It’s typical to see small cardboard boxes around Catholic churches and schools at this time of year. Many will have a short prayer and religious image printed on them with the words, “My Lenten Gift,” and will be filled until Easter by children with pocket change and allowance money.
The “mite” or offering boxes given out to students in the religious education program at St. Joseph’s parish in Bronxville included a printed sticker with the name of a child from Cristo del Rosario parish in Managua, Nicaragua. Father Aurelian O’Dowd, a Bronx native, is pastor there.
“Our focus is to educate and for our children to understand we are part of a big world,” said Antoinette Gilligan, director of parish religious education and youth ministry at St. Joseph’s.
“When you give a name, it makes a personal connection.”
The students received the mite boxes during classes on Ash Wednesday before a prayer service to receive ashes. They were taught about Lenten sacrifices, almsgiving and provided with a handout with photos from the parish school in Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua. The school is located in a section of the city destroyed in an earthquake in 1972. Many residents live in old, abandoned homes or shanties.
Fourth-grade teacher Laurie Geronemus-Raio said, “There are three things we do during Lent: prayer, penance and almsgiving.” She told the children that Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. Also on the handout was a map that illustrated the distance from Bronxville to Nicaragua.
“Write down the name of your child,” she told the students as she handed them the mite boxes. “We will spend a special few minutes to pray for that child at the beginning of classes.”
Two hundred and fifty-five students attended the first prayer service in the first through fifth grades. Two more prayer services were offered in the afternoon and evening to accommodate the large number of students and parishioners. There are 814 students in the religious education program and 226 students in St. Joseph’s School, and all are involved in the project.
Father Peter McGeory, the pastor of St. Joseph’s, told CNY that he hopes the students see “that our Church is much bigger than St. Joseph's in Bronxville and that they can have a very real impact on helping to change the lives of young people their same age who don't have their same advantages.”
“Jesus, Mother Teresa and Pope Francis all remind us of our moral obligation to help the poor—the 'least of the brethren.' If we can get our young people to get engaged in doing that I know they, in turn, will be ever more grateful to the Lord for the many blessings in their lives,” he said.
Several fifth-graders shared their thoughts with CNY after the prayer service.
“I am learning to help someone who really needs it. I’m thinking of someone else before myself,” said Anne Greatrex. “You’re sacrificing some of your allowance for someone in need just like Jesus sacrificed himself for us.”
Christopher “Buck” Coquillette offered similar sentiments about the project. “It’ll make me closer to God because I’m helping other people the way that Jesus did,” he said.
Buck appreciated the personalized boxes and the map included with the handout. “It helps me visualize where it is and how much less fortunate they are,” he said.
Andrew Shah said, “School costs $15 a month and you are helping kids who aren’t as wealthy as us and can’t go to school. Donating a little can help a lot.”
Beatrice Rosato said that knowing the name of the child—she received a boy’s name—allows her to pray for him. “I think it’s important to help others. There is a little bit of Jesus in everybody and we should treat everybody like Jesus,” she said.
She plans to baby-sit and donate some of her allowance. “This makes me feel like I’m doing something important,” she said.