Why is the Body of Christ called the Eucharist? Why is Jesus’ body kept in the tabernacle? Why is Mary holding rosary beads?
Those were among the many questions asked by children attending Totus Tuus, a youth catechetical program that is being offered at six parishes around the Diocese of Portland this summer. Fifty young people participated in the first week of the program, which was held June 24 - 29 at Notre Dame Church in Springvale, part of St. Thérèse of Lisieux Parish.
“I wanted to come to know more about my faith, and it’s gone super good,” said John Paul, age 13.
“It’s going good. I like the recesses, and the lunches, and I also like to learn about God,” said Josh, age 7.
Totus Tuus, taken from the episcopal motto of Pope Saint John Paul II, means “Totally Yours.” The mission of the program is to inspire in young people, from grades 1 through 12, a true longing for holiness. It is being led by a group of three college students -- Emily Amann, Dale Brown, and Maddie Dichard -- and by seminarian Liam Gallagher.
“We want to inspire in them a love of God, a love of Mary, and a love of the Church. We especially want to encourage their devotion to the Eucharist and to Mary, especially through praying the rosary, which she, herself, gave to us,” said Liam.
“I hope the young people learn a lot about their faith and grow to deepen their relationship with the Lord,” said Emily, who is a student at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA.
Totus Tuus features daily Mass, prayer such as the rosary and the Angelus, classroom teaching, lunch, and games. All of the instruction is aimed at helping the youth come to a deeper understanding of God and the teachings of the Catholic Church.
“We not only take the kids to Mass but help to explain the parts of the Mass to them, what they’re doing at Mass, what they can do at Mass,” said Liam. “Each day, we teach them about a decade of the rosary and actually pray that decade with them.”
Totus Tuus is designed to continue through a multi-year cycle. This year’s focus is on the Creed and the luminous mysteries of the rosary, with a different mystery explored each day. Students were given colored string to wear on their wrists as a reminder of what each mystery meant.
“This white one was from the Lord, from the baptism in the Jordan. The white is for purity. This blue one was for the wedding at Cana, and the blue is the color that Mary wears, so that’s why. Purple was yesterday’s color for the proclamation of the kingdom of God and the call to repentance. Purple is for royalty because purple was a very expensive dye to get so only royalty could afford it. And the gold string is for today, and it’s for the Transfiguration because Jesus’ face shone like the sun, which is gold,” explained Emmalyn, age 8.
Even though they just finished school for the year, the young people all seemed to embrace the program. Questions from the young adult leaders resulted in a lot of raised hands from the young people ready to provide answers. An invitation to ask questions resulted in so many that some had to wait for later. Rehearsal for music ministry brought enthusiastic participation. And games during recess had children cheering to go an additional round.
“I like recess, lunch, and learning more about Jesus and the Trinity,” said Jacob, age 7. “I learned that the Trinity is three people, and the three people are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
“I think that music prep was fun and the things like that,” said Mac, age 10. “And I liked how we’re going to Mass.”
“I like the songs the best,” said Natalia, age 10.
The young adult leaders said. although the days are a bit tiring, it is rewarding to see the children grow in their faith.
“I think it’s gone really well. It’s amazing and really wonderful for me to watch how they’ve grown and how they have come to know these things. They come back the next day with even more knowledge, and they’re retaining it at an amazing level,” said Emily. “It’s great.”
“These kids have so much energy, but it’s wonderful. It’s great to see them get excited about their faith and ask good questions. They show a real desire to want to grow closer to God and learn more about their faith. It’s awe-inspiring. It’s incredible. That’s why we’re doing it. That’s what it’s all about. It’s the new evangelization at work,” said Liam.
Totus Tuus will take a break during the week of the 4th of July but will then resume in Caribou, Lewiston, Scarborough, Waterville, and Bangor. It’s not too late to register. Just visit: https://portlanddiocese.org/vocations/totustuus.