Metamora native pens book that points youth to the treasure of the Eucharist

Janeen Zaio, author of "The Treasure with a Face," visits the third- and fourth-graders in Joyce Heiple's class at St. Mary School in Metamora Oct. 21. A 1985 graduate of the school, she shared her book about how a boy not much older than they are discovered the gift of Jesus in the Eucharist. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

METAMORA — As the U.S. bishops prepare to continue their work on a teaching document about the Eucharist, Metamora native Janeen Zaio is doing her part to win young hearts for Jesus with her debut book, “The Treasure with a Face.”

Janeen Zaio

She introduced it to students at St. Mary School here during a visit to her home parish and alma mater on Oct. 20. It turned out to be the first stop on a tour that will take Zaio, who now lives in Charleston, South Carolina, to Catholic schools and homeschooling communities over the next year.

The story is based in the time of Jesus and has its hero, 12-year-old Eli, go on a quest to find the Ark of the Covenant while delivering a new invention — a fragile mirror — to Jerusalem. As he travels the 120 miles, the young metalsmithing apprentice who longs to be a treasure hunter, encounters “trials and troubles, and meets some unlikely friends along the way,” said Zaio.

She added that he’s also looking for Jesus, who can tell him where to find what he seeks. He ultimately finds that and much more.

“Eli comes to realize — and what I want everyone to realize — is we don’t have to live in ancient Israel 2,000 years ago to meet Jesus,” she told The Catholic Post. “He’s alive in the Blessed Sacrament.”

“AN UNPARALLELED GIFT”

The inspiration for “The Treasure with a Face” came from Zaio’s desire for her young sons — now 18 and 21 — to remember that while they might encounter Jesus in the Scriptures and community of attractive megachurches like the one in their hometown, Jesus was only physically present in the tabernacle of every Catholic church.

“I wanted my kids, first and foremost, to love the Eucharist and remain Catholic,” she explained. “I just think the Eucharist is such an unparalleled gift.”

Instead of a lecture, however, she decided to present the teaching as a story, the way Jesus told parables.

“So I started brainstorming one night and the story just sort of came to me,” Zaio said, adding that it took five years of rewriting and editing to get it where it is today.

After being rejected by three publishers, her manuscript was accepted by the relatively new Perpetual Light Publishing, which handles Christian books for young people. Her book is intended for students ages 9 to 13, and includes discussion questions and a glossary.

Zaio has also developed a scavenger hunt to draw young readers into the book.

St. Mary School in Metamora is making a copy available to all students in grades five through eight and has ordered one copy for the third and fourth grade classroom.

PRAYED FOR ZEAL

As for her own relationship with Jesus, Zaio said she always knew Jesus was present in the Eucharist. When she was about 30, she had a revelation.

“If I truly believe it’s Jesus in the Eucharist, why am I not figuratively skipping up to receive him,” she asked herself. “I should be in awe. I should be so thrilled and truly looking forward to it. I should have zeal for him.”

“Eli comes to realize — and what I want everyone to realize — is we don’t have to live in ancient Israel 2,000 years ago to meet Jesus. He’s alive in the Blessed Sacrament.” — Janeen Zaio

That’s what she prayed for and received, she told The Post.

“We can know it’s Jesus with our head but to embrace him in our heart and soul is totally different,” she said. “I don’t go to daily Mass — I go about twice a week. But I try to stop in every day and spend a few minutes with him.”

The seeds of her faith were planted by her parents, Gene and Karen Springer, at St. Mary Church. Four generations of her family attended St. Mary School and during her October visit she was delighted to see that her PE teacher, Ann Cowling, was still there and “just as young and vibrant as ever.”

When it came time to marry Paul Zaio in 1995, Janeen did it at St. Mary Church.

“I pray for (St. Mary) every day, because I just want this school to be here. It meant so much to me and it really holds a special place in my heart to this day,” she said.

“The Treasure with a Face” is available at amazon.com and several other outlets where books are sold. To learn more about the author, visit JaneenZaio.com.

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