Friday, December 3, 2010

Teaching My Children About Other Religions

I am a Roman Catholic. That is my religion, and I am happy
to say so, but it hasn't always been that way. I don't
wear a badge stating my beliefs, but I do often pray a
silent prayer of thanks, and turn to the Virgin Mary when I
have big problems that require the rosary.

I was from a large Catholic family, born to a Protestant
father and Jewish/Catholic mother who sought a religion to
raise the large family they intended to have. I think
Catholicism was the obvious choice, as my mother's closest
relatives on her father's side were Catholic, and they were
a big part of raising our large brood that grew to 11
children. The reasoning behind it does not really matter.
I was baptized Theresa Eileen, and raised in the Catholic

Gosh, that was easier than I thought it would be, because
in this new wave of "don't offend anybody", it seems those
of us brought up in traditional religions should just keep
quiet, and be amongst ourselves. On the other hand, if you
are of the new mega church religion, by all means stand on
the rooftop and shout as loud as you can! I am not
against mega church ministry. I believe if it gets you
closer to God, then by all means… But one time, I
was told I was going to hell because as a Catholic I prayed
the rosary. This on the heels of a good deed in serving
lunch to a new tired mother. And just like that, the woman
who was a former Catholic, and now born free again, spews
hate. What church teaches hate?

I am actually going to thank Stephanie Nielsen for this
article and courage to own my religion. Stephanie writes
the über popular NieNie dialogues, and she is a proud
as can be follower of the book of Mormon. She does not hide
her Mormon faith, nor does she shove it down your throat.
She invites you to learn about it; if you are so inclined.
I started reading NieNie, just a week or two before a
tragic plane accident that nearly took the life of
Stephanie and her husband who she calls Mr. Nielsen. Can
you imagine? One day, she is a cute, fresh faced young
wife and mother of four, and then the next day she is
wrapped as a mummy fighting for her life, and bringing
forth every ounce of faith she has in a higher power to
keep her on this earth no matter the consequences, just to
see her children grow? Who has that kind of faith?

People who own their religion have that kind of faith.

And I know, because it is my faith that got me through 13
pregnancies, only to see four children survive. It was my
faith that had me carry one child to term, only to hold her
for her entire life on earth, before God took her home

It is my faith that has taken me through a near death
experience of a pulmonary embolism the day before I was to
bury my own child. A few years prior to that, there was
the out of control Mack truck meeting with my small sedan
on a busy Los Angeles freeway. My pregnant 8 month belly,
and one year old child in the back seat as we careened
across four lanes before coming to rest at the center
divider. Clearly God sent guardian angels to save us
during all of those trying times.

As a young child sailing around the world on a 32 foot
sailboat, it was my faith and inner dialogue with God that
got me through the night and helped us survive storms we
had no business sailing in. I felt his presence. I could
not explain it, but I knew God was with me. Time and
time again faith knocked at my door, and I totally took if
for granted. I could not imagine being without my faith,
and so it was hard to understand those who struggle through
life without some belief.

Oh sure, there were obvious days that we were allowed to
show we are Catholics, such as Christmas and Easter, and
communions and baptisms. Not to mention of course the
Sundays in church sitting, standing, kneeling, reciting the
gospel, The Lord's Prayer, and committing to our Apostles

My faith was always there, but it seemed shrouded in a way,
that one did not want to offend anyone who may believe
differently. And then I realized that my friends outside
of that mean spirited woman, were perfectly ok with me
being a Catholic.

My kids have celebrated Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, Passover, and sat
Shiva. They have celebrated Muslim holidays with feasts to
fill a table with no room to sit. They have mourned during
Muslim passings, and sat through prayer services. All in
the spirit of fellowship and love. No negative thoughts
were passed amongst us. It was our mutual respect for one
another and our religions that brought us together.

One year, I had Mormon Missionaries at my door. Very young
men away from home for the very first time, so skinny from
their poor dietary habits, it was the one thing I noticed.
So, I told them. "I am a Catholic. I am not converting,
but if you are hungry, I will feed you on Mondays ( which
is their day of chores and such). And so it was, on
Monday, they would come by and enjoy dinner, and sing or
read to my kids. They would read their favorite passages,
and another learning opportunity about a different religion
was presented to my kids.

And now, here it is Christmas 2010. Still not always ok
to say "Merry Christmas." But this year I am rebelling.
In my simple childhood, I can remember joyful years of
town centers proudly displaying Christmas trees and Santa
in the window. City buildings all lit up, the Christmas
pageants at school, and the carolers at the front door.
The magical parade down main street, and boats full of
lights in the harbor. The famous Hollywood parade, which
was once called the "The Santa Claus Lane Parade."

Society has placed so much taboo and offense on "Merry
Christmas", that you don't know what to say. And then I
realized, it is those that own their religion that know
exactly what to say. "Happy Hanukkah my friend." "Merry
Christmas!" "Blessings of Ramadan!", and "Happy Kawanzaa!"

But what if you don't know their beliefs? Is it December
15th? "Merry Christmas" is perfectly acceptable in my
opinion! They have the choice to return the greeting. You
are simply stating the obvious. The holidays are upon us,
and you are wishing your fellow-man good tidings. It also
offers the opportunity to share your home and holiday with
someone who does not celebrate. Invite them in. Isn't
brotherhood what owning your religion is all about? In
my opinion, there is no greater honor than that of being
asked to join in another families celebration.

See this all through the eyes of a young innocent child.
You see a head cover, they see a new friend. You see a
cross, they see a friend. You see a Star of David, they
see a friend. You see skin that is darker than yours, or
eyes that are shaped different, and all your child sees is
a friend.

Today, I own my religion, and I am decking the halls, and
enjoying all good things that are Christmas! And on the 1st
of December? I will wish all of my dear Jewish friends
peace as they begin the celebration of the Festival of
Lights. Happy Hanukkah!

This year I send greetings from my home to Utah to the
beautiful miraculous Nielsen family. They survived the
un-survivable, and they find joy in every day simplicities
of love and life. Stephanie and I both wish in our heart
of hearts for more children, but I know for sure the four I
have were not supposed to be here, and in that I am so
blessed. I am going to paraphrase something Stephanie said
about her children. "I hope you enjoy your children as
much as I enjoy mine. And if you don' is your
fault!" Remember the baby I mentioned earlier in the
article that went home to God on her first day of life?
Her name was Stephanie. I see that as no coincidence, but
merely a guardian angel leading me to a blog I needed to
become a part of!

It is the mothers that are the peacemakers. Open your
heart to one another, and do not shy away from one another
based on your religion. Own it, share it, and pray for
those with no faith at all.

Theresa Santoro has over 30 years experience as a Nanny,
and 22 years as mom. Married for 28 years, and mother to
four, The Fine Art of Parenting helps parents with a common
sense approach to raising strong, independent adults. For
a daily coffee talk, join me at

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