more than a fundraising project. “This is an opportunity for Christians in North America to sustain the presence of Christians in the Holy Land by investing in them just as they do with their own children.”

Indeed, according to Galluzzi, members of Council 11708 feel as if they are supporting a member of their own family, and they are blessed to know how much their support makes a difference.

“We feel that it’s like an uncle helping his nephew with his education,” said Galluzzi. “It is fundamental for people who are committed to living in the Holy Land, and have been there for generations, to have the opportunity not only to survive, but to flourish, to blossom.”

MARTA ZAKNOUN, a Maronite Catholic, was born and raised in Jerusalem. She is a journalist in Toronto.