SAFETY, JUSTICE & HEALING

It’s all about the kids: Learning about faith in a safe environment

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Faith Formation is a difficult task for the many religious educators and catechists throughout the Diocese of Providence. Adding an additional level of schooling can be unpopular, to say the least, with children of all ages. According to Diane Castro, coordinator for Religious Education at St. Francis of Assisi, many children have not had the proper encounter with Christ, which makes religious education essential for a fulfilling Catholic life.

Castro has been a religious educator for over 30 years. After spending 20 years working full time in the engineering field, she has spent the last 10 years in her current role as coordinator for Religious Education at St. Francis of Assisi in Wakefield. Raised in Cranston, she attended St. Mary’s Church on Cranston Street where her personal religious education experience shaped her approach to her pupils on a daily basis.

Castro attended St. Mary’s school from grades 1 through 6. Her memory of the nun’s teaching style was more “memorization.” She likened it to “head knowledge versus heart knowledge.”

“Heart knowledge is key for kids to immerse themselves in these topics,” Castro added.

“For this current generation, it’s very important for people working in Faith Formation to engage kids in developing their own image of Christ,” Castro said. “Kids are challenging to teach in this day and age but they are truly open to discussing their faith if you create that safe, positive environment.”

The Diocese of Providence has worked to create a nurturing and safe environment for all children to learn about Christ and his Church. In 1993, the Office of Compliance was established nearly 10 years before the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops formalized procedures to protect children across in the country in 2002. They are tasked with administering Safe Environment Training for all members of the clergy, Diocesan volunteers and anyone involved with religious education. This training teaches adults the warning signs of abuse, a strict code of conduct in dealing with children and a transparent reporting process.

Along with the Diocesan Advisory Board for the Protection of Children and Young People, there is a multi-layered infrastructure that ensures children are in a safe learning environment. The Child Protection Board is tasked with reviewing diocesan policy and making recommendations for further safety measures. The group is comprised of a R.I. District Court Judge, a retired former R.I. State Police officer and clergy from other faith organizations in Providence.

“The Diocese is doing a great job creating awareness about these important issues,” Castro said. “Having the training renewed every three years is essential to keeping us informed.”

Castro noted that the moments that stick with her after all these years are the “aha” moments; when kids grasp what Christ means for them personally and what role faith will play in their lives. She mentioned how her confirmation classes now start in the summer with a five-day introduction to the lessons. “This is an excellent opportunity to get to know the kids better and delve deeper into topics such as faith being part of their daily lives. These small moments make it really hit home how lucky I am,” she said.

Castro lives in Narragansett with her husband Mark of 29 years. They are parents to three adult daughters Jennifer, 27; Elizabeth, 25; and Grace, 23. She urges parents who are interested in signing their child up for religious education to visit their parish’s website.