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Sofia Cavalletti

By Scottie May


SOFIA CAVALLETTI (1917 - 2011) is the developer of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, along with her colleague Gianna Gobbi. Cavalletti is a native of Rome, Italy, a Roman Catholic, and a Hebrew scholar. Her approach to religious education relies heavily on the Montessori Method of education. Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a three-level, nine-year approach to religious education that aims to help children to have "a living encounter with the living God." This approach is now in 32 countries, on five continents. The majority of participating churches are Catholic or Episcopal, though other Christian traditions are now using this approach in their churches.

Photo of Cavalletti with permission of Douglas R. Gilbert.


Dr. Sofia Cavalletti: An Accidental Religious Educator of Children

Sofia Cavalletti had no experience with children until she was in her 30s. She had no training in education or human development. Yet her life's work and passion came to be one that would enable children as young as three years of age to experience awe and wonder as they encounter God through the biblical story. This work is called Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS).

A Brief Look at Her Life

No one is more surprised than Dr. Cavalletti that people want to know about her life. She is so surprised, in fact, that as the years have passed, she has become increasingly reluctant to talk about herself because she says that this work "is a pure gift given to her" (Cavalletti, 2007a). Instead, she chooses to talk only about the children and the work, which she does not regard as hers. The Web site of the home page of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd in the United States makes no mention of Cavalletti, supporting her desire to be in the background. Consequently, writing a biographical sketch was challenging. This even included a visit to Rome in an unsuccessful attempt to interview this 89-year-old scholar. The end result is that this article contains first-person electronic information from Sofia herself as well as secondary sources from books and persons who have had ongoing working relationships with Dr. Cavalletti. Some information in this biography was obtained in person by interviewing two people whom Sofia trained while on trips to the United States-Carol Dittberner (St. Paul, MN, trained in 1974, the date of Sofia's first course in the U.S) and Judy Schmidt (Glen Ellyn, IL, trained in 1984). Carol and Judy have been trainers themselves ever since.

Sofia was born in Italy on August 21, 1917. The home where she lives, where she was born and has spent all her life, has been in her Roman Catholic family for about three centuries. What came to be her life work has been carried out in her own home in Rome, even though that work was not her original focus. Her home is located in the heart of Rome, within walking distance of the Vatican.

From a book edited by E. M. Standing, one gets a glimpse into the significance of her heritage. This work entitled The Child in the Church, repeatedly refers to her as Marchesa Cavalletti, a title similar to that of baroness.

Sofia writes of her childhood

First of all, it was my mother who taught me to write and read. This still makes me so happy and grateful to her for having put in my hands such a precious tool. I remember that, when for the first time I could read a little story by myself, I was so happy that I gave to Mommy all my money- that is to say, three coins that did not reach the value of one lire. My mother was delighted by the gift. She kept it for a long time. I found it after her death. I did not go normally to school until I was ten years old, because little girls of my social level usually had teachers who taught them at home (Cavalletti, 2007a).

When she finally attended school, she was sent to a ginnasio, a school at the same level as her brothers. There she learned, among other things, "Latin and Greek with great joy and pride." She attended ginnasio for five years. She says that she should have gone to liceo for three years, but that form of school was coed. Apparently, it was very unusual for a girl like Sofia to go to a "mixed" school. These extended years in ginnasio were "very unsatisfactory" as she studied different subjects. They continued until the end of the war (WWII), when she again began private studies that she undertook very seriously. At the end of a year of those studies, Sofia passed the exam to enter the university.

Sofia attributes her own Christian formation to her family. Her family proved a very solid base on which she was sure that she was loved. For her, the family was more significant than the church because "at that time, parish churches and convents offered-just catechism! And [she] just could not accept it (Cavalletti, 2007a). As she now looks back on her life, she is able to understand all that she was doing "was a pure gift."

As an undergraduate, she met Dr. Eugenio Zolli who had been the chief rabbi of Rome. When the war ended, Zolli entered the Catholic Church. He became the professor in her first Hebrew class (Berryman, 1983, 5). Under his tutelage, Sofia discovered that she had a love for ancient languages, particularly Hebrew. She says that "through him, I discovered the Jewish approach to the Bible, and this oriented my life (Cavalletti, 2007a). Sofia went on to obtain her doctorate in Hebrew and then became Zolli's colleague in the academy. His mentoring enabled her to become a scholar in her own right.

Sofia Cavalletti is truly an academic intellectual. Because of her expertise in Hebrew Scriptures, she was a member of the ecumenical commission of the dioceses of Rome and of the Ecumenical commission of the Italian Bishops. She is a voracious reader, devouring the works of philosophers and theologians such as Paul Ricoeur, Jean Daniélou, Louis Bouyer, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. For fifty years she went to the library every day to study, and she reads Hebrew daily. The extent of her scholarship is evident from a bibliography created in 1978. It contained 165 entries of her work up to that time. (An English bibliography was not found.) She has an affinity for languages. She is familiar with Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and she can converse in five modern languages.

In 1954, a colleague of Maria Montessori, Adele Costa Gnocchi, asked Sofia to teach religion at her school. A seven-year-old named Paolo responded to the Scripture lesson wholeheartedly. In time this experience led to the development of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. Sofia writes about this experience:

As for my involvement with children, I would never have thought that Catechesis would have become the work of my life, until I saw a child's eyes filled with tears. It happened after having had a meeting with three or four children, a meeting that I thought would be followed with a few other meetings and then stop forever. Paolo, after having spent two hours with me, reading the first account of creation in Genesis, did not want to leave. I was very impressed and I asked myself, "What have we done? Why did Paolo not want to leave?" His mother had told me [earlier] that he had not been very willing to come (Cavalletti, 2006).

Sofia had no preconceived idea of what should happen when working with Paolo, but she was amazed that he responded with such deep joy. Perhaps her thorough knowledge of Scripture enabled her to talk about God in a way that opened and intrigues the child, because, from then on, watching the face of the child became a marker for her for what was essential for the child to experience and know about God. She saw in Paolo and in numerous children since, "a way of being in the presence of God that is both unique to the child and a gift to the adult who stops long enough to notice."

After this experience with Paolo, Gianna Gobbi, was sent by Costa Gnocchi to collaborate with Cavalletti. Gobbi was an able, experienced Montessori teacher who had trained directly under Montessori and also was an assistant of Montessori. Cavalletti never met Montessori (who died in 1952), but through the expertise of Gobbi, she learned Montessori's principles. Cavalletti states that Paolo became the impetus that "oriented the life both of Gianna and myself" from that point forward.

Thus, in 1954, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd was established based on Montessori principles. Early on, they determined that their work would not happen in a classroom but in an atrium (a place of life and preparation that is sometimes referred to as a worship-education center); they would not see themselves as teachers but catechists (guides in religious instruction).

Cavalletti and Gobbi "kept meeting with an increasing number of children, trying different themes and trying to create material according to the Montessori principles." Initially, the meetings with the children took place in a small space in Costa Gnocchi's school. Soon that space was inadequate as more and more children came for "instruction." So, the two women determined that relocating Catechesis into Sofia's home would work well. Three rooms were designated as atria, each directed toward a different age level for learning the Scriptures and liturgy. The room in which Sofia was born became her study.

As CGS was unfolding, Sofia carefully studied the developmental theorists of that day who were just beginning to gain attention, including Erik Erikson and Jean Piaget. But she always returned to the work and principles of Maria Montessori, principles such as the child's great capacity for concentration, love of order and silence, and delight in work. (See the entry for Maria Montessori on this Web site for a description of Montessori's work.) The development of this work is evident in the progression of her writing beginning in the early 1960s.

According to Cavalletti, she and Gobbi made many mistakes and had to throw away some of the materials they had created as they searched to find the essential themes and elements that correspond to the needs of the children. Only materials that aroused much interest and deep joy were kept. They were seeking the most essential and the simplest materials that would help the personal work of the children so that the children would be able to grasp the message of the Scripture or the liturgy. Therefore, anything that was not essential was removed from the atrium. Their ongoing quest has been to " 'know, love, and serve the child,' especially in regard to his or her relationship with God" (Gobbi, 1998, viii).

As soon as they established the essential elements for a presentation, the contents do not change-even after fifty years. That is because the themes of Scripture are consistent; the purpose of the church is ancient. Therefore, there is no need for change. (Note: This writer has experienced the way these time-tested materials are able to engage children deeply when presentations are presented in a prepared environment by a trained catechist.)

Sofia prefers to keep the attention on the children and the work, not on herself because, as a catechist, she is "just an unprofitable servant." Nevertheless, through Sofia's training of other catechists, she has produced a global network of catechists for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd in a variety of Christian traditions. In the 1970s, religious educators from North America were trained in CGS when Sofia made a trip to St. Paul, Minnesota. Other visits to the United States and Mexico for the same purpose soon followed.

In 2003, Sofia lost her work partner of fifty years. Gianna's death was difficult for Sofia, but she still carries on the work in her home. As of fall, 2006, at age 89, with the assistance of one or two others, Sofia continues to lead children every Monday afternoon in the three atria she has set up in her home.

Cavalletti's passion for this work comes from her attraction to the biblical text and her acquired delight in working with and learning from children. Having translated several Old Testament books, she declares her love for the Bible because she learns so much from translating whole books from Hebrew or Greek. The years she has spent doing biblical and liturgical catechesis with children have shown her children's deep and mysterious relationship with God, a relationship that she feels is much more serious than that of adults, and one that they are more vitally capable of enjoying.

Not surprisingly, as CGS has spread, modifications of Cavalletti's and Gobbi's work developed. Some of these variations are known as Godly Play (developed by Jerome Berryman), Young Children and Worship (developed by Sonya Stewart and Jerome Berryman), Beulah Land (developed by Gretchen Wolff Pritchard), and The Way of the Child (published by Upper Room). It is not difficult to trace the evolution of these newer approaches from the Montessori Method through Catechesis of the Good Shepherd to their current forms. As far as curricular structure goes, CGS appears to be the most developed, however modifications must be made for CGS to be used by many Protestant churches, especially those without historic liturgical traditions.

Cavalletti is concerned that the word "play," when associated with this type of work by the children, will diminish the fact that the relationship of the child to God is very deep and serious though joyful (Cavalletti, 2006). This joy of the child is deep and, according to Cavalletti, very different than the kind of exuberant, laughter-filled joy when children are typically "playing." Also, everything associated with CGS and its national associations is operated on a not-for-profit basis. This is not true for some of the variations of this work.

Cavalletti is thrilled that CGS is being used by many Christian traditions, and she welcomes modifications that enable it be used even more broadly. She never expected this kind of ecumenical reception. She praises God that its use is ever-expanding without marketing effort on anyone's part. She is also gratified that so much of the work is led by lay people and takes place in very poor environments.

Every year Dr. Cavalletti writes an annual report of the work of Catechesis for the Italian association. Her report for 2006 includes the following (2007b, 4-7): 27,000 children in the Diocese of Chihuahua, Mexico, alone attend Catechesis. Eight hundred catechists gathered for the national meeting.

In central Italy, a general presentation about Catechesis was given to the Institute of Religious Science. The presentation had to be relocated in order to accommodate the five hundred people who attended.

In Panama, at the Montessori Center for Spirituality, there is a pre-atrium of ten children from eighteen months to two years of age. These very young children respond the same way as children over three, something that has astounded the catechists.

In Nashville, Tennessee, maximum security prisoners had been in Bible studies. An Episcopal catechist noticed that after she presented the visual materials of CGS, she was able to notice that the prisoners changed from having "knowledge in the mind to knowledge in the heart."

In Guadalajara, Mexico, one thousand children participate in CGS, three hundred of whom are children of prisoners. Also, one hundred of them are blind.

Current research is taking place in Argentina that seeks to determine a "theology" of the children by examining younger children's depiction of the Good Shepherd and older children's art of biblical history.

Children take great delight in being part of Catechesis. Dr. Cavalletti writes,

It is an incontestable fact, to which we have borne and still bear witness, that children come with joy to their religious instruction; a fact which does not seem as natural to some people as to others. Most people think that it is necessary to attract children to religious instruction by means which are external to the subject itself, such as games, rewards, amusements of various kinds. We have established, on the other hand, that children come to us as to a feast; and often, after two hours fully devoted to lessons, it is still quite an effort to get them to go home (1965, 124).

Cavalletti poses a challenge to Christian educators and North American churches: "It is so important to convince the adults that children are spiritual beings." A veteran catechist said to Sofia that "it is easier to be converted to God than to the child." Sofia fears she is right (Cavalletti, 2007a).

The Structure and Principles of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd

Using a carefully prepared environment as did Montessori, Sofia Cavalletti and Gianna Gobbi realized by watching children that the children can be very good teachers for adults. These two women spent years answering the question: What aspects of the Christian faith speak most fully to a child at particular stages of her or his human development? Their careful observation of children revealed the children's ability to reflect deeply and thoughtfully. Sofia and Gianna noted that three characteristics-joy, dignity and essentiality-were evident when the children appeared to be able to meet their inner desire for relationship with God and for a spiritual home. "Eventually, Cavalletti heard a unifying theme in what the child was tacitly saying to the adult: help me, but only with just enough help to discover for myself this great love God has for each of us" (Kaufman, 2003, 1). She works from the theological assumption that Catechesis offers children the opportunity to relate to God whom "they innately know and perceive." It is not a "catechesis of definition but a catechesis of invitation" (Delsorte, 2003, 3).

Other assumptions influence Cavalletti's thinking. First and most importantly, she assumes that a child is able to experience God. Second, this experience is a global one for the child in that it touches the child's whole, entire being; she feels that this is a natural part of what it means to be human. Third, a person is not fully developing as a human unless "religious potential is stimulated and growing." Fourth, Cavalletti assumes that the Judeo-Christian tradition is the language that is a powerful agent-evocative, descriptive, and expressive for experiencing God (Berryman, 1983, 9).

Cavalletti believes that this form of catechesis has "refound its biblical content," and, by focusing on the use of parables, as Jesus did, rather than on formulae and definitions, it has "refound the biblical method" (1984, 88). Parables invite meditation as they connect the reality of daily life with the reality of the Kingdom of God. The parable is not to be explained, which would "treat it like a definition" and "to betray its nature" (89). She discourages the use of isolated verses of Scripture to illustrate a point that would prevent the listener from having a direct experience with the Word of God for herself or himself. She advocates giving the listeners the passage complete in itself so that they may dialog with the texts, "have a living encounter with them" (91). A Bible scholar notes that Catechesis is "thoroughly inundated in Scripture," going "far beyond a mere exposure to key stories, sayings and parables." By encouraging even young children to reflect deeply about the meaning of the passages, they are able to work with the materials for long periods of time, even "stunning their teachers with their insights" (Molinari, n.d.).

Cavalletti writes (1983, 62), "The adult who accepts the silent request of the child: 'Help me to come closer to God by myself,' must choose the way to give the child the help he asks for. We are faced with three possibilities: catechesis may be theocentric, Christocentric, or anthropocentric." She deduced that a catechesis that is theocentric would speak of God the Father and follow the "historical development of revelation." But the young child needs first to know and experience Jesus Christ, the only way to know God the Father.

Catechesis of the Good Shepherd has three levels. Level I, for three- to six-year-olds, has as its unifying theme the parable of the Good Shepherd in order to help each young child fall in love with the Good Shepherd, which is an individual response. Level II focuses on the True Vine and the Branches, for children six to nine, to help them understand their connectedness to each other "in the Vine." This level introduces Redemption History, enabling children to begin to clarify God's vision for his people. The theme of Level III, for nine- to twelve- year-olds, goes more deeply into Redemption History, from Creation to Parousia (words the children learn to use comfortably). Children at this stage of development hopefully will realize that this history is one story of one God with God's own people-a story in which they connect to God, to each other, and to the faith community. CGS uses the biblical word covenant to describe this connection or relationship. Both Levels II and III present "moral parables" and other biblical texts that enable moral development of the children. In particular, "the hard sayings of Jesus," or maxims, from the Sermon on the Mount are given attention. This attention is "truly the result of a biblical scholar [Cavalletti] paired with observing children, because those 'sayings' circulated independently in the early church, just as we give them to the children on separate tablets. Even the maxim tablets are suggestive of the 'Law' that Jesus came not to abolish but to fulfill" (Lillig, 2007).

Cavalletti uses parables as the core stories for the first level because that was the method Jesus used to introduce the mystery of the Kingdom of God. As she and Gobbi observed children in her atrium, they noticed that the children were most frequently drawn to the parable of the Good Shepherd, some children return repeatedly to reflect on that story or to do the same "work" over and over. Also, through her research she realized that parables enable children to respond with awe and wonder about what God might be revealing through those texts. (This finding is counter-intuitive in that cognitive stage theory seems to infer that young children should first be introduced to concrete narratives. Typical evangelical curriculum views the parables as abstract in that the "meaning" of the parable is not in the objects of the parable. Popular perception assumes that children cannot grasp such abstractions. CGS saves the Old Testament narratives for older children.) Because the Christian message is solidly based on history, so must be the catechesis (Cavalletti, 2007a). Therefore, in Level I the narratives of the birth and life of Jesus are presented in order to help children realize that Jesus is a real person who lived on earth at a real place and time. To aid this understanding these young children do engaging work with the geography of Israel and Jerusalem in Jesus' day.

Fifteen to ninety children usually fit comfortably in an atrium, although the smaller numbers are more common in the U.S. This means that churches with large numbers of children often offer CGS multiple times during the week. Each atrium is a place for worship and reflection, not instruction, although learning inevitably happens. It is a place where children and the materials are respected-a place where the relationship between faith experience and faith language is realized. The atrium "work" becomes a conversation with God. Cavalletti states it this way: "All works in the atrium are either a passage to prayer or prayer itself" (Delsorte, 2003, 5).

The materials provided are linked closely with the Scriptures. These include maps of Jerusalem and Palestine, Christian and liturgical symbols, and figures and materials for biblical presentations. There is an altar area for prayer and singing together. Level II also includes work with the canon and genres of Scripture; Level III delves into elementary work in Hebrew. But in Level I, as in Montessori schools, there is an area for activities of daily life in which young children learn to be careful as they work with china and crystal, get experience pouring water, and cleaning up after themselves. The catechist uses furniture that is the same size as the furniture for the children in order to reduce the size disparity between the adult and young children.

Yet CGS does not encourage an abundance of work materials. It is not necessary to have material for every theme presented. "[T]he fundamental instrument for transmitting the faith is communicating the Word as faithfully as possible to the text. Saint Paul says, 'Faith comes through hearing' (Romans 10:17)" (Cavalletti, 2007b, 11).

Cavalletti and Gobbi realized that a "method of signs" or symbols, a common language of the Bible and of liturgy, can serve as tools to help the child find meaning and direction in the atrium (Berryman, 1983, 11). "Signs" point to the mystery that is the experience of God. This experience enables the religious potential of child a potential that is "spontaneous" and virtually innate, requiring the caution that a catechist should not be "over-controlling" in the atrium (15). Here is how Tina Lillig, the National Director of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd writes about these "signs" or materials on the home page of the Web site:

You may be wondering how these materials help the religious life of children. If an adult hears a beautiful passage from the Bible, the adult might take a Bible, find the passage, and read it slowly again and again. He or she may think deeply about the words and perhaps speak to God in a thankful or hopeful prayer. But a little child, too young to read, needs another way. In an atrium the child can ponder a biblical passage or a prayer from the liturgy by taking the material for that text and working with it-placing wood figures of sheep in a sheepfold of the Good Shepherd, setting sculpted apostles around a Last Supper table, or preparing a small altar with the furnishings used for the Eucharist. Older children who [can] read often copy parables from the Bible, [place in sequence] written prayers from the rite of baptism, or label a long time line showing the history of the kingdom of God. (Lillig n.d.)

Cavalletti believes that the child's first exposure to the faith should be centered in the person of Jesus Christ. From her research, the aspect of Christ that most speaks to the young child is Jesus the Good Shepherd, who calls his sheep by name creating a personal relationship with him, who lays down his life for the sheep, nurtures and protects them. Because of the emphasis Catechesis places on Jesus the Good Shepherd, usually children soon realize that he is the center of the Christian faith. Cavalletti starts with this center and works outward; she does not present the biblical story chronologically until Level III. She feels that not until the upper elementary years, will children be developmentally ready to grasp more ably the typology of Christ in God through both testaments.

The catechist's role is to prepare the environment for the children and to present materials that encourage the children to respond to God's love. The catechist is a co-witness with the children, listening to them and with them as they ask, "Who are You, God?" and "How do You love us?" The catechist is the initial go-between in this relationship through the presentations and dialogues during prayer time. The catechist suggests meditative questions that come from the Bible stories or parables for the children to grasp and hold in their hearts. These conversations together with the prepared environment help to foster the children's relationship with God as they express themselves through art, songs, and prayers.

The atria of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, in ways for to adults in the United States, resemble retreat centers for adults, but the furnishings are scaled to the size of the child (Gobbi, 1998). The central area of any atrium is reserved for the Scripture presentation. One corner is a carefully prepared space for prayer. Other areas contain story materials and response materials. Children may "need up to two hours in order to engage fully in their chosen work" (39). In some atria, very young children may start with 45 minutes and then build up to longer time periods.

Children are prepared to "be in the space" by receiving instruction as to how the space is set up, how to work with the materials and furniture, and how to manage their own bodies in a controlled manner. Norms of behavior are established, such as speaking softly and moving carefully. Instructions about movement are done in the manner of Montessori so that children will feel age-appropriately competent and independent-able to manage themselves well without adult intervention. Learning in the atria is based on the Montessori method. Before children begin participation in CGS, parents are usually oriented to the purpose and structure of the atrium. Parents also receive guidance as to how they can support the atrium work in their own homes.

The experience in an atrium may begin with a time of welcoming-a time when children may want to gather in a space outside the atrium in order to greet each other and begin to quiet themselves "on the inside." An appropriate greeting in Level I especially might be to whisper the name of the child, along with a simple greeting.

Careful training of the catechists is core to the effectiveness of CGS. This training is prolonged and complex just as it is for the Montessori Method-at least a year cumulatively for each level. (In other words, there is at least three years of training to be a catechist for Level III. In spite of the extensive training, there are over two hundred Level III atria in the United States. This contrasts with many hundreds of Level I atria.) The curriculum is extensive and prepared by each catechist-three years worth of presentations for each level. These materials fill a three-inch thick binder for each level. Each catechist makes his or her own album of lesson presentations. This leads to considerable investment in time and labor by each catechist but also remarkable "ownership" of the material. The training proceeds slowly because "we [catechists] must be changed first" before we can begin working with the children (Molinari, n.d.). CGS requests that "the catechists make the material by their own hands as an important part of [their] formation" (Cavalletti, 2007).

A vision for the future of Catechesis in the United States is that it becomes more multi-cultural. Currently there is little presence in African-American churches.

Unexpected Outcomes from Cavalletti's work

At first glance, it would appear that Montessori's principles would not apply to children in a high energy, media-stimulated culture in the 21st century, but, upon closer examination, that is not the case. Children in widely diverse settings and experiences respond with an attitude of deep joy, reflection and contemplation.

Sofia and other catechists who are international trainers have found that the responses of the children are universally the same if the environment is properly prepared. Children's needs have not changed even though there now seems to be more children with behavioral disorders, but these women report that many children with special needs thrive in the environment of CGS.

Catechists who guide the work state that the time becomes richer and richer for them personally because the Gospel is alive, especially as contemporary life becomes more rushed, stress-filled, and internally noisy. One veteran catechist stated, "The work is fabulous. It changes me; it changes the child. Children [there] are able to do important theological work."

Another educator who participated in Level I training stated, "I had no idea that it was going to change the direction of my life, nor fill me with such joy, nor teach me what it truly means to 'become like a little child' and that 'to such belongs the Kingdom of Heaven'" (Delsorte, 2003).

If children become restless or bored, Sofia feels that the catechist has not carefully observed the child to determine what would best help the child engage in the biblical story. In fact, she states that a "disenchanted child does not exist in the atrium." Just as with any form of education, the experience for the child will in many ways depend on the training and skill of the catechist/teacher, and not all catechists have the commitment and passion of the founders.

Critiques of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd

As with most any ministry approach, CGS has its critics. This approach to the spiritual formation of children is only as effective as the catechists. (It takes many years to become an effective catechist who is able to "read" and understand each child. There are additional cumulative years for Level III.) This is true for a Montessori school or any other educational model, and it is true for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. As a result, some parishes report a diminishment of interest by older children. Experienced trainers, and Sofia herself, attribute that to inexperience or lack of commitment on the part of the catechist. (Please note the testimony of one scholar in the next section. Experienced catechists consistently speak of the spiritual nurture, wonder, and awe that they themselves feel in an atrium.)

Dr. Cavalletti's response to the critics is exemplary; it is humble if it is anything. As a lifelong learner, she is willing to dialog with anyone about her work in order to strengthen the approach through new insights she may glean. Nonetheless, it is helpful to note areas of concern about which the Christian educator should be aware.

Jerome Berryman, whose variant model of CGS called Godly Play was referenced earlier, helpfully identifies the linguistic challenges in Cavalletti's writings, particularly for an English-speaking audience. Cavalletti, as did Montessori, "coins" terms relating to CGS but frequently does not provide precise definitions. Also of concern for him is her perspective on formal research methods (1983, 8). She is a biblical linguistic scholar, not a social scientist. Consequently, Cavalletti tends not to have a uniform way of reporting data or observations. It can be hard to tell sometimes if a reported incident is intended to demonstrate a child's "religious potential" or to show the complexity of a particular that concept. Descriptions may also be about various ages of children, different settings, even from parental reports, making it difficult to establish clear constructs or patterns that might lead to a "theory" of a child's religious potential-something Cavalletti is not likely interested in doing. Empirical support for such statements as "All works in the atrium are either a passage to prayer or prayer itself" is difficult to obtain. This research-oriented problem is greater in the first book on The Religious Potential (1983) than it is in the companion book about children from six to twelve years old (2002).

Longitudinal studies about Catechesis of the Good Shepherd are needed. Few exist. Even though responses may be multi-faceted and complex, questions such as the following need to be explored:

What long-term impact does Catechesis have on the faith formation of a person who was part of the three levels?

What influence does Catechesis have on the character development of a child?

In what ways does the adult faith of a person who experienced nine years of Catechesis differ from one who was part of nine years of Sunday school?

Future research of this type has been facilitated by Berryman's efforts to define Cavalletti's terms. This will be explained more fully in the next section.

Another concern is over the significance of experiences of "awe and wonder," two qualities that are intended to happen within the child in the atrium. This intent may be implicit, but often children, especially in Level I, are encouraged to "wonder" about the story presentation. For many children, this is helpful guidance that results in what appears to be careful reflection. Some religious educators suggest that true wonder cannot be directed-that leading or guiding reflections diminishes the wonder that should occur in a more spontaneous fashion (Hyde, 2004, 142). A catechist might respond that so much of contemporary life has squelched awe and wonder for children that the process needs to be facilitated for children until it those abilities are restored. Some also say that for wonder to be truly genuine, the catechist would have to also be a "co-wonderer." In response to this critique, many catechists would say that that is exactly what they are-"co-wonderers."

It is essential to follow the above concern about "awe and wonder" with comments that come directly from the leadership of CGS. According to Lillig (2007, 2), some of the variations of Catechesis that have emerged since the late 1970s place a much greater emphasis on "wonder" than does Cavalletti's work. These approaches invite the children to "wonder" about every aspect of the story. It would not happen this way in CGS. A catechist who had been carefully trained would formulate "meditation questions." Especially with the older children, the questions would more commonly be "'What strikes you?' 'What do you think Jesus wants to tell us?' 'Who could this king represent?' 'Why do you think so?' 'What truth is hidden in this parable (or narrative)?' Even with the little ones, we more commonly say 'How do you think Mary felt?' 'What made those magi follow that star?' The role of wonder in the atrium is more nourished by the drop of water that clings to the spout of the little pitcher, how tiny the mustard seed is, the sweet smell of the chrism, or the rising of the bread" (Lillig, 2007, 2). It is not as explicitly directed as is found in some of the CGS variations.

Catechesis of the Good Shepherd may not be a realistic option for large churches, especially non-denominational, evangelical churches that may minister weekly to more than one thousand children. An atrium should be limited to about fifteen children in order for the experience to be effective. Even if multiple sessions of Catechesis would be offered during the week, the logistics of providing for that many children might be overwhelming. CGS also places a lot of responsibility on the trained catechist to know and watch the child. This demand would challenge the volunteers that typically staff children's ministries in evangelical churches. It goes without saying that a higher level of commitment toward training would be required to implement any form of Catechesis in most evangelical churches.

On August 23, 2011, two days after her 94th birthday, Sofia entered into the presence of her Good Shepherd. The Church of Jesus Christ has been enriched by her approach to the spiritual nurture of children that is well grounded in her scholarly approach to scripture, theology, liturgy, and church history. Through her more than 50 years of work, those who minister with children have benefitted by her tireless work with children and her boundless love for them - all making it easier to help children fall in love with the Lord Jesus, their Good Shepherd.

Contributions to Christian Education

Sofia Cavalletti makes a significant contribution to the field of Christian Education through Catechesis of the Good Shepherd-a ministry that flows directly from the work of Maria Montessori. Cavalletti's observations can help educators and practitioners alike become aware that "God and the child get along well together" (1983, 44), and that a child may "find the full realization of himself only in the world of the transcendent, a world in which he has shown he moves completely at his ease" (178).

These observations have been lost on far too many evangelical Christian educators, an impression noted by scholar David Sims. He writes that evangelicalism has failed theologically to appropriate findings about the child from the work of Montessori, Cavalletti, and others. In his view, "it is time for evangelicals to join Maria Montessori in her attempt to find the human in the child and Sofia Cavalletti in her bold claim that children should be our point of departure for anthropological inquiry into desire and relationality" (2004, 54). He affirms Cavalletti's position that it is the child that should be the "basis and reference" point for the understanding of persons, a concept that Cavalletti presents in a chapter on "Anthropological Catechesis" (1983, 168-178).

Having said all that, Catechesis is not the only formational experience that a church should offer to children. There is always room for fun outreach events, summer experiences like VBS, service and mission opportunities, and especially Christian nurture in the home. But CGS emphasizes what is missing in most evangelical children's ministries: reflection, contemplation, meditation, awe, wonder, and mystery. When these qualities are present, it affects not only the children but also the adults who are involved.

Here is the testimony of a biblical scholar who became involved with Catechesis:

In my own years of theological training and church ministry, I had come to experience a profound spiritual tiredness - the kind that is born of repeated disappointment in the way things are in the Church today. I had become sickened by the factionalism, the lack of love, the political infighting and blatant hypocrisy… It was in this state that I first encountered the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. As I studied Sofia's book and visited the atrium, I began to realize that I was being healed on the inside. Seeing the wonder in the children's eyes at hearing the parables of Jesus for the very first time and witnessing the way that their little hearts were so open to God touched me profoundly. It was as if something deep within me stirred again, something that I thought had died long ago. I began to remember why I came to study theology in the first place - not for prestige, accolades and degrees imparted by humanity but because of a search for a closer relationship with God. The deep faith and spirituality that saturates this program is a powerful reminder that the Holy Spirit is still intimately involved with our Church. It is hope for the future (Molinari, n.d.).

Christian educators will benefit from Berryman's efforts to make Cavalletti's concept of the child's religious potential observable. Berryman notes four aspects: a) it is an experience that is spontaneous rather than prompted by an adult; b) it is complex, involving feelings, thoughts, and actions; c) it is not limited to cultural conditioning; d) the experience is deep rather than simply sensory (1983, 10). These "criteria" are significant in light of the traditional evangelical view of needing to do things to or for children in order for the children to have a spiritual experience. Berryman goes on to describe characteristics of child's growth in this potential. They include a deep joy, "mysterious" knowledge or insight that does not come from the adult, awareness of meaning in the environment that is apart from the material itself, and a capacity for deep prayer of praise and gratitude (11).

David Hay and Rebecca Nye (1998), researchers in England, have aided educators and research into the spirituality of children by identifying the following qualities: mystery-sensing, awareness-sensing, value-sensing, and relational consciousness. The connection to Catechesis is evident. Cavalletti, through the use of two- or three-dimensional, manipulative materials, provides a tactile experience that draws on a key Montessori principle of educating the senses. As children work with these materials, according to Brendan Hyde, an Australian scholar, "they are engaging in opportunities to imagine, to transcend, and to make sense of the Scripture story in ways meaningful for them…[Their work] may at times encounter a window to this facet of children's spirituality" (2004,145).

Cavalletti's "theory" of Christian education is a based on a series of "constants" in the responses of the children. These constants transcend cultures and socio-economic factors. They are "the response of 'the child' to the Christian message" (Cavalletti, 2002, viii). Berryman attempts to define Cavalletti's use of the term "constants" by describing them as relationships-"relationships between the sensitive periods in the child's religious potential for different aspects of objects" and select objects from the Christian tradition (Berryman, 1983,14). For example, Cavalletti has found that constants for the young child are the relationship between the Good Shepherd and the child, as well as a relationship with a lighted candle representing "the Light of the world."

In Appendix I to The Religious Potential of the Child 6 to 12 Years, entitled "The Spirit of the Catechesis: 32 Points of Reflection," Dr. Cavalletti identifies her "theory" of Christian education more completely (2002, 133-138). Many of the 32 points or principles have subpoints. Although some of the points are relevant specifically for sacramental, liturgical traditions, here is a synthesis of just a few of these points: The child is central to the catechist who lives a shared experience with the child; the atrium is a community for children and adults to live together and also facilitate community with the wider faith family; The atrium is also a place of prayer (133); The Word is proclaimed in the most objective manner possible (134); The material must be attractive but "sober" and must strictly adhere to the theme being presented (136); The catechist is to prepare the materials with his or her own hands in order to absorb the content more deeply; "The attitude of the adult must be marked by humility before the capacities of the child" (137); CGS does not seek success or seek to be impressive, and it is to be in solidarity with the least in the church (138); and, significantly for all Christian educators, The atrium is a place in which the only Teacher is Christ because children and adults alike place themselves in a listening posture before his Word (134).

Christian education benefits from the faithful, patient, thorough work of Sofia Cavalletti. She has learned from the child what is essential to enable that child to have an experience with God that brings a response of awe and wonder. Her work resists contemporary cultural trends in order to let the child encounter the biblical story in age-appropriate ways. Christian educators and practitioners would do well to consider how her contribution through Catechesis of the Good Shepherd has relevance for ministry with children. We would also benefit fromwhat we might learn from the principles behind her work.

Works Cited

  • Berryman, J. (1983). Preface to the English edition. In S. Cavalletti, Religious potential of the child (pp. 3-20). New York: Paulist Press.
  • Catechesis of Good Shepherd. Retrieved March 17, 2007, from
  • Cavalletti, S. (1964). The "Maria Montessori" school of religion (Rome). In E.M. Standing (Ed.), The child in the church (pp. 124-139). St. Paul: Catechetical Guild.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1983). Religious potential of the child. New York: Paulist Press, 178.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1984). The parable method and catechesis [Electronic version]. African Ecclesiastical Review, 26, 88-91.
  • Cavalletti, S. (2002). The religious potential of the child 6 to 12 years old. Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications.
  • Cavalletti, S. (2003). Remembering Gianna Gobbi. Retrieved November 12, 2006, from
  • Cavalletti, S. (2006). Electronic personal correspondence, Oct. 21, 2006.
  • Cavalletti, S. (2007a). Electronic personal correspondence, May 24, 2007.
  • Cavalletti, S. (2007b). Annual Report from the Italian Association. In Catehesi Del Buon Pastore, Foglietto N. 6, June 2007, 4-11.
  • Delsorte, A. (2003). The spiritual child. Retrieved January 23, 2007, from
  • Gobbi, G. (1998). Listening to God with children: The Montessori Method applied to the catechesis of children. Loveland, Ohio: Treehaus.
  • Hay, D., & Nye, R. (1998). The spirit of the child. London: Fount.
  • Hyde, B. (2004). Children's spirituality and "the Good Shepherd experience." Religious Education, 99 (2), 137-150.
  • Kaufman, K. (2003). Beyond the atrium: A case study for the development of adult participation in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. (Doctoral dissertation, Catholic Theological Union Seminary, 2003). WorldCat Dissertations, OCLC: 54348893.
  • Lillig, T. (2007). Electronic personal correspondence, May 20, 2007.
  • Lillig, T. National Association of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. (n.d.). Retrieved February 17, 2007,
  • Molinari, A. L., The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd: A brief explanation and a theologian's testimonial. (n.d.) Retrieved February 17, 2007, from
  • National Association of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. Retrieved February 17, 2007,
  • Sims, D. (2004, May 6-8). The child in American evangelicalism. A paper (Appendix II) presented at the Houston (TX) Consultation on Child Theology, 46-56.

Other Resources


Journals of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications. Vol. 1, 1984-1997. Vol. 2, 1998-2002.

A collection of CGS journals. The first volume spans the years 1984 to 1997. The second volume spans the years 1998 to 2002. Individual journals subsequent to 2002 are also available for ordering through Each journal includes prayers and drawings of children, articles by Cavalletti, and contributions from catechists around the world.


Atrium I. (2007 - to be released in July).

Atrium II. (2007 - to be released early Fall).

Atrium III. (2007 - to be released in late Fall).

The script for each DVD was written by Dr. Cavalletti. The videography was done by Douglas R. Gilbert. All the materials for each atrium are pictured and demonstrated. Pending release, the DVDs may be ordered at


Cavalletti, S. (2000). Discovering the real spiritual life of children. Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Publications. Chicago, IL: Archdiocese of Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications. 62 min. videocassette.

A videotaped address by Sofia Cavalletti and Silvana Montanaro responding to the question, "What is the deep spiritual hunger of the child?"

Web sites

National Association of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd .The official Web site in the United States for the Association. The site contains resources and products for catechists as well as a listing of all atria.

Center for Children and Theology .This center focuses on the spiritual life of children. It is an outgrowth of the observations and reflections of teachers and catechists spanning over two decades, primarily flowing out of Cavalletti's Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. The site states: "The child's relationship with God is marked by enjoyment, simplicity, wonder, and love. Their spirituality provides the whole church with an understanding of God that complements other prophetic voices in the church.

Godly Play . Inspired by advanced Montessori studies and from training from Cavalletti in 1971, Jerome Berryman developed a religious education curriculum known as "Godly Play."

Cavalletti's Own Comments in Italian about Her Works

Pupi cara, mi hai chiesto di indicarti i libri fondamentali della mia vita. Non mi è facile ricordarli, anzi certamentie ne dimenticherò molti; ma mi ci proverò. Però innanzi tutto vorrei ringraziarti di avermi chiesto di fare questo lavoretto, perché mi ha suscitato ricordi sopiti, facendomi rincontrare persone, che mi hanno molto aiutato e che considero un dono aver potuto conoscere.

Il libro fondamentale è certamente stato la Bibbia, anche se ho cominciato a leggere l'Antico testamento a circa venti anni, e forse anche dopo. Credo di ritrovare dentro di me un'impostazione, che si è venuta formando quasi a mia insaputa, diventando costitutiva della mia persona"

Non mi è facile esprimerlo, ma credo di poter parlare di un senso di concretezza, di saldezza, dovuto - penso - sia ai contenuti che al lingnaggio della Bibbia. In essa è frequente rivolgersi a Dio chiamandolo "roccia", "rupe" e anche "fortezza", ma nel senso di "fortificazione". Sono termini che escludono ogni devozionisimo e anche ogni teologizzazione intellettualistica, in cui sarei facilmente caduta. Tutto questo è avvenuto molto lentamente, e me ne sono resa conto quando già questa impostazione era certamente già in me da tempo.

La stessa cosa posso dire di quanto mi hanno insegnato i bambini, che non sono libri, ma sono ceftamente maestri. Maestri che non sanno di esserlo, che non hanno una cattedra e proprio per questo la loro azione è tanto puÌ incisiva; un'azione anche questa lenta e profonda, di cui mi sono accorta post eventum.

Per la Bibbia ho avuto un maestro: Eugenio Zolli, da cui ho avuto un insegnamento diretto, che mi ha aperto un modo nuovo di leggere la Bibbia. La Bibbia nel mondo, cattolico era diventata un po' un libro da sacrestia, e con Zolli cominciò a prendere per me un'apertura tutta nuova. Scoprii in essa una profondità e moltepticità di significati che non immaginavo; mi resi conto dett'enomie valore dell'Antico Testamento non solo in relazione al Nuovo, ma in se stesso; mi resi conto che tra quelli che noi chiamiamo Antico e Nuovo Testamento non c'è soluzione di continuità, perché in essi è il sempre il Dio UNO che parla, in situazioni e tempi diversi.

Ho passato molte ore lavorando accanto a Zolli, e quindi il suo insegnamento è stato per me un insegnamento che veniva dal vivo assai più che dai suoi scritti. Fra questi segnalo in particolare Il Nazareno, raccolta di saggi interpretativi in particolare su passi del Nuovo Testamento, che costituivano una crux interpretum. E poi le numerose Note esegetiche, pubblicate su varie riviste scienfifiche, di cui, in occasione del venticinquennale dalla sua morte, ho pubbticato una sintesi: In memoria di Eugenlo Zolli, su "Rivista Biblica Italiana" del 1983, p 69-92. Alcune di esse le ho vista "nascere", imparando quindi come affrontare un testo con il metodo rigoroso della ricerca.

Nel campo biblico importanti per me sono state delle letture che definirei "ostinate" di testi interpretativi di tradizione ebraica, che si chiamano midrash. Le chiamerei "letture ostinate" perché allora neanche la biblioteca dell'Istituto Biblico aveva le traduzioni di molti di essi. Ore è facile trovarne della traduzioni, anche in edizioni economiche; l'editrice Città Nuova e le edizioni Dehoniane hanno pubblicato parecchio. Non era facile per me capire tutto, ma non mi arrendevo e andavo avanti lo stesso e credo di aver fatto bene, perché sono venuta assorbendo lentamente il metodo midrashico, quel metodo, che ignorando il metodo storico-critico, accosta testo a testo, senza tenere conto della loro eventuale datazione, nè del genere letterario. Il midrash prende sui serio il fatto che la Bibbia è un libro UNO, nel quale è sempre Il Dio UNO, che si fa conoscere e le cui parole risuonano in "settanta" lingue. Il metodo midrashico, proponendo degli accostamenti inattesi, ampia sconfinatamene l'orizzonte interpretativo. Non mi ricordo se queste letture hanno seguito o anche preceduto (probabilmente seguito) la morte del mio Maestro; ma certamente hanno trovato in me un campo preparato dal suo modo di accostarsi alla Bibbia.

Per non rimanere del tutto isolata, quando le mie mattine in biblioteca erano orami storia passata della mia vita, ho letto una serie di libri che aggiornano sullo stato degli studi biblici. Passato in seconda fila il metodo storico-critico, c'è stato tin moltipilcarsi di metodi dl lettura, in sintonia con le nuove correnti di studi (strutturalismo, narratologia ecc.) in cui non è facile orientarsi.

Fra i lavori di studiosi dell'Istituto Biblico Pontificio di Roma ho letto con interesse e profitto J.L.Ska, Introduzione alla lettura del Pentateuco, pubblicato da EDB nel 2000; H. Simian-Yofre (a cura di), Metodologia dell'Antico Testamento, sempre delle EDB del 1994. SuIla narratologia, Our Fathers have told us, Ed. Pontificio Istituto Biblico, Roma, 1990.

Pierre Gilbert dello Institut Cathotique di Lione ha pubblicato: Breve storia dell'esegesi biblica, Queriniana 1995. Studi interessanti si stanno facendo da parte della Comunità monastica di Monteveglio. Questa comunità è stata fondata da un uomo politico italiano, Giuseppe Dossetti, che, Iasciata la politica, si è fatto monaco e ha fondato una sua congregazione. Ne esiste un centro in Israele, dove ho conosciuto Dossetti, partecipando alla loro liturgia una domenica mattina a Gerusalemme sul Monte degli Ulivi. Bellissima esperienza. Nelie loro celebrazioni i testi sono letti nelle lingue originali. La comunità vive seriamente la inscindibile unità tra Bibbia a liturgia.

Per approfondire la complessità dell'opera di Dossetti è importante il libro; G. Dossetti, Per una "Chiesa Eucaristica", che raccoglie lezioni da lui fatte nel 1965, con il comunento a curs di G. Alberigo e Giuseppe Ruggleri, Il Mulino 2002. Questo libro rispecchia quanto Dossetti ha fatto per un rinnovamento della "paidela" (educazione) della Chiesa cattolica. La Chiesa - egli dice - deve riconoscersi "culturalmente povera, abbandonando la sicurezza basata su un sistema razionale per confidare piuttosto nella 'ricchezza assoluta del testo sacro' ". E' la "povertà" di chi si sente disarmato di fronte al Mistero, che è tanto più grande di lui. Di fronte all'insondabilità del Mistero non si può dire:è cosÌ e basta. E' su una povertà di questo genere che si basa un centro di studi teologici da lui ispirato a Bologna.

Si parva licet componere magnis (se è lecito paragonare cose piccole con cose grandi) potrei dire che è su questa "povertà" che si basa anche la catechesi del buon Pastore, come dirò più avanti.

I monaci della comunità si sono dedicati fra l'altro in particolare ai rapporti ebraico-cristiani, anche sul piano di studio approfondito della la tradizione ebraica.

blicazioni ho studiato per es: S. P. Carbone-G. Rizzi, Le Scritture ai tempi di Gesù, EDB 1992; Osea, lettura ebraica, greca e aramaica, che è un libro dedicato al confronto tra le traduzioni correnti nei primi secoli cristiani; gli autori sono anche qui Carbone e Rizzi, EDB 1992. Un libro che aiuta ad orientarsi è anche, sempre di U. Neri, La crisi biblica dell'età moderna, EDB 1996.

Un libro molto interessante è Genesi, a cura di Umberto Neri (monaco della Comunità; Gribaudi 1986) con una bellissima introduzione di Giuseppe Dossetti. Il libro riporta il Libro di Genesi, versetto per versetto, aggiungendone l'interpretazione come si legge nella "grande tradizione", cominciando dalla traduzione aramaica (ogni traduzione è anche interpretazione), che si chiama Targum, fino agli studiosi recenti, come von Rad. Il progetto era molto grande e a questo primo volume dovevano seguire motti altri, ma purtroppo Neri è morto e non so se qualcuno stia ancora portando avanti il progetto.

Come sai, nella catechesi del buon Pastore le parabole hanno un posto molto importante. Su questo punto sono stati illuminanti vari libri di Paul Ricoeur: Biblical Hermeneutics, Society of Biblical Literature, 1975; Ermeneutica fiosofica ed ermeneutica biblica, Paideia Editrice, 1977; L'hermeneutique biblique, Ed du Cerf, 2001, Inoltre N. Pernin, Jesus and the Language of the Kingdom, Philadelphia 1976; D. Otto Via, The Paraboles, Philadelphia 1967; E. Cuvillier, Le concept de PARABOLE dans le second évangile, Gabalda 1993. Mi ha invece deluso il libro famoso di Jeremias suite parabole.

Ricoeur mi ha anche molto aiutato per capire it congegno della conoscenza con it suo Finitude et Culpabiité, Aubier Montaigne, 1960 e evidentemente il De magistro di sant'Agostino. Il suo "numquam possum docere" (non posso mai insegnare) è stato come un faro net mio lavoro.

Per chiarire t'impostazione storica della catechesi, mi sono appoggiata su Ricoeur, Histoire et Verité, Seuil, 1955, e su P. Gretot, Sens chrétien de t'Ancien Testament, Desclée 1962.

Fra le teologie bibliche, non posso non citare quella di G. von Rad, Théologie de l'Ancien Testament, 2 volumi, Labor et Fides, Généve, 1963. 1967.

J. Daniélou, Sacramentum Futuri, Beauchesne 1950 ma ha aiutato a entrare nella tipologia.

Per quel che riguarda il mio interesse per i rapporti ebraico-cristiani è stato certamente determinante il mio rapporto con il mio Maestro. Sono cosÌ entrata nella Commissione ecumenica della CEI e ho avuto rapporti interessantissimi con Maria Vingiani, quella che io considero la "madre" dell'ecumenismo in Italia. Maria ha fondato il SAE (Segretariato Attività Ecumeniche), intrecciando un'amplissima rete di rapporti con le altre Chiese cristiane e in particolare con l'ebraismo, che Maria giudica, giustamente, il punto di partenza di ogni ecumenismo. I rapporti con Maria mi ha aiutato a rendermi conto di quanto dobbiamo all'ebraismo, non solo perché è la "radice che ci porta", ma perché l'ebraismo di oggi ci insegna a ritrovare nella nostra vita di fede delle realtà, che pur essendo sempre state in essa presenti, rimanevano in ombra e non nutrivano più la nostra vita di credenti. Fra queste mi sembra di somma importanza la tensione messianica, l'essere coscienti che anche noi siamo un popolo in attesa, e che quindi virtù basilare è anche per noi la speranza, il tendere verso un completamento. Tutto è compiuto nella persona di Gesù, ma, per ora, in lui solo; mentre il progetto di Dio è fondare un "regno"; è arrivare al momento della storia in cui "Dio sara tutto in tutti" (1 Cor 15, 28). E questo è l'oggetto della nostra attesa, della nostra speranza.

Restando ancora sull'argomento dei rapporti ebraico-cristiani, gli scritti di Francesco Rossi De Gasperis, gesuita (anche lui ho conosciuto a Gerusalemme e l'ho npoi rivisto a Roma) e in particolare il suo articolo: "Israele o la radice santa della nostra fede" (Rassegna di Teologia, genn.febb. 1980 N 1, p 1-129) mi hanno reso consapevole dell'importanza, per la nostra fede, delle primissime generazioni cristiane, numericamente certo molto limitate. "Si trattò però - scrive Rossi De Gasperis - d'una minoranza qualitativamente potente e culturalmente influente se, come Jacob Jervel fondatamente asserisce essa presiedette autoritativamente ed efficace, mente alla redazione non dell'uno o dell'altro scritto cristiano, ma dell'intero Nuovo Testamento (sottolineatura dell' A.).

argomento di estrema importanza: c'è stata una Chiesa, fondante, che precede i grandi concili (Nicea 325 d. C.: la consustanzialità del Padre e del Figlio (omousios); Costantinopoli 381: il "procedere" del Figlio dal Padre e dallo Spirito (Filioque); consustanzialità del Padre e del Figlio; (Efeso 431: la divina maternità di Maria; Calcedonia 451: le due nature in Cristo), dai quali deriva tutta la speculazione teologica posteriore. Quelle prime generazioni cristiane ignoravano tutto di tale speculazione, ed erano certamente generazioni cristiane. E' facile capire come questo fatto apra degli orizzonti nuovi, non solo per i rapporti ebraico-cristiani, ma per l'ecumenismo con le Chiese sorelle.

Questo è un argomento molto caro a Rossi De Gasperis, che lo ha trattato a più riprese. Segnalo in particolare il suo libro: Comincianclo da Gerusalemme (Piemme, Giubileo 2000), dove sono raccolti molti e molto interessanti suoi studi. Il titolo è già tutto un programma: Rossi De Gasperis afferma che la Chiesa cristiana non comincia a Roma, ma a Gerusalemme; la Chiesa madre è Gerusalemme, Da questo punto di vista è estremamente interessante quello che dice a partire da pag 140 del libro citato, dove tratta di fermenti giudeo-cristiani presenti in Israele e non solo in Israele. Egli definisce tali fermenti non pre-niceni né pre-efesini, né pre-calcedonesi (riferendosi ai grandi concili dell'inizio dell'era cristiana), ma extra-nicene extra efesini, extra calceclonesi. Si tratta cioè di un nuovo giudeo-cristianesimo che sta emergendo di credenti in Gesù, che "non si sentono obbligati a ripercorrere tutte le tappe del confronto problematico tra fede e cultura che certe chiese hanno dovuto affrontare in altri periodi storici e in differenti contesti culturali" (p 151). Anche i concili sono necessariamente condizionati dalla cultura del tempo in cui sono stati tenuti, rispondendo a esigenze del tempo e di una determinata cultura.

Il problema mi ha molto appassionato, perché - senza rendermene conto - mi ci ero imbattuta con i bambini. I bambini non sanno nulla di tutte le indagini e le sottigliezze teologiche dei concili e degli studiosi delle università. Essi raggiungono tuttavia un livello molto profondo di conoscenze cristiane (e i disegni teologici che sono capaci di fare lo documentano) - conoscenze che sono teologiche, ma non della teologia delle università.(Secondo Evagrio il Pontico, un maestro della Chiesa orientale, teologo è "chi sa pregare"). Si tratta di conoscenze essenziali per la fede cristiana, che si basano sulle solide fondamenta delle fonti biblico-liturgiche; se presentassimo ai bambini le argomentazioni sottili e complicate della teologia non capirebbero nulla.

Ti rendi facilmente conto di quanto il problema sia delicato ed anche quanto importante sia per una riscoperta di una teologia essenziale, capace di nutrire una solida vita di fede in quei "piccoli" a cui il Padre rivela "queste cose" (quali saranno "queste cose" ? i "piccoli" non sono certo piccoli solo in senso anagrafico), che sono invece nascoste "ai saggi e agli intelligenti" (Matteo 11,25; Luca 10,21). Si tratta in fondo di un modo diverso di essere cristiani, II problema è interessantissimo anche dal punto di vista ecumenico, cioè del rapporto con le Chiese cristiane sorelle, e anche dal punto di vista missionario. La catechesi del buon Pastore, se fosse stata basata sulla dottrina delle università, non avrebbe certo potuto avere l'accoglienza che ha avuto ed ha presso i Totonaki (indigeni della sierra di Puebla in Messico); presso le popolazioni indigene di Panama e di altri Paesi dell'America Latina; in Sud Africa da parte degli zulu.

E non avrebbe potuto nemmeno diffondersi tanto, come si è diffusa, presso Chiese di tradizioni diverse. Maria Christlieb, catechista del buon Pastore messicana, prematuramente morta, nel suo diario (Dios y el nino se entienden, Mèxico 2002, p 180), racconta di un giorno in cui, in un corso di adulti in cui erano presenti persone di Chiese diverse, dovendo parlare delle parole di Gesù all'ultima Cena, non usò termini tipo "transustanziazione" perché "qualsiasi interpretazione nostra sopra quello che Cristo disse ci avrebbe separato immediatamente, mentre l'annuncio solo e puro del Pastore che ci invitava con la sua Parola, ci unÌ profondamente". Presentare le fonti nella loro essenzialità e in fonna del tutto oggettiva "nos uniò profondamente. Era un lenguaje comun. Era lo esencial. Esto todos lo entendimos y a todos nos enamorò".

E poi arriviamo alla liturgia, in cui ho ritrovato la Bibbia, ma spogliata di qualsiasi impostazione intellettualistica e scientistica, in cui il metodo storico-critico imperante minacciava di portarmi, anche se l'insegnamento di Zolli ml aveva abbastanza agguerrito da esso.

Attraverso la liturgia ho ritrovato la Bibbia, ma più vivente nella celebrazione. Lentamente sono arrivata a capire che Bibbia e liturgia formano un tutt'uno: la liturgia celebra quello che la Bibbia racconta. Se non avessimo la Bibbia, la liturgia non avrebbe la base concreta della storia su cui poggiare; se non avessimo la liturgia, la storia sarebbe un racconto, bellissimo, interessantissimo ma che resterebbe lontano da chi non ha vissuto quegli eventi. Importantissimo a questo riguardo è stato per me le studio della liturgia ebraica pasquale (haggadah o seder), attraverso cui ho capito che la liturgia è sempre memoriale, cioè che attraverso la liturgia si rendono presenti, qui e ora per me, i grandi eventi della storia della salvezza a cui io non sono stata presente, per i quali, se non avessimo il memoriale, dovremmo dire: peccato, non c'ero; ho perso qualcosa di importantissimo.

Sul memoriale un classico è: Max Thurian, L'eucharistie, Delachaux et Niestle' 1963; Max Thurian è il fondatore della Comunità di Taizé entrato poi nella Chiesa cattolica, In quanto alla liturgia, la mia formazione è stata fatta soprattutto sui libri. Fondamentale per me è stato quello di Cipriano Vagaggini, Il senso teologico della liturgia. Era an monaco benedettino di Sant'Anselmo, che è stato un grande artefice della costituzione concillare sulla liturgia, la Sacrosanctum conclilum. Mi rivolsi a lui all'inizio del mio lavoro, per avere un parere sul programma che avevo abbozzato per il corso degli adulti e mi aiutò per le prime pubblicazioni che facemmo con i Paolini e le Paoline. Ha passato l'ultimo periodo della sua vita da eremita a Camaldoli in Toscana. Egli afferma che la liturgia, che era stata declassata a "scienza delle rubriche", è una fonto importantissima della teologia; una fonte che non parla il linguaggio della teologia astratta, ma parla quello - universale, concreto, che si coglie non solo con la mente, ma con gli occhi, guardando, toccando - dei segni. Una sintesi del suo pensiero si trova in: Liturgia e Pensiero Teologico recente, Pontificio Ateneo Anselmiano 1961, che contiene la prolusione da lui fatta per l'inaugurazione del Pontificio Istituto Liturgico di Sant' Anselmo.

Bellissimo il suo: Caro salutis est cardo (La came è il cardine della salvezza) Corporeità Eucaristica e Liturgia, Desclée 1966; in cui afferma che essere la liturgia un complesso di segni sensibili è strettamente legato all'Incarnazione.

Un liturgista mi disse che con il libro di Vagaggini e i quattro volumi della Storia della Liturgia di Mario Rigetti, ricchissimo in informazioni sulla storia dei riti (libro che piace tanto a Charlotte, ma per ora non glielo posse dare) avevo tutto quello che ml serviva.

Poi però, dopo parecchio tempo, incontrai Enrico Mazza a un convegno, e dopo di allora ho letto, con grande godimento, credo tutti i suoi libri (non certo tutti i sui articoli che sono centinaia). Segnalo in particolare La mistagogia, una teologia della liturgia in epoca patristica, Ediz Liturgiche 1988. Mi ha confermato che la tipologia (lettura della storia biblica, considerando i vari eventi di essa alla luce della globalità di essa, lettura che già facevamo con i bambini) è una teologia fatta di fatti e non solo di parole; è quindi una teologia per i "piccoli" non solo in senso anagrafico. Mazza mi ha iniziato alla mistagogia, cioè alla tipologia applicata alla liturgia e cosÌ ho preso coscienza che gli atti liturgici sono eventi, che portano avanti la storia della salvezza. Avevo già letto qualcosa dei grandi mistagoghi del IV sec. (Ambrogio, Cirillo di Gerusalemme, Giovanni Crisostomo, non ho letto Gregorio di Mopsuestia) che mi avevano familiarizzato con il linguaggio per immagini e me ne avevano fatto innamorare; ma mi accorsi che c'era ancora tanto ancora da scoprire.

Sempre di E. Mazza segnalo anche Le odierne preghiere eucaristiche, EDB 1984; Continuità e discontinuità, Concezioni medievali dell'eucarestia a confronto con la tradizione del Padri e della liturgia, Ed Liturgiche 2001

Una grossa opera sulla liturgia è Anamnesi, Ed Marietti in molti volumi; io ne ho solo alcuni, quelli sul panorama storico della liturgia e quello sulla Eucarestia con un lungo contributo di Salvatore Marsili, monaco di S.Anselmo, che conoscevo. Per la teologia morale il mio Maestro è stato padre Dalmazio Mongillo o.p., di cui non posso darti bibliografia, perché il suo carisma è di essere uno straordinanio comunicatore attraverso la parola, ma puntroppo non si può dire lo stesso della sua comunicazione attraverso gil scritti. Per questo ho un certo numero di nastri registrati, che ritengo moito preziosi. Di lui ti citerò un solo esempio, di cui ti avevo parlato a voce: la differenza tra la "morale della vera Vite" e " la morale dell'albero di Natale". Quest'ultimo può presentarsi bellissimo e tutto luccicante, ma quello che colpisce il nostro occhio è tutto posticcio, tutto viene dall'esterno, mentre l'albero è morto. I frutti della vera Vite vengono dalla linfa che scorre nei rami, che è la vita di Cristo risorto comunicata a noi, Quello che mi fatto "scoprire" P. Mongillo è stata una sua frase: "Che cosa abbiamo fatto del cristianesimo! Un ammasso di norme! Quando esso è godere di una Persona". Questo incontro mi ha portato a frequentare per alcuni anni un corso settimanale che P. Dalmazio dava all'Angelicum, e da cul vengono i nastri a cui accennavo.

Vorrei anche accennare all'argomento "dono", su cui ho fatto alcune letture, anche se abbastanza scarse. Penso che il dono sia un grande dinamismo del mondo. Ho raggiunto il famoso studio di Mauss sull'argomento attraverso Levi-Strass, Introduzione a M. Mauss, teoria generale della magia, Einaudi 1965. E' un lavoro di antropologia, capace certo di suscitare interesse sul tema. Su di esso avevo già letto di O. Battaglia, La teoiogia del dono. Ricerca di teologa biblica sul tema del dono di Dio nel Vangelo e nella I lettera di Giovannoi, Assisi 1971 (libro che ml ha regalato Patricia Coulter); è un libro onesto e chiaro, Quello che forse mi ha colpito di più è : J. T. Godbout, Lo spirito del dono, Bollati Boringhieri 1993 (originale in francese: L'esprit du don, Ed La Découverte, Paris 1992; Ed du Boréal, Montréal 1992). L'A. è un sociologo e il libro è una visione positiva sul nostro mondo, in cui egli dimostra - lo spirito del dono è molto presente. Segnalo dello stesso autore: La language du don, Ed Fides, Montréal 1993; edizione ampliata: Il linguaggio di dono, Boliati Boringhieri, 1998. Non ho letto: J Duvignaud, Le don du rien, Essai d'anthapologie de la fete, Stock paris 1977, che forse varrebbe la pena di cercare.

Un pensiero che ha avuto certamente una grande importanza nella mia vita è i'opera di Teilhard de Chardin. E' papà che me lo fece conoscere e ne ho fatto abbondanti letture, che mi hanno permesso di uscire dall' atmosfera ottocentesca (o comunque pre-concilio Vaticano secondo), in cui eravamo cresciuti. L' ottocento è stato certamente un secolo molto negativo per la Chiesa, che invece di insegnarci che la fede è un pari - in cui l'unica certezza è Dio, che è un personaggio certamente affascinante, ma mica tanto facile da capire - cercava le certezze (fino a quella della infallibilità!) e quindi restringeva gli orizzonti. La "pazzia di Dio più sapiente della sapienza degli uomini" era propria dimenticata. Con Teilhard le finestre si sono aperte per me e un'aria diversa ha cominciato a circolare. La sua visione cosmica mi ha affascinato e ml è sembrata andare perfettamente d'accordo con la Bibbia. Sono molto riconoscente al tuo papà che me lo ha fatto conoscere, malgrado che lui trovasse il pensiero di Teilhard deficitario per quel che riguarda il problema dei male.

E fra le mie letture, non posso non citare anche tante favole; ma su questo argomento i nipotini ti potranno dare una bibliografia più ampia ed aggiornata.



  • Cavalletti, S., & Gobbi, G. (1964). Teaching doctrine and liturgy, the Montessori approach. Staten Island, NY: Alba House.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1966). Ebraismo e spiritualità Cristiana (English: Judaism and Christian Spirituality). Rome: Studium.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1968). Il trattato delle benedizioni (Berakhot) del Talmud babilonese. ("Treatise on blessings, Babylonia Talmud") Torino: UTET.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1976). Alcuni aspetti del sal 23 nella tradizione midrashica e liturgica. Source: Studia hierosolymitana in onore del p Bellarmino Bagatti, 2 (27-38). Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1983). Potenziale religioso del bambino. (English: The religious potential of the child). New York: Paulist Press. Translated by Patricia M. Coulter & Julie M. Coulter.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1998). Liturgi a vivente, riflessioni elementari (English: Living liturgy: Elementary reflections). Oak Park, IL: Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Publications. Translated from the Italian by Patricia M. Coulter and Julie Coulter-English.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1992). Potenziale religioso del bambino. (English: The religious potential of the child: experiencing scripture and liturgy with young children). (2nd English ed.). Chicago, IL: Liturgy Training Publications. Translated by Patricia M. Coulter and Julie M. Coulter.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1999). Storia della salvezza (English: History's golden thread: The history of salvation). Chicago, IL: Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Publications. Translated by Rebekah Rojcewicz.
  • Cavalletti, S. (2002). Potenziale religioso tra i 6 e i 12 anni (English: The religious potential of the child 6 to 12 years old: A description of an experience). (English ed.). Oak Park, IL: Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Publications. Translated by Rebekah Rojcewicz and Alan R. Perry.
  • Cavalletti, S. (2003). Talmud. Il trattato delle benedizion. UTET Università.
  • Cavalletti, S., Coulter, P., Gobbi, G., Montanaro, S. Q. (1996). The Good Shepherd and the child: A joyful journey. Chicago, IL: Liturgy Training Publications.

Articles and chapters

  • Cavalletti, S. (1965). The "Maria Montessori" school of religion. In E. M. Standing (Ed.), The child in the church (pp. 124-132). St. Paul, MN: Catechetical Guild.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1970). Religious instruction. Brothers in hope (pp. 207-217). New York: Herder and Herder.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1987). Teaching us the source of joy. Sojourners, 16 (Ja 1987), 23.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1990). The Jewish roots of Christian liturgy. In Eugene J. Fisher (Ed.), The Jewish roots of Christian liturgy (pp. 7-40). New York: Paulist Press.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1994). The child and the adult. NAMTA Journal, 19 (2), 60-68.

Bible Commentaries

  • Cavalletti, S. (Ed.). (1970s-1980s). Nuovissima version della Biblia: Levitico and Ruth-Esther. Roma: Edizioni Paoline.

Reproduction of Cavalletti's Own Personal Bibliography in Italian

  • Articoli su Bibbia e giudaismo
  • Cavalletti, S. (1954). Alcuni aspetti dello Herem biblico. In Homenaje a Millas Vallicrosa Vol I.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1955). La spada sul cielo. In Antonianum.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1955). Il sogno come voce di Dio. In Il Fuoco.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1956). Il significato di mashsheh yad in Deut.15:2. In Antonianum.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1957). Il rotolo dell'orante. In Scritti di onore di Giuseppe Furlani.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1957). Il Signore è rugiada. In Studi e Materiali di Storia delle Religioni.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1957). La rugiada cibo dei morti. In Antonianum.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1957). Ebraico biblico ed ebraico mishnico. In Sefarad.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1958). Il sacro deposito del deserto di Giuda. In Ultima N 88.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1958). La letteratura talmudica, introduzione al Talmud babilonese, a cura di E Zolli. In Laterza.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1958). Jada II, nel Manuale di Disciplina? In Sefarad.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1958). Alcuni mezzi divinatori nel giudaismo. In Studi e Materiali di Storia delle Religioni.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1958). Qualche notizia sulla mantica giudaica. In Studi e Materiali di Storia delle Religioni.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1958). Il sogno profetico di Giacobbe e i nomi divini. In Antonianum.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1959). Sogno e profezia nell'Antico Testamento. In Rivista Biblica.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1960). L'incubazione nell'Antico Testamento Ì. In Rivista Biblica.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1960). I sogni di san Giuseppe. In Bibbia e Oriente.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1961). Gesù Messia e Mosè. In Antonianum.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1961). La visione messianica di Abramo. In Bibbia e Oriente.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1961). Alcuni rubriche liturgiche giudaiche e cristiane. In Antonianum.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1964). Morte e risurrezione nella redenzione d'Israele. In Antonianum.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1964). Abramo come messia e "ricapitolatore" del suo popolo. In Studi e Materiali di Storia delle Religioni.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1966). La tipologia dei rabbini. In Studi e materiali di Storia delle Religioni.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1966). Dignità sacerdotale, regale, profetica del fedele. In Tabor.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1969). Un aspetto dell'antropologia rabbinica. In Studi e Materiali di Storia delle Religioni.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1970). Segno, simbolo, tipo nell'ebraismo e nel cristianesimo primitivo. In Il segno nella liturgia, Liturgica- Nuova Serie -9.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1972). "Il suo sguardo sopra di me amore", Cantico 2,4. In Rivista Biblica.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1972). Il Talmud e i farisei. In Terra Santa.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1973). Il bambino come parabola. In Euntes docete.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1975). Considerazioni sull'antropologia rabbinica. In L'uomo nella Bibbia e nelle culture ad essa contemporanea.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1976). Alcuni aspetti del Sal 23 nella tradizione midrashica e liturgica. In Studia Hjerosolymitana, II, Studi esegetici.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1978). L'enseignement dans le Judaisme. In Rencontre.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1983). In memoria di E.Zolli, Nuova sintesi delle note esegetiche. In Rivista Biblica.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1984). La mistica ebraica. In La Mistica, a cura di Ancili, Città Nuova.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1985). Introduzione. In Dal Sacro al Santo di Emanuel Levinas, Città Nuova.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1986). Typology and memorial. In SIDIC.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1986). Bibbia per i fanciulli. In Dizionario di catechetica, Elle DI CI.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1987). Les paraboles dans la catéchèse. In SIDIC.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1989). Introduzione. In Pinchas H. Peli, La Torah oggi, Genova: Marietti.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1992). Il metodo midrashico nei racconti lucani dell'infanzia. In Ricerche Storico-Bibliche.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1992). Prefazione. In E. Kopciowski, I libri dei Profeti e la Torah oggi, Genova: Marietti.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1996). Sfondo giudaico e tradizioni nel capitolo secondo di Matteo. In Theotokos.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1997). L'educazione ebraica. In Nuove questioni di Storia della Pedagogia.
  • Cavalletti, S. (2002). Die Katechesen des Guten Hirten. In Jahrbuch fur Biblische Theologie, Band 17. Gottes Kinder.
  • Cavalletti, S. (2005). Memorial and Typology in Jewish and Christian Liturgy. In Letter and Spirit.


  • Cavalletti, S. (1991). Il giudaismo intertestamentario. Queriniana.
  • Cavalletti, S. (2004). La storia d'Israele, striscia storica e due libretti di accompagno: La storia del popolo ebraico tra memoria e speranza, e la storia del popolo ebraico da Abramo alla parousia Rubettino.
  • Introduzioni , traduzioni e note a libri della Bibbia
  • Cavalletti, S. (1960). Isaia e Proverbi. In Bibbia Fiorentina. Libreria Editrice Fiorentina.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1968). Ester. In La Bibbia Concordata. Mondatori.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1976). Levitico, Ed Paoline.
  • Cavalletti, S. (1983). Il libro di Giuditta.

Works about Cavalletti

  • Gibson, T. (2001). Implications of two approaches to childhood education in the church. Christian Education Journal, 5 (2), Fall, 47-60.
  • Gobbi, G. (2001). Listening to God with children: The Montessori Method applied to the catechesis of children. Loveland, Ohio: Treehaus Publications.
  • Hyde, B. (2004). Children's spirituality and "the Good Shepherd experience" Religious Education, 99 (2), 137-150.
  • Lillig, T. (2004). Catechesis of the Good Shepherd: Essential realities. Oak Park, IL: Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Publications.
  • Lillig, T. (1999). The history of the catechesis of the Good Shepherd. NAMTA Journal 24 (2), 28-37.
  • Robles, M. C. (1999). The Totonaca people and the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. NAMTA Journal 24 (2), 39-46.

Excerpts from Publications

Cavalletti, S. (2002). The religious potential of the child 6 to 12 years. Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications. p. xiv.

If what has become known as the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd can be defined as the 'ABCs' of Christianity-a definition that honors us and to which we wish to remain faithful-we owe it to the children. It is they who have prevented us from being lost in the usual adult complication of things, in educating us to what is essential and enabling us to share with them the strength of attraction to what is unlimited and unfathomable. Indeed, the simple ABCs of Christianity are so great they satisfy and delight both children and adults.
If the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a chorus, the children's high-pitched voices predominate. We adults attune our voices to those of the children so that, in a hymn of gratitude, all our voices might reach heaven together."

Cavalletti, S. (1992). The religious potential of the child: Experiencing scripture and liturgy with young children. (2nd English ed.). Chicago, IL: Liturgy Training Publications. Translated by Patricia M. Coulter and Julie M. Coulter. p. 51.

"Theology, in the serious sense of the word, is not knowledge for the elite. Every time we are unable to transmit theology to children or the uneducated, we should question ourselves, and we will come to realize, as we go closer to the core of things, that our inability depends on our own ignorance. How many times were we aware that we were not succeeding in speaking to the children about the greatest realities because we were unable to proclaim them with the essentiality the children needed."

Cavalletti, S., & Gobbi, G. (1964). Teaching doctrine and liturgy: The Montessori approach. Staten Island, NY: Alba House. p. 131.

"Silence is essential to the life of prayer: it is the door to God… Knowledge of the liturgy, though attractive, is not an end in itself, but should be of service to the essential; and it is toward communion with God that the teacher must orientate the souls of children in their first experiences in the life of the spirit.
"If you place confidence in children, you will give them a start in dealing by themselves with God. In silence and recollection they will not delay in finding their way to Him, and they will arrive at religious experiences which would astound even those who are proficient in the spiritual life."

Cavalletti, S. (2002). The religious potential of the child 6 to 12 years old. . Oak Park, IL: Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Publications. Translated by R. Rojcewicz and A. Perry.

This work describes the characteristics and "vital religious needs" of the older child. With a foundation in scripture and liturgy, its theme is the covenant between God and people.

Cavalletti, S. (1999). History's golden thread: The history of salvation. . Chicago, IL: Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Publications. Translated by R. Rojcewicz.

A guide to helping the catechesis experience the flow of redemption history and how to teach that history.

Cavalletti, S. (1992). The religious potential of the child: Experiencing scripture and liturgy with young children. (2nd English ed.) .Chicago, IL: Liturgy Training Publications.

First published in Italian in 1979, this initial book about the unfolding of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is intended to demonstrate the importance of relationship in this approach. The emphasis on relationships does not negate Cavalletti's intent to express that the right time, material, and method are also crucial in the religious instruction of children.

Gobbi, G. (2001). Listening to God with children: The Montessori Method applied to the catechesis of children. . Loveland, Ohio: Treehaus Publications.

A simple, prayerful guide to CGS by Cavalletti's colleague. The book emphasizes that CGS is not simply a set of techniques or special materials, but it is "the spiritual formation of the catechist/educator as a servant of God's Word, motivated by the desire to enter more deeply into union with Christ, the one true Teacher of us all" (from back cover copy).

Author Information

Scottie May

Scottie May is Assistant Professor of Christian Formation and Ministry at Wheaton College. She earned her Master's Degree from Wheaton College and Doctor of Philosophy Degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1993. She wrote "A contemplative model of children's ministry," in Perspectives on Children's Spiritual Formation: Four Views, 2006, Michael Anthony (ed.), Broadman & Holman; Children Matter, 2005, with Catherine Stonehouse, Beth Posterski, and Linda Cannell, Eerdmanns; and was contributing editor with senior editor, Don Ratcliffe, on Children's Spirituality, 2004, co-authoring the chapter with Ratcliffe, "Brain development and the numinous experiences of children."