Hearing the call to help their church community during the coronavirus crisis, Mark Witte, post-production manager in the Office of Digital Learning, and his wife, Heidi, both class of 2009, answered the call. The couple created an online Children’s Liturgy of the Word. Parents can access the online Gospel lesson via YouTube each Sunday, including Easter.
Blending the skills of Heidi’s teaching background and Mark’s film and digital production expertise, the Wittes launched their 20-minute online sessions last month to provide young parishioners at Christ the King Catholic Church gospel messages and inspiration. The videos replace the live, in-person time Heidi normally offers each Sunday at the South Bend parish.
Originally created to address the needs of their home parish, the sessions are reaching thousands from Maryland to California on Heidi’s YouTube channel. More than 2,000 viewers watched her first session alone.
“I wanted to continue my service for our parish, for our five-year-old and for anyone’s children who are missing this time right now,” Heidi says.
Before the local stay-at-home order went into effect, during Children’s Liturgy of the Word, young children would leave the sanctuary to hear the scripture readings explained at an age-appropriate level. These sessions were not faith formation classes, arts-and-crafts activities or babysitting during Mass. Rather, the children hear the same Mass readings as adults — but in simpler terms that are easier to grasp. With the support of Christ the King’s pastor, Rev. Steve Lacroix, C.S.C., the Witte’s launched their first online session March 22.
"I know that so many parents are wondering how they can keep forming their children in the faith when they can't physically make it to Mass. The recorded Children's Liturgy of the Word makes it so much easier for parents to do this, so that their children's religious formation doesn't grind to a halt during this pandemic," Father Lacroix says.
It’s also a time for Heidi and Mark to blend their professional skills and bond. Mark provides the video, editing and production work and Heidi walks young Catholics through the weekly Gospel readings, just as she’s done for the last two years at Christ the King. “We’re spending family time creating the production,” she says.
After her initial session, Heidi realized something was missing, despite her own musical training. She sent a message to John Burland, a worship artist, teacher, speaker and composer from Sydney, Australia, who has been writing and recording religious music for more than 20 years, requesting the use of his children’s music. Burland responded in kind, giving Heidi and Mark the rights to his music for their sessions.
“Children’s music is so helpful in its simplicity,” says Heidi.
Elizabeth Tomasek ('02), a Christ the King parishioner and mom of five children between the ages of 17 months to 13, appreciates the videos.
“The YouTube sessions fill a need when the faithful are hard hit with closed churches and social distancing,” she says. “One of the best parts is that we’re watching what our kids see every Sunday without us. Now we’re watching together, as a family, and we can see firsthand what they’re learning.”
The message Heidi says she most wants to send with her Sunday introductions to Gospel teachings is to keep the faith during this difficult time — message that is important for her to send and to hear each week.
“The doors may be closed, but we are the Church, and we can still be together.”
To access the Children's Liturgy videos on Heidi's YouTube Channel or connect through Christ the King’s YouTube channel. You can also access the video links via Heidi's Twitter account.