July 24, 2009

Ancient Rome comes to life at vacation Bible school

Omer Cord, right, helps children learn the trade of carpentry in the Roman village marketplace at the vacation Bible school held on July 6-10 at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Shelby County. (Photo by Gary Lindberg)

Omer Cord, right, helps children learn the trade of carpentry in the Roman village marketplace at the vacation Bible school held on July 6-10 at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Shelby County. (Photo by Gary Lindberg)

By Jennifer Lindberg (Special to The Criterion)

SHELBY COUNTY—Eleven-year-old Logan Perry watched and listened in awe as the vacation Bible school activities taught him what it was like to be a Christian in hostile ancient Rome.

He and other children walked through a Roman marketplace, passed people wearing Roman costumes and took time to see the skits that showed how the Romans treated Christians in the time of St. Paul in 60 A.D.

There was even St. Paul, in prison chains, to tell Logan and his friends about his love of Christ and how he was willing to go to jail because of his belief in Jesus.

The son of Paula and Rich Perry of Shelbyville even learned several Bible verses from the Book of Romans that showed him how he should live his life.

His favorite was Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gifts of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus Our Lord.”

“I find it means that if you really focus, and do what you are supposed to do, you will be able to stay away from sin and death and go to heaven,” Logan said.

It’s that kind of learning that Linda Robertson, coordinator of religious education at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Shelby County, hoped for when she chose the approach of this year’s vacation Bible school at the parish on July 6-10.

“I like seeing the children put the Christian message into action,” Robertson said.

It also appealed to her because it was an intergenerational program and entire families could participate in activities.

Robertson had participants—as young as 2 and as old as 82—in varying roles.

The “Rome, Paul and the Underground Church” Bible study was a unique way to help the children learn their Catholic faith and more of its beginnings.

But the coordinator of religious education’s greatest joy was that Father Paul Landwerlen, pastor, took an active part by playing the Apostle Paul in prison.

Father Landwerlen was guarded by a Roman soldier. When children came into the “jail,” he told them about St. Paul and why he was under arrest for being a Christian.

“Having Father [Landwerlen] as part of the program just made everything so much better,” Robertson said. “He really has a way of … putting a passion into his interactions with people when he speaks about God and the Church.”

Parishioner Doug Rodgers, who portrayed the Roman soldier guarding the Apostle, said that of all the vacation Bible schools he has helped with, this one “got the kids more involved in actual Catholic beliefs and practices.”

Some of the younger children really believed Father Landwerlen’s and Rodgers’ performances, and were concerned that their pastor would always be a prisoner.

Father Landwerlen said he wanted to be involved in this year’s Bible school because it was worthwhile for the children.

“This teaches them about the early Church, Christians suffering and death,” he said. “This is good Church history for them.”

After speaking with the Apostle Paul, who actually did have chains around his ankles to make it seem more real, the children went to the church basement, which represented an underground church where Christians had to worship secretly out of fear of the Romans.

The children also witnessed other skits, including one where someone who stole a loaf of bread was threatened with flogging by a Roman soldier. When that happened, the Christians offered to pay for the bread.

They also witnessed Roman soldiers closing down the metal works shop because the shop owner was Christian.

Later, children gathered on blankets in the parish hall to go over the Bible verses and sing Christian songs before heading home with an activity to do, such as helping wash the dishes or telling someone about Jesus.

Despite learning that Christians had to suffer for their faith, Rebekah Sever, 9, said she learned something more important.

“God’s love is always with us,” said Rebekah, the daughter of parishioners Steve and Theresa Sever of Waldron. “It’s there to save us.” †

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