‘Children of the Eucharist’ brings the little children to Jesus!

(The Curate’s Diary – September 2018)

MORE and more children are getting the opportunity to spend special time with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, through the growing ministry of ‘Children of The Eucharist’ (COTE) in parishes nationwide.

A fruit of the 2012 International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, COTE is co-ordinated nationally by its founder, Antoinette Moynihan, who had been a volunteer at the IEC. The mission of COTE is to enhance the faith of children by guiding them gently in quiet prayer in the presence of Jesus, in the Most Holy Eucharist.

It was while volunteering at the IEC that, Antoinette began to realise the need for children to learn more about and take part in Eucharistic Adoration, in a child friendly way. After a time of prayer and discernment, she approached her local primary school principal who readily welcomed the new programme, which involves leading the children in prayer and song and sharing with them some stories from the Children’s Bible. The children also get to spend some time in silent personal prayer.

Recalling that interest in COTE quickly grew, with a very positive reaction from both teachers and children, Antoinette said: “It is now in many schools throughout Ireland and we have recently visited schools in Scotland and England, where we are piloting the programme.”

Antoinette devised a particular format for the programme, which all those interested in working under the banner of ‘Children of the Eucharist’ follow, and she also organises training days and retreats for the growing band of volunteer leaders.

“We pray about the ministry,” she said, “and have a spiritual director to help us move forward. This ministry is very important and I believe Eucharistic Adoration will become a core part of the formation in the faith of our young people in Ireland”. There are now teams of faith-filled volunteer leaders at parish level all over Ireland and in parts of Scotland and England, enabling over 35,000 children and teenagers to experience Eucharistic Adoration.

“There are more than 250 active volunteers on the ground,” said Antoinette, “regularly leading children in monthly Adoration of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist, and many others who intercede for the ministry or support the work in other ways. The work of COTE would not be possible without the help and support of its many volunteers and supporters.” All volunteers who participate in the programme follow the national guidelines for the safeguarding and protection of children and are vetted through their local school or parish. Antoinette also has 3 fulltime staff (Aoife, Helen and Miriam) on the core team, to help her reach out to more schools wishing to participate in the COTE programme, as the ministry continues to grow from strength to strength.

This year COTE has been leading a series of 40 hours Adoration retreats for its volunteer leaders. The first retreat was held in Derry in November, the second in Our Lady’s Shrine in Knock in January and a third 40 hours of Adoration will also be held in Knock over Pentecost weekend in May. Antoinette describes the weekend – “These 40 hours of Adoration not only nurtured all of us who attended and nurtured our love for our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament but, a huge amount of prayer was dedicated to the protection from evil and temptation for our country; the reparation for the sins of the nation of Ireland and for the poor souls in purgatory; and deliverance from political, material and spiritual calamities for which, there are so many in these times. We truly implored the Lord to pour forth His abundant graces not only for own personal needs, but for those of the whole country”.

These were truly powerful, uplifting weekends of prayer, praise, worship and devotion, made before the Blessed Sacrament in solemn exposition for 40 hours, led by Fr. Lawrence Joseph CFR (Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal).

Originally from America, Fr. Lawrence CFR first met Antoinette while on pilgrimage in Medjugorje in 2013, and was immediately drawn to the charism of COTE, believing that it has the potential to play a major part in the new evangelisation. Daily Eucharistic Adoration is the focal point of the Community’s day of prayer and service, leading each friar to an intimate union with God, and so Fr Lawrence could see the great benefits of Adoration for children.

He remarked: “COTE provides a real, modern-day parable of bringing children directly to Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament, so that Jesus may embrace, touch and bless them. The COTE ministers and teachers give an outstanding presentation of Jesus’ true presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament and then lead the children into Adoration. The children exemplify what Jesus meant when He said, ‘… do not prevent them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these,’ and ‘whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it’. Their simple faith and humble trust can and does provide good examples to adults of what is necessary to enter into relationship with Jesus Christ”.

Antoinette feels very blessed to be called to the ministry of COTE. She reflected on what makes it special and how adults can learn so much from children, especially witnessing the little ones in Adoration. “When you tell a child something, they generally believe it and still have that beautiful ability to be wowed,” said Antoinette, adding: “Sometimes when we take the children into the chapel to greet Jesus, they at first look around to see where He is. When we point to the Blessed Sacrament exposed and briefly explain how Jesus is really and truly alive right there, their eyes widen with awe and a huge smile of belief spreads across their faces.”

Commenting on how children trust and love unconditionally, she said: “You don’t have to convince children that they are loved. And when they do something wrong, they have no problem asking for mercy and believing that they will be forgiven. They also forgive easily, don’t stay mad for too long, and have a wonderful innate gift of compassion. Is it any wonder that Our Lord wants the little ones to come to Him? “They are joyful, free, pure in heart, and know how to have fun. They can’t wait for their turn to come to thank God for all the wonderful things in their life…their family, their school, their toys and even chocolate and ice-cream!”

Antoinette is delighted at the “extremely positive” response from schools that have received the Children of the Eucharist programme: “Teachers regularly report finding Eucharistic Adoration a peaceful and reflective time for themselves, as well as helping the children they teach come to know and understand Jesus in a deeper and personal way. One teacher told us that he had felt something change inside him.”

COTE has visited schools in every county nationwide and these schools continue the monthly COTE programme with the help of parents or parishioners, or the priests themselves. The children look forward to their next visit with great excitement. COTE has also visited secondary schools, where the students have found their time in prayer most enjoyable.

St. Mary’s Parish, Creggan, in Derry, is one of the parishes to have embraced the COTE programme, and the parish priest, Fr Joe Gormley is delighted with it: “Our post first communion children are enabled to deepen their faith in the years between first confession/communion and confirmation. 

“The Children of the Eucharist facilitates the introduction of children to Adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in a way that is simple, engaging and uses Bible stories. It helps us all, children and adults, to listen to Jesus in his Word and adore his presence in the Eucharist. It has a simple format, prayerfully composed and designed to allow Jesus to touch the hearts of children, so as to help them to experience the enormity of His love for them.”

The ‘Children of the Eucharist’ Apostolate was set up under the auspices of the Apostolate of Eucharistic Adoration in Ireland.

The sixth annual pilgrimage of the National Apostolate of Eucharistic Adoration to Knock Shrine will take place this year on Sunday, April 29th and, once again, there will be a full children’s programme led by ‘Children of the Eucharist’ in The Hub from 11 am.

Comments from the children…
“It was like Jesus jumped into my heart.”

“I prayed that Jesus would put some of his strength into the souls of mean people around the world.”

“I prayed that Jesus would give the poor people around the world everything we have.”

“I asked Jesus to help me not to sin anymore.”

“Priests have the most special job in the world because they get to work with Jesus every day.”

“Jesus died to open up the gates of heaven.”

“I am so happy Jesus can speak directly to me. I heard Him say ‘I love you and you are very special to me’.

“I want the love of Jesus in my heart for Christmas”.

“Jesus said death is hard if you believe it is, but if you believe in me it’s not.”

“I love talking to Jesus and never knew I could, as easy as this!”