The Stations of the Cross and Children

I can remember being a child and dreading Palm Sunday and Good Friday. The story of the Lord’s Passion made me sick, literally. I certainly did not want to exclaim “Crucify Him!” with the crowd. I did not want to have any part of having Jesus die on the cross. Yet, I knew it was necessary. In order to get to Easter, you had to get through the painful stuff first. Jesus on the cross is a central part of Christianity. Yes, the Resurrection matters more. Easter is the crucial event – the fact that Jesus conquered death and opened the doors of heaven for us. But, the cross comes first. Good Friday comes first.

I’ve taught my own children about the Stations of the Cross since they were about 3 or 4 years old. They have known that Jesus died for us, for them. Our Church has a huge crucifix hanging over the altar. We have crucifixes in our home. I always felt that they should know who that man is hanging on the cross, what the crucifixion meant. Without understanding that, they can’t truly understand what it means to be Christian.

This year, I am teaching Pre-K through 1st grade religious education. For the season of Lent, I found some coloring sheets of the Stations of the Cross. We are doing three each week. Over the course of Lent, the children will get the full story. It seemed an appropriate thing to do, a simple way to introduce them to the story of Christ dying for us. Several of the children already knew about the Stations and were excited about having the full set of pictures. Therefore, I was very surprised when a mother of a child in my class informed me she was pulling her child from my class because I was teaching about them. She said that she felt that they were too graphic for young children.

Of course, she has the right to pull her child from my class. A parent always has the right to decide about the education of her child. I told her I was sorry that she felt that way, but I did not apologize for teaching this crucial part of our faith. Nor did I change my lesson plan for this week’s class. I discussed the matter with my religious education coordinator. Thankfully, she backed me up and said that what I was doing entirely appropriate. As she stated, “Easter is not about the Easter bunny!” This is so very true.

The Stations of the Cross are not pretty or comforting. They are not meant to be. They tell a horrible story of suffering, of a cruel, undeserved death. If that was all there was to the story, it certainly wouldn’t be appropriate to share with young children. But it is not the end of the story. Easter is coming! Jesus suffered, died and rose for all of us. That includes young children. They deserve to know the truth.

Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur


Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur writes from western Massachusetts where she lives with her husband and two sons. A Senior Editor with Catholic, she blogs at

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  • Claire

    I can totally relate to your experience. Several years ago I was teaching religion to a class of children who were old enough to make their First Communion, but who had never had any religious Ed before. When I started teaching about the Crucifixion, one little girl became very upset, and the next class she was crying and didn’t want to separate from her mother. Her mother told me that it was because she found the subject of the crucifixion too painful. To give her mother credit, she didn’t pull her from the class. But she could have done more to support what I was teaching (and I taught it in the context of the resurrection, emphasizing that God brought a “happy ending”).

    Later in the year, in this same class, I told the children that I was engaged to be married. One of the boys asked if I was living with my fiance. I responded that God doesn’t want men and women to live together before they get married. His response was that his mother and father had lived together before they got married. I chose not to comment further. It’s so hard to teach religion when you have to teach truths that the children’s families don’t necessarily follow.

    A little off the subject, but a couple of years later I substituted in a 4th grade religion class, and at the end of the class (when the parents were standing right outside the door waiting to pick up the kids), one of the kids out of the blue asked me something about the devil. I can’t remember the specific question, but I answered him honestly even though I wasn’t thrilled about discussing the devil, particularly in front of the parents. But, I felt that a Catholic religion class shouldn’t be too “politically correct” to acknowledge the existence of the devil.

  • LarryW2LJ

    To this day, I remember seeing a TV show when I was very small. I must have been 4 or 5 (I’m 53 now) and it was around Easter time. The show depicted some of the great works of art through the centuries that depicted The Passion.

    Some of these were incredibly gory, bloody and violent; and it had a huge impact one me. Not a negative one – just a huge impact. And I knew exactly what it was all about; for even at that early age, I knew what Easter was all about. My Mom had taught me; just as Patrice has taught her children. But these images “brought it all home” as it were.

    I guess in a way, it helped me to learn that life would not be all “Sunshine, Butterflies and Rainbows”. It wasn’t for my Savior; and it certainly wouldn’t be that way for me. But, even with that being said, The Promise is still there that there is something better to look forward to after this eartly journey is over.

    Lord, please help me learn to do a better job carrying my cross!

  • fishman

    my 2 year old daughter knows that Jesus was crucified so everyone can go to heaven and that the father brought him back to life. You can’t shelter children too much from reality. There is evil out there, but Jesus will keep you safe even if mommy and daddy aren’t in the room.

    I don’t know what to do about the fact parents don’t teach their children the truth.
    I would think the priest should have a talk with the parents and ask them if they sincerely want to be catholics and teach their children the truth. If they don’t perhaps they would be better off not pretending they do.

  • mallys

    Isn’t it amazing that parents who will let their kids play violent video games, watch “Saving Private Ryan” because “that’s history,” wear suggestive clothing, etc. balk at “The Passion of the Christ” because it is too graphic?