A family from St. Thomas More Parish, Manalapan, poses with their heart mobile. Photo courtesy of Fortunata Guarino
A family from St. Thomas More Parish, Manalapan, poses with their heart mobile. Photo courtesy of Fortunata Guarino

Initially inspired by pandemic restrictions, what began as an idea for families to connect for a virtual program recently grew to an in-person evangelization opportunity in St. Thomas More Parish, Manalapan.

February saw families of the parish’s religious education program and other members of the church community gathering for “Family Sharing: An Adventure in Scripture,” creating a heart-themed mobile in the parish’s Petri Hall.

“We wanted families to meet other members of the church community,” said Pat Colotino, parish director of religious education, “so there were no chairs, and the tables were in three long lines so people could stand on either side.”

PHOTO GALLERY: St. Thomas More Family Sharing Event

Colotino said the families were given paper hearts of various sizes, as well as 29 Bible citations to verses about love, and were told to look up the verses and find seven to write on the smaller hearts. Families interacted as they picked through the decorations at the table centers, and older children circulated the room with hole punchers, pens and other supplies.

“It was a plus when we saw that parents were looking up verses either in the Bibles we supplied or on their phones, and actually discussing them with the kids,” Colotino observed.

Fortunata Guarino, St. Thomas parishioner, attended the Family Sharing event and was enthusiastic about the connections it provided.

“St. Thomas is the place to come as a family – to talk, to laugh, to worship,” she said. “Each day had over 200 people – mothers, fathers, grandparents and most importantly, children; [they] are key to evangelization … .”

Guarino noticed how the families began timidly at first, “but something happened with the simple art project … they shared [and] worked together, they talked to one another … amid the sounds and energy, smiles grew on all their faces. I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm!”

In addition to the family activity, she also credits St. Thomas More’s pastor, Father Daniel Peirano, for being a catalyst for evangelization. “His congregation knows him by his welcoming smile that reminds all parishioners – old, new and those who need the smile – that St. Thomas More is their church, and they are welcome.”

St. Thomas parishioner Christin Morrow attended the event with her daughter Isabella, fifth grade, and son Evan, first grade.

“I thought the idea behind the activity was really cute, to find Bible verses relating to love,” she reflected. “Also, I liked that I got to spend time with the kids and do the activity together versus them going off with kids of their respective ages.”

Morrow found that the format of family cooperation helped her family grow in faith. “The kids could see me as a parent actively engaging and participating in our faith,” she said. “We are new to the parish, so for us, this helped us feel like part of the parish.”

Originally planned for just one evening, the response to the activity “was so great, I opened it up for another night,” Colotino said. “I will be doing many events throughout the year… [including] an Intergenerational Lenten Fayre with a walk through the Triduum, family activities, a trivia game, Lent and Easter snacks … and tables about all the ministries.” Colotino also intends to host an Easter Egg Hunt in March.

“My ultimate goal is for the families to come to think of the church as someplace they can go to have fun and feel safe,” she continued. “My new motto is ‘Faith is Fun.’ It is always all about the kids; if we can make them smile about coming to the church, we did our jobs.”

Guarino was pleasantly surprised the following weekend to recognize a family sitting in the pew behind her who had attended the Family Sharing activity. “We smiled at each other … God puts people in our path for a reason.”

Information for this article was provided in part by Fortunata Guarino.