Bible camp at Immaculate Heart of Mary, Windsor Terrace, meant learning about extraordinary animals such as the axolotls, as well as saintly role models, such as a nun who cared for lepers, and of course Gospel stories.
Following a program designed by Our Sunday Visitor, the campers and volunteers learned that an axolotl is a type of salamander that looks like a walking fish. Scientists are working on learning the creature’s restorative properties and applying the knowledge to medical practices. The axolotl tied into the story of St. Marianne Cope, who worked in a leper colony in Hawaii.
The axolotl and St. Marianne helped campers understand that God has love for all His creatures, no matter how strange they may seem.
Although the material was geared toward grade-school children, Sister Mary Ann Ambrose, C.S.J., the camp coordinator, said it benefited the entire parish community.
“You are not finished growing in faith until you see God face-to-face,” she said.
Therefore, lessons from the camp were printed in the parish bulletin and were put on display in a show by the campers.
As part of a social justice component, the children were asked to donate money to help build a well for a village in Africa with no access to clean water through Catholic Relief Services. When they donated, they could put a pebble, representing water, into a jar, representing the well.
Crystal Bueno said she was astonished when her 8-year-old son Marcus came home and told her that there are villages that need help getting fresh water. She offered to give him money, but he wanted to help himself. He gave the fund all the money he had saved from his allowance. Although she explained to her son that he did not have to give all his money, he said he wanted to give it all.
“He (Marcus) told me: ‘I want Legos, but the village needs water,” Bueno said.
She said she was amazed at how much Marcus and his brother, 6-year-old Adam, learned at the camp. She said the boys enjoyed the camp so much that they would sing camp songs at home.
The 10-day camp brought together 63 children, 23 adults, 14 teens and five tweens for three-and-a-half hours each day. The program was intended to last five days, but it was so successful in the past that it was decided to extend the program to two weeks.
Teresa Collins, 14, has four years experience with the camp, two as a camper and two as a volunteer.
“It’s really fun spending time with your extended family,” she said of the parochial program. “It can be frustrating when [campers] don’t listen, but 99 percent of the time they are good kids and I enjoy working with them.”
Ralph Edel, a diocesan seminarian who will be entering his third year of theology in the fall, spent part of his summer pastoral assignment working with the children at the camp. He said it was fun to play with them and educational to speak with them. He said the children are able to grasp many difficult Gospel concepts and ask thought-provoking questions.
“It was a privilege to see,” the seminarian said, speaking of watching the children’s reactions to hearing certain Gospel stories for the first time.
Edel said the experience proved to be formative for him because he never experienced a summer camp growing up, but he hopes to be supportive of the experience when he becomes a priest.
Sister Mary Ann said the program is easy to follow. Immaculate Heart of Mary summer camp began eight years ago with just seven campers and five adults but quickly grew. She said the camp has become a feeder program to the religious education program.
“There is no excuse for any parish to not do it,” she said. “All you need is volunteers.”