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New ‘SALT’ hands-on approach to sacramental formation is child’s play

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Dr Anne-Marie Irwin and Dr Pamela van Oploo. Photo: Simon Yeak/Sydney Centre for Evangelisation

Children preparing to receive the sacraments will soon be taught using a new method that engages their senses and has proven effective in evangelising them—and their parents.

The SALT (Scripture and Liturgy Teaching) approach to parish sacramental formation was co-written by Sydney-based religious education experts Dr Anne-Marie Irwin and Dr Pamela van Oploo.

It supports children’s understanding of the Christian theology of reconciliation, Holy Communion, and confirmation while promoting a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

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The Sydney Centre for Evangelisation will run a training day in Lidcombe on Saturday 15 July for parish sacramental coordinators, which will include an explanation and demonstration of the SALT sacramental program, as well as the specially-tailored resources.

Dr Irwin’s PhD study initially drew upon the work of Dr Maria Montessori and founder of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, Dr Sofia Cavalletti, to create the SALT approach to religious education for time-poor teachers in today’s busy classrooms.

It invites children to engage with scripture and miniature figurines, craft and other materials to engage their senses, imagination and decision-making while instilling the Catholic faith and providing rich experiences of prayerful pondering.

Dr Irwin, an adjunct lecturer at the University of Notre Dame Australia, said SALT is already successfully used in religious education programs in several schools in Sydney and other dioceses.

She customised it with her colleague Dr van Oploo for sacramental formation in parishes at the request of the archdiocese’s life, marriage and family team.

“SALT gives children time to ponder the story in scripture while respecting their freedom to choose how to engage with the materials,” Dr Irwin said.

She said the beauty of the SALT approach is that anyone can facilitate the program without needing any special training.

“A survey we ran last year showed that while some are happy with the current resources, an overwhelming number of our sacramental coordinators would like a fresh approach,” said Simon Yeak, the sacramental life coordinator.

Dr van Oploo, a lecturer at UNDA in the school of philosophy and theology, said the hands-on program is a “sacramental approach to sacrament formation.”

“Some of it is coming from my current research on what St Thomas Aquinas thinks education is all about,” she said.

“His point is that we should be teaching the way that God teaches, which is through revelation, in particular the parables of Christ—but he also makes use of the sacramental system.

“It’s a recognition of what humans are in their very nature; we’re both physical and spiritual.

“St Thomas says we learn through our senses and it’s particularly important for a young child that they have much sensory experience.

“That gives them a field of experience on which to formulate their own ideas and conceptions of reality as they get older.

“In the sacraments God gives us a physical sign of a spiritual reality, so we’re trying to make sure that faith is accessible at that physical level.”

The sacramental coordinator training day will be held at St Joachim’s Catholic parish, Lidcombe, on 15 July from 8.30am to 12.30pm.

Registrations are required through this online form.

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