FIRST COMMUNION: Year full of challenges leads to joyful celebrations

By TERRI PANUCCIO

Preparing children for their First Communion during a pandemic has proven to be a challenge — but ultimately very rewarding.

From New York state being completely shut down, to slowly opening with restrictions in place, I had to rethink my approach to the Faith Formation program, not only in educating students in their faith, but doing so in a way that will keep them safe and healthy.

The greatest challenge was how I was going to manage the delay of the 2020 First Communion class. It was a waiting game determining if an in-person Mass would even be feasible last year. Ultimately, as we were able to open at limited capacity, I checked with parents to see what their preferences were.

Most of the parents, whose children were slated to receive their First Communion in May 2020, preferred to wait in hopes that in the near future they could celebrate in a safer environment with a more “normal” feel. I was able, however, to accommodate seven families who wanted to experience the sacrament in 2020. We were able to have two First Communion Masses with four children in August and three children in October.

The remaining 20 families from the 2020 class joined the 2021 class of 23 students — an impressive total of 44 children receiving Jesus Christ through the Eucharist for the first time on May 1 and 2 and May 15 and 16. Planning for the high volume of children, with social distance guidelines still being implemented at Mass, at a limited capacity, is no easy feat.

On the upside, more parishioners are vaccinated and capacity at Mass has increased to 50 percent. After laying out several possibilities in how to approach, I decided that it made the most logistical sense to split the class into six groups, with five to 10 children at each Mass. The goal is for more family members to attend for each child, while feeling at ease with the guidelines being enforced, and allowing them to enjoy this special day in the children’s faith journey.

Our sacramental preparation usually consists of the weekly Sunday morning Faith Formation classes, with additional classes on Monday evenings that are geared specifically to prepare the children for the Sacraments of First Reconciliation and First Communion. Because of social distance restrictions, I was unable to have all the children in one classroom at the same time.

With that and the added stress that most of the families have been enduring (navigating this new world of remote learning and, in many cases, working from home), I felt the best approach was to give choices to the parents. So as not to add more stress to the parents, I decided it would be best to use the Sunday morning classes to prepare the second- and third-grade children for their sacraments and also allow the parents to choose whether they wanted to send their children to in-person classes or home-school them with materials I would drop off to them every couple of months, and always being available if they needed any assistance.

The diocese also has been very supportive and understanding of these circumstances and has been lenient of the required contact hours for Faith Formation classes and Sacramental Preparation classes.

Keeping the Faith Formation community connected while our program was on hiatus was another priority. Ultimately, social media has a wonderful ability to keep us all in touch, so reaching families within our parish on our Facebook page proved to be effective in maintaining our sense of community.

We created several videos with photos of the children, along with hopeful messages that we will get through this tough time and to keep the faith through it all. Throughout the year I have constantly reminded the children and families that although this past year was a difficult and scary one for them, it also was that same for Jesus and His followers on that Holy Thursday and Good Friday almost 2,000 years ago. But just as Jesus conquered death on that Easter morning, we know that nothing bad will ever last forever.

While we will be celebrating First Communion a little different than usual this year, we are all unified as a parish through the Body and Blood of Christ.

Class of 2021

  • Layla Grace Allen
  • Carmella Marie Arcuri
  • Vincent Edward Arena II
  • Mung Dan Aung
  • Natalie Maria Bottini
  • Angelina Grace Callari
  • Samie Gaetano-Gates Cimbalo
  • Caleb Anthony Cosamano
  • Evelyn Paige Durr
  • Makenly Olivia Fernalld
  • Rocco Anthony Fernalld
  • David Martin George
  • Madison Rose Golding
  • Nicholas Ryan Helmer
  • Petrucci Hpo
  • Bella Rose Jones
  • Blake Harrison Jones
  • Cecilia Vita Kane
  • Mason Markian Kaszycki
  • Milania Nicole Kloster
  • Hudson Ryder Knoop
  • Evalena Rose Leone
  • Vincenza Rosalie Leone
  • Quintin Wayne LoRusso
  • Marciano Leonard Maldonado
  • Brady Thomas McAuslan
  • Gavin Michael Moore
  • Larry Joseph Myers
  • Joseph Daniel Nash
  • Greyson Everly Ramirez
  • Santino Angel Ramos
  • Matthew Leonard Reale
  • Michael Romeo Ruiz
  • Olivia Rose Sacco
  • Lillyanna Marie Saunders
  • Adrianna Marie Scalise
  • Vincent Michael Trevisani
  • Carson Nicholas Vella
  • Constantino Walter Visalli
  • Thaw Thaw Paw Wah
  • Alzaina Faye Weeks
  • Amerah Grace Weeks
  • Eugenio John Whiteley