Religion teacher wants students to open Bible, be surprised

Some youth in Felicia Charles’ Sunday school class find learning the faith boring. Others tell her they’ve never opened a Bible, she said.

“Some of them are just resistant to Catholic education in general. You’re dealing with that, too,” 24-year-old Charles said of the challenges she faces with her seventh- and eighth-grade catechism class at St. Ignatius Loyola Church.

It’s not that they can’t learn, said Charles, but that youth need help connecting faith and the Bible with their daily lives.

The African-American Youth Bible, New American Bible, Revised Edition.

The African-American Youth Bible, New American Bible, Revised Edition.

She plans to introduce to her class the new African American Catholic Youth Bible, a translation of the New American Bible Revised Edition that includes commentaries, art and study aids to help educate and evangelize youth about Scripture.

Special sections make Mary, Biblical figures and events relatable through art and maps. Throughout the Old and New Testaments are sections that share stories of African Americans who are important figures in the Catholic Church, tips on applying passages to daily life, suggested prayers and the basics of the Catholic faith.

The hope is to make Scripture more accessible to Black Catholic youth, said Mary Leisring, director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry in the Archdiocese of Denver.

“Some youth are disenfranchised with the Church,” Leisring said. “It’s an attempt to offer pictures, introductions and commentaries which will enable our young people and all people to find personal connections to the stories and events of the Bible.”

Leisring worked with the National Black Catholic Congress and St. Mary’s Press to develop explanations, prayers and background to help bring the Bible to life. She worked on commentaries for the book of Philippians and John.

“Those are my two favorite books in the Bible,” she said because of the books’ teachings about placing God first and asking him for strength.

She wanted to share her own faith with youth to encourage them on their own journey.

“We say that our youth are leaders of tomorrow, but I think our youth are leaders of today,” she said. “If youth are going to really get back into the Church, it’s not something they need to wait for. They need to do it now. If you say youth is in the present, then they can work alongside us and walk our faith journeys together.”

Charles said she found the popular Catholic Youth Bible also published by St. Mary’s Press— which the African American Youth Bible is modeled after, helpful in her own spiritual journey as a youth.

She uses the Bible and teaching aids to help explain tenets of the faith to her students like the Trinity and events like the Passover—just as she once learned.

Mary Leisring, director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry for the Archdiocese of Denver.

Mary Leisring, director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry for the Archdiocese of Denver.

“Some of the students have a hard time grasping these,” she said. “Those are hard concepts to explain to them.”

Charles hopes the youth Bible will be something her students—with a variety of ethnic backgrounds—can relate to.

Sometimes the Bible will offer surprises, she said she tells them, with its fascinating and relevant stories: “It’s OK to listen (to Scripture readings) on Sunday but you should read it yourself. There are so many interesting stories in the Bible you’d be surprised what you find.”

 

The African American Catholic Youth Bible
Publisher: Saint Mary’s Press
www.smp.org or 1-800-533-8095

COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

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CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”