Dear God, protect our schools

St. Mary students form prayer circle

Nearly 500 students at St. Mary School in Littleton gathered outside last week to form their first school-wide spiritual embrace around one another and the campus.

The kindergarten through eighth-grade school students stood in a wide circle near its building on Prince Street May 2 to seek God’s protection and blessings over the community in the face of physical and spiritual danger.

“We can put all the locks on the doors that we want, but as parents, what else can we do?” said principal Greg Caudle. “As a people of faith we then turn in prayer. We’re saying we trust in the power of prayer, and we trust in the power of the Lord to watch over us and protect us.”

Natalie Hattenbach, mother of two students at the school, organized “prayer around the perimeter” in response to violence. She said she heard about the murder of 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway in Westminster in October 2012 and the slaughter of 26 students and faculty at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., December 2012 and realized no parent, no matter how hard they tried, could protect their children all the time.

“You just feel kind of helpless as parents wanting to protect your kids,” she said. “There are great things we can do practically speaking, but obviously you can’t protect your kids all the time.”

Hattenbach enlisted volunteers in December to begin to pray for the protection of children by walking around the school grounds and reciting prayers. Parents took turns in the morning hours to pray for the spiritual protection of the school and show a physical sign of their concern.

“There are external dangers both spiritual and (physical), and I think there was a desire among the parents, led by Natalie Hattenbach, to act as essentially a guard that walks the perimeter,” said Caudle.

This month, Hattenbach suggested a school-wide prayer circle in order for students to see them pray for each other and feel their support.

Father Juan Espino, school chaplain, said it’s more moving to see the students and parents all gathered together in prayer.

“One of the ideas of prayer around the perimeter is let’s get all the students around the building to get the sense of our prayerful embrace of the school and the mission and vision of the school,” he said after leading the students in prayer. “Visually it’s more impactful to see the whole student body praying for the building, praying for one another. It’s the feel of that embrace.”

He said a blessing over the school after students recited a part of the rosary.

Father Espino asked God to keep the children safe and make the school a place of learning.

“We dedicate this building to the education of youth and learning,” he prayed. “Make it become a center where students and teachers build on the words of truth, strive with their whole heart to stand by Christ and live Christ as their teacher. Grant that students and teachers alike may follow Jesus Christ, the way the truth and the life, forever and ever.”

The prayer circle followed the all-school May Crowning.

Hattenbach said she wants to expand the prayer around the perimeter to include the neighboring church.

“I think the more presence we have, the more it’ll catch on,” she said.


COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash