By Lois Rogers | Correspondent
From Scriptural accounts to social media posts, it’s clear that passing on the faith to children has been an ongoing challenge throughout time.
But in this digital age, when little fingers and young eyes are constantly focused on devices that put the world in the palms of their hands, it may seem especially daunting. That being the case, parents and grandparents from the Trenton Diocese say making the most of their special bonds as a family can accomplish the task in ways no one else could.
Speaking from decades of experience, seniors shared insights on the importance of passing on the faith, a tradition that dates to the very dawn of Christianity, when Jesus called upon the disciples to keep the story of God’s presence alive from generation to generation.
Carlos and Margarita Zuna, for instance, are among the younger generations of seniors. The Zunas are parents of three grown daughters and two sons. Members of the Pre-Cana Ministry of St. Mark Parish, Sea Girt, where their daughter, Diana, is the director of religious education, the couple encourages families looking to hand down their faith to start the conversation about God as early as possible.
“Pray together at home with your children. Teach them the basic things of our Catholic faith and most importantly, bring them to church every Sunday,” Carlos Zuna said.
“Become a member of a parish and be active in the parish life of the community so kids can experience and receive their sacraments,” he added, urging parents, as the primary educators of their children, to dedicate “your time with them because this is the best heritage you can leave them.”
Supporting Faith in School
Grandparents Patricia and Tony Pisano were among the 200 seniors who gathered April 26 in Freehold’s St. Rose of Lima School, Freehold, for its annual Grandparents Day open house – a merry round of festivities throughout the building that began with breakfast shared by students and their elders, and included an assembly and classroom visits.
Visiting their granddaughter Shay San Fillipo, a fourth-grader, Tony Pisano said part of handing down the faith is being part of the school.
“It’s important to be present to support the school and its support of families and good values, which is why you send them here,” he said.
“When these children go to Mass as a group, it sets an expectation of faith and an example of what their mom and dad did, too,” he said. “The one feeds the other. We drove in from Lancaster today. We like to be here when we can. It has an effect on keeping the family together,” he said, as Shay’s paternal grandmother, Janice San Fillipo agreed.
Nearby, second-grader Jordan Struble clearly enjoyed sitting with her grandmother, Mary Ann Enea. Her twin, Riley, waited nearby for her turn with her grandmother. Enea’s husband, Sal, was down the hall visiting their third granddaughter, Danni Lin, in a fourth-grade classroom.
“It means so much to the kids that we show up,” said Enea, a member of St. Gabriel Parish, Marlboro.
“Interacting with the children in and out of school gives them a great sense of belonging,” she said. “Faith has a lot to do with it.”
Faith Commitment in Times of Joy, Sorrow
On May 16, Bob and Mary Jane Abplanap will be where they often can be found: St. Mary of the Lakes Church, Medford.
Both husband and wife are involved in a number of ministries at the parish. They will be in the church that evening to lead a service commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Miracle of Fatima on May 13, 1917. It was on that date, as the Church proclaimed in 1930, that perhaps as many as 100,000 faithful beheld the sun spinning at the command of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
During the service, along with prayers, Marian hymns and recitation of the Holy Rosary, children from St. Mary of the Lakes Parish will offer readings of the eyewitness testimony of that “miracle of the sun” given by the three young visionaries – Francisco and Jacinita Marto and their cousin Lucia Dos Santos – who encountered the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Reading the words of Francisco will be Finnegan Bracken, one of the Abplanap’s three grandsons. At age 10, he’s just one year older than the boy who witnessed the Mother of Jesus in those apparitions a century ago.
To his grandmother, Finnegan’s participation is a reflection of the fact that the “continuation of faith in the family is moving on” to a new generation, which, counting her sister Loretta Amari’s four granddaughters, totals seven.
Her sister and fellow parishioner is equally committed to involving her grandchildren in the faith, Mary Jane Abplanap said.
“We live in a world that is trying to tell us that faith is not important; that Jesus doesn’t exist. The essence is that [many] people today have turned away,” from faith, she said. “They think it is all about themselves and that is not the case, at least not for me.”
“I want my grandchildren to understand that they will face all kinds of things and if they don’t realize there is a God, they might not get through all the things you have to go through. Some people believe there is nothing, but there are so many signs that there is. And that’s what makes you want to have your children realize that.”
Faith was what helped her cope with the loss of 295 of her colleagues at Marsh & McLennan Cos., who perished when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into floors 93-99 of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
“In your personal tragedies, when you are tested, it is your faith that gets you through,” she said. And it’s a lesson she focuses on helping them to learn.
Leading by example is a wonderful way to do that, she said. The Abplanaps make a point of going to church with the family every Sunday and Holy Day. “Every time St. Mary’s has an Easter or Christmas pageant, we are involved. The family prays together. We talk about Jesus.”
The children understand, she said, that their grandparents so highly regard their faith that they won’t be available during their own special devotions, such as novenas and Bible studies.
Part of Their Lives
Mary Lou Parsons, grandmother of six, is actively involved in the community of St. Peter Parish, Point Pleasant Beach. It’s clear upon meeting her that the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion and member of the bereavement ministry is enthusiastic about helping to rear the newest generation of faithful in her family.
She takes joy in the fact that her granddaughter, Kendra, 7, was baptized in St. Peter Parish last August and began religious education in September. Michael, 10, she notes, was baptized as a toddler, and has begun his religious studies in the tutoring program the parish offers to help children catch up.
In these days of terribly busy schedules, Parsons said she knows that it is hard for parents to be in scores of places at the same time.
“It takes a lot these days,” she said. “As a grandparent, if you are willing to help, to sign them up [for religious education] and sit with them and take them to church,” it is a great gift.
“When I was growing up, my mother was very devout. We prayed the Rosary as a family, we were there at May Crownings. We really participated,” she said.
“Now, weekends for so many people revolve around games, technology and running errands. I just try to instill in them the importance of faith and Jesus in their lives. I am so fortunate that they are receptive.”
Diana Zuna credits her parent’s faith as one reason for her becoming director of religious education in St. Mark Parish, saying they taught her that God has a plan for everyone, and that it’s her turn to respond to that calling.
“My parents have been the main role models in my spiritual life. They have influenced me to follow the Catholic faith since my early childhood; they taught me to love God above all things,” she said.
“I hope in the near future to have a family of my own, and without a doubt, I will teach my children those valuable lessons my parents have taught me,” she added. “I will keep the Catholic faith and tradition alive, and I will do my best to lead by example.”