rior to Vatican II, Roman Catholics were prohibited from participating in the services of other denominations. But today, Catholics are permitted and even encouraged to broaden their experiences and understanding of other faiths as part of deepening their own spiritual beliefs.
So how can Catholic families encourage their children to appreciate, understand and respect other faith traditions while maintaining their own strong Catholic religious foundations?
“It’s helpful for parents to take an approach with their children that life is full of adventures, learning and seeing how others experience the world,” says Katie Dawson, the Diocese of Orange’s Director of Faith Formation. “Depending upon how much energy parents want to put into it, they can go onto the Internet and look up how other churches worship. It’s a great opportunity for parents to explain why we go to Mass and worship the way we do.”
If children have the opportunity through friends to visit the churches of other denominations and participate in services, parents should assist them toward age-appropriate understanding of the differences between Catholic and other faith traditions so that they can absorb and appreciate the experience, Dawson says.
At the same time, she notes, it’s important for Catholic parents to instill in their children the reasons why Catholics are enjoined not to miss Mass on Sunday, and not merely because it is a Church rule. “We want our children to have a full understanding of their heritage and participation in the mystical communion of the Body of Christ coming together to worship on Sunday, as we all hear the same readings and say the same prayers and share the Eucharist.”
While other faith traditions offer interesting comparisons to our own faith, Dawson says, there are many different styles within the Catholic faith itself, with so many different ways of celebrating Mass with music, Scripture and performance. “If a child is interested in different ways of worship, it would be good to explore, say, the Byzantine Catholic tradition, full of chanting and incense,” she said.
Sally Todd, the diocese’s Associate Superintendent of Catholic Schools, notes that Catholics can broaden their understanding of the world’s religions by exposing their families to different faith traditions. “It helps if the family is firmly rooted in their own Catholic faith so they have a foundation to use as a springboard for outreach to other faiths,” Todd says.
In fact, she says, participating as an observer in other churches can lead children to ask important questions about their own faith, questions that can be answered by knowledgeable teachers, pastors, parochial vicars and parents. In Catholic schools, as children progress through the upper grades, students study the Catholic faith closely and study other faiths in comparison within the context of history and beliefs.
“The experience of attending a different service in another faith tradition can be great,” Todd says. “For our children to be able to experience everything in life, different cultures and religions, especially today in our Church, allows us to embrace our roots as we move toward becoming better Catholics.”
Perhaps the most obvious symbol of growing ecumenical outreach in the Diocese of Orange is Christ Cathedral, currently under renovation, Todd says. “Our cathedral was an evangelical church and we are embracing those roots as we move toward becoming a Catholic cathedral. Our Catholic children are growing up in a good time, anchoring their own faith and experiencing other ways of life.”