By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — What child would say no to a virtual type of trip to a land he or she has heard about all their life? Students at St. Gabriel Archangel School “traveled” through the Holy Land, via PowerPoint presentations, maps, speakers and food tastings — a Journey with Jesus. The journey was held April 26 in classrooms, the gym and the outdoor prayer garden.
Carol Davidson, second grade teacher at St. Gabriel School, coordinated the journey. “Today is Take your Children to Work Day,” she said, “and we wanted to do something special for the kids who didn’t go to work with mom or dad. Last year we held an all-school retreat, ‘A Day in the Life of Jesus,’ and the students enjoyed it. So this year, we decided to have our students ‘walk’ where the events in the life of Jesus took place.”
St. Gabriel principal Judy Marsh explained how the day was coordinated. “The kids are gathered in groups of nine,” she said. “They become members of a tribe for a day, like the Tribes of Israel. The tribal leader is a seventh or eighth grader who leads their group to each of nine activity stations. The students all have passports that they have decorated and those get stamped by a teacher when their tribe leaves the station.”
Stations included Bethlehem, where Jesus was born; Nazareth, where he spent his childhood; Capernaum, where he began his adult ministry, and Jerusalem, where he was crucified, buried and rose from the dead. The River Jordan, the Sea of Galilee, the Last Supper, and scenes of other major events in Jesus’ life were also included.
The River Jordan and other sites were transplanted to Kansas City through PowerPoint and interactive scenes and maps in the third grade classroom. Students were able to see illustrations and art showing the Jordan as it was in biblical times juxtaposed with photographs and action scenes of the Jordan as it is today. After seeing the computer presentation and discussing what they had seen, the students engaged in an activity related to what they learned.
“The Jordan is the river where Jesus was baptized, and people still walk in it today,” said seventh grader Lawson Kalaiwaa. “Seeing the presentation on it makes you reflect on how it would be to actually see the Jordan and other places Jesus visited, kind of walking in his footsteps.”
Fellow seventh grader David Stewart said, “This is cool. We’ve traveled around the Holy Land, clicking on real, actual places where Jesus lived and walked.”
The Last Supper was a supper, featuring samples of lamb, unleavened bread, herbs and other foods Jesus and his disciples would have eaten at that meal.
The Prayer Garden is a brick patio surrounded by roses, flowering trees and flower beds across the parking lot from the school. Father Joe Sharbel, pastor of St. Gabriel’s parish, asked the arriving tribe where in the Holy Land they had visited that morning.
“We went to Jerusalem,” several children answered in unison.
“Ah, the place of Jesus’ passion and resurrection,” Father Sharbel said. “While we’re thinking about Jesus, and his dying for our sins and rising from the dead, let’s talk about prayer. We pray in our classrooms, at Mass, and many of us pray with our families. But do you have a favorite place where you can be all by yourself and be alone with God?”
Hands waved like branches in the wind. “My backyard.” “My room.”
Father Sharbel nodded. “I like being outside with God, like in this garden, where I can see the flowers blooming, hear the birds singing and smell the flowers. God’s alive here.”
Angela Garcia, pastoral associate at St. Gabriel’s, and tag teammate of Father Sharbel in the Prayer Garden station, added, “There are different ways of praying. Think of these four letters, A…C…T…S. What does that spell? ACTS, like the Acts of the Apostles.
A stands for adoration — praising and loving God. C stands for contrition — telling God we’re sorry for our sins and asking him for forgiveness. T stands for thanksgiving — thanking God for our blessings. And S stands for supplication — asking God for help, for our families, for our friends, for our country, for ourselves.”
She gave the students another acronym, JOY, Jesus, others and you. “When you pray,” Garcia said, “pray to God and his son Jesus for others and for yourself. By praying for each other, maybe someday we can change our world.”
Two brick paths lead in and out of the prayer garden. Father Sharbel pointed to the paths, saying the road to the garden separates. “Which road looks harder?” A small girl pointed to the longer, more winding path. “That one.” Father Sharbel nodded and asked “Which one do you want to take?” She pointed to the path again. “That one, I like hard things.” Chuckling, Father Sharbel said, “Well, think of the road to heaven. Is it easy?”
Fifth grader Josh Wright said, “No, you have to work hard to get to heaven.”
Garcia explained the prayer garden activity: “We are making a joy prayer bracelet. You will each get three strands of different colors and braid them together. The teal (blue green) stands for Jesus, the fuchsia (pink) stands for others and the yellow stands for yourself. We’re going to braid them together to remind us that all three, Jesus, others and yourself, should be part of your prayers.” Older students helped younger ones braid and tie the bracelets. The “Our Father” was recited, passports stamped and it was time to move to another station.
Which one? It would be up to the tribe’s leader to lead them to another scene from Jesus’ life.