Many fabulous initiatives are happening in the Church in Ireland today, as a direct response to the challenging times we face. In this interview, Mark Quinn speaks to the Founder of Children of the Eucharist, Antoinette Moynihan.
It’s late evening on a dark Lenten Tuesday, and Antoinette Moynihan is on the road again. You might expect this busy mother and wife to be picking kids up from sports or grabbing some extra groceries for the morning but that’s not the case for the founder of this unique apostolate. To borrow a commercial phrase it’s ‘business as usual’, and she is headed for a meeting with another school attracted by what’s on offer. She’s not selling anything or touting any new products though. What this rep has to offer is Jesus. Alive, real and present in the Blessed Sacrament.
Well over 300 Schools to date have experienced the ministry ‘COTE’ or ‘Children of the Eucharist’ and it is in high demand. So how did this former interior designer go from adorning rooms to adoring hearts?
It all began back in 2012 at the International Eucharistic Congress, in Dublin. A powerful spiritual experience had led her from a lukewarm faith back to the church and helping out as a volunteer here and there. Together with her Husband Peadar they had been stationed to help out at Our Lady Queen of Peace Church, Merrion Road that week, encouraging young and old to attend an adoration service which was being run during the Congress.
Ironically what may have seemed to be a small and simple role at the time, would provide the very basis for what Christ was about to call Antoinette to do in a much broader spectrum. “A lot of Children were coming out of it (adoration) that day and they were asking lots of questions,” she explains. “But what really struck me is when they asked if they could come back next year. They really wanted to return and I can’t explain it but something stirred in my heart.” What stirred Antoinette that day would be far from fleeting and she continued to pray and ponder about what it was that the lord was calling her to do. “I had no theology or biblical study so I really just felt unworthy and ill equipped for what the Lord was calling me to do, I had so many doubts, I was frightened,” admits the mother of two. “I didn’t know where to start, so I just took it to prayer.”
It was during this period of discernment that she took a pilgrimage to Knock shrine. Deep in prayer and asking the Lord what she was to do, it was then that she got her answer. “I just heard him saying ‘tell them it’s me’,” she recalls. Knock she says was the “springboard for going forward.”
She began initially with two locals schools, introducing them to adoration by bringing biblical stories alive and explaining to the Children the beauty of the Sacrament. The response she says was amazing. “The children just took to it so well and what was even more surprising was the reaction of the teachers,” she beams.
The ministry blossomed, and invitations began to flow in from her native Meath and then from all over the Country. It was something she could never have envisaged. As the apostolate began to grow Antoinette knew she needed help and in 2015 she was able to employ a full time apostle in Dubliner Aoife Martin, thanks solely to donations and a generous benefactor who witnessed the fruits of the mission. Antoinette herself still maintains a completely voluntary role within the apostolate as do another 250 lay ministers throughout the Country. “A lot of this is down to the lay ministers on the Ground,” she admits. “We have ministers now covering North, South, East and West of the Country now and we are in England and Scotland at present.” Another key figure is Helen Hand who fills the role of Core Leader within the project. Joining COTE in 2012 Antoinette describes Helen and Aoife as not only central ministers, but also as great personal friends.
The role of each Lay minister is to follow up on the ground work that Antoinette and Aoife carry out. This means that they can work with the Children every 3-4 weeks after the initial visit for adoration and prayer. So what does working with the Children entail? “It’s usually Communion or Confirmation classes, but we work with all classes. It involves a PowerPoint presentation and lots of visuals. We talk about baptism for example and Jesus in the Jordan. We bring the stories of Jesus life to them.”
So what is the response of the kids and what do they make of it considering that we are living in a more secularised society today? “It’s so authentic and so simple, they love God, they Love Jesus and they want to know him. Many of these kids are so thirsty for God, they have so many good questions. They might ask you for example, where our sins go? To this we would show them the sacred heart and explain that our sins are burned in the fire of the sacred heart. It’s important to use metaphors that children can understand,” she explains.
Each session with the Children lasts approximately one hour and includes music, explanation of the monstrance, biblical stories, reflections and of course quite prayer time. They take the children to the Church whenever possible. It is at this quite time that some truly spine-tingling experiences have emerged. “I tell them (children) to listen for Jesus and watch for him, what they come back with afterwards is truly amazing. Even the teachers are in shock with what the kids say,” she recalls with a joyful chuckle.
What is equally striking is that Children of the Eucharist has never needed any advertisement or commercial clout. It is all simply word of mouth, and of course the teams own time spent in adoration is “a key to its success” she says. And a success it clearly is, she is soon to fly out to Malta to introduce COTE there and will appear on EWTNs ‘at home with Jim and Joy’ such is the reach of this mission. No mission like this would survive either without deep personal reflection and guidance and Antoinette and her team are blessed to have Fr. Lawrence Joseph Schroedel, C.F.R. on board. Fr. Lawrence will be familiar to many as one of the Franciscans Friars of renewal based in Moyross in Limerick. He was immediately drawn to the charism of COTE and was delighted to become a part of it.
Children of the Eucharist is a true positive example of a lay run initiative which, rooted in adoration, will be a key component in the mission the Church has ahead, in this country. It’s simple, it’s impressive, it’s inspiring, it works and it has one mission: “Tell them it is me”