Teaching Us the Source of Joy

SOFIA CAVALLETTI IS A pioneer in the area of understanding children's spirituality. She works at the Centro d. Catechesi in Rome, Italy, with children ages 2 to 12, and is the author of the The Religious Potential of the Child (Paulist Press, 1983). She was interviewed for Sojourners by Carol Dittberner of St. Paul, Minnesota, and Cathy Maresca of Washington, D.C., during a conference in Minneapolis. The following is a portion of that interview. --The Editors

Sojourners: How did you begin working with children?

Sofia Cavalletti: I was at the University of Rome, studying Hebrew. A friend was looking for someone to do religious education with children. There was one child, Paolo, the 7-year-old son of a friend, and she asked me to begin with him. I had never worked with children, but it was hard to say no. And then two other children came. We just began like that, with no materials, with these three children.

I had just my Bible. And I opened my Bible, and that was all. The first response was such deep joy, such deep enthusiasm. What encouraged me to continue were the tears that I saw in Paolo's eyes when, after two hours, his mother came to pick him up, and he didn't want to go. Then, about 1954, we decided to do something more structured.

The first group was made up of 7- and 8-year-olds. Then younger brothers and sisters came. I remember a younger brother who came with his brother--he was not supposed to stay. But he wanted to stay. And we watched him working with such seriousness. So little by little we worked with the younger ones.

In many methods of educating children, the adult first formulates a theory, then develops a curriculum based on what he or she thinks the child needs. You have not sat behind a desk developing your work with children. How have you learned about their spiritual life?

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