Catholic parents seeking summer activities for their children should look no further than their parish, because a growing number of vacation Bible schools are offered at Catholic parishes throughout the Diocese of Orange.
Long the realm of fundamentalist Christian churches, vacation Bible schools typically offer a weeklong program of daily activities structured around Scripture.
Catholic vacation Bible schools are much the same, with special focus on Jesus, the Blessed Mother and the saints sprinkled in. Some programs involve the whole family while others welcome children from kindergarten to fifth grade.
Sandra Gutierrez, director of Faith Formation, says St. Justin Martyr Parish in Anaheim presented a child-focused program every summer, but has now switched its focus to the entire family beginning last year.
“Little by little our focus is on adult evangelization, so we wanted this experience to be shared in a family atmosphere so that families can implement these lessons into their daily lives,” Gutierrez explains. “We want them to know what stories and activities they can share with their kids and that they can go beyond the week to continue to have fun learning about Jesus.”
St. Justin Martyr’s Vacation Bible Camp this year runs from August 1-3 beginning at 6 p.m. with dinner each night in the parish hall, Gutierrez says. “There is praise and singing, then story time focusing on Jesus. We have crafts with stories and songs.” This summer Gutierrez expects 100 to 150 people to attend.
Like the programs offered at Christian churches, Catholic vacation Bible school programs are centered on Scripture. One difference is that Catholic VBS programs attempt to build relationships between children and their families.
“How does the life of Jesus relate to your life? It’s bringing the lessons into the context of living the Gospel today and continuing Jesus’s ministry,” Gutierrez says.
At Christ Cathedral Parish’s VBS, Sister Theresa Trang Nguyen oversees three coordinators who plan the weeklong programs.
“Our theme of the day ties everything together,” says Angela Nguyen, one of the coordinators who serves with fellow volunteers Nicole Berrera and Abraham De Santos. “Mass opens VBS on Monday and closes it on Friday. We have adoration every day. The kids perform skits related to the theme and share what they’ve learned from the Scripture. They participate in craft projects based on the day’s theme and play games to get to know each other.”
Christ Cathedral Vacation Bible School will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. from July 17-21 and will include a hot lunch. Last year’s program drew more than 300 children, Nguyen says, as well as more than 200 volunteers.
“Mary Our Mother of Love is our theme this year to tie in with the international theme of Mary,” she adds.
At Holy Family Cathedral Parish, last year’s Vacation Bible School attracted 215 children ages 5 through 10, says Lisa Condon, program director. This year’s VBS at Holy Family was cancelled due to extensive construction on the school grounds, she adds.
One of the kids’ favorite parts is music and the hand motions they learn to go with each song. “They are songs about God and what He does,” Condon explains. “The children all get a CD and keep it forever. I hear parents saying, ‘We play the VBS CD all the time!’
“The kids also enjoy so-called ‘God sightings,’” Condon adds. “They receive a bracelet that reminds them to see God in everything – such as when someone does something nice for you or when you see a beautiful sunset. We want them to always look for God in the things around them.”
VBS at Holy Family always incorporates a service project, such as collecting food for the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry, gathering any kind of toys from dolls to cars, except for the fidget spinner that is more than just a toy but still welcomed for Spencer’s Toy Chest at CHOC hospital, or sponsoring an iguana at the Santa Ana Zoo, Condon notes.
“Kids can make a big difference doing little things.”