Families from around the diocese gathered May 7 for “The Shepherd is Calling,” an event sponsored by the diocesan Vocation Office.
On the Saturday before Good Shepherd Sunday, the Mike and Alice Westrich farm in Burtrum was filled with parents and their elementary school-age children seeking to learn more about Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
“This event was perfectly planned and organized,” said Laura Koski, a member of St. Mary’s Cathedral Parish in St. Cloud. “I brought my niece to the event as a way to share God, our true shepherd, in ways she could engage and understand and to connect with our faith community.”
After the guests were welcomed, Bishop Donald Kettler explained the meaning behind his miter and crosier. His crosier is shaped like a shepherd’s staff, he explained, and he carries it as a symbol that he is the shepherd of the people of the diocese. He wears the miter on his head to show that he is the bishop.
Participants were then put in groups to visit five activity stations, which included eucharistic adoration led by the Sisters of Mary Morning Star from the Diocese of New Ulm; a “Dress like a Shepherd” craft, in which each person decorated a flour sack towel to wear around their head and a personalized wooden stick to be their staff; and stories and Scripture skits. They learned about the life of a shepherd from Mike and Alice’s son, Bryce, who works as a shepherd on the farm, where the kids could hold and pet his sheep.
Father Doug Liebsch, vocation director, said the event was inspired by two things.
“First, seeing a need to meet kids at a younger age, allowing them to ask where Jesus is calling them to serve him in life,” he said.
He said while his office has sponsored events for children as young as middle school, sometimes they are curious about their calling at an even younger age.
“Often we ask these things when we are 6, 7 and 8 years old, and the seeds of a vocation can go unattended to,” he said.
The second goal was a desire to help people understand what Jesus means when he says he is the Good Shepherd.
“I would listen to my cousin Bryce talk about his care for the sheep,” Father Doug said. “He was closer to the sheep when they were wounded or having difficulties. He would be sad when they were hurt. In his free time, he would be thinking about them and researching them so he could know them better. All of these things are analogous to how God loves and shepherds us.”
These things were combined into a gathering to help inspire people to follow the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, more closely, he said.
“This was an event for children. But as I was planning it, my deepest desire wasn’t just for the kids, but for all of us adults to know that we are still called to be like sheep to follow the Good Shepherd, and to know that we have someone who cares for and protects us, even though we may have many others that we care for,” Father Doug said. “The most fruitful part for me is knowing that I, too, want to follow Jesus Christ more closely each day.”
Though it was a lot of work to plan, Father Doug said one of the best parts was seeing the generosity of the Westrichs, and also the many other friends and relatives who came together to do the behind-the-scenes work to get ready for the day.
“I was really overwhelmed by people’s generosity,” he said.
The event wrapped up with an outdoor Mass celebrated by Father Doug and several priests of the diocese.
“It was beautiful to see the children dressed like shepherds at Mass, their hearts truly desiring to be like Jesus, our shepherd,” Koski said. “The day brought so many together from all around the diocese. Father Doug shared that he had the idea for this event nearly a year ago — an event that I hope will become an annual tradition.”
Pictured above: Children were invited to hold the lambs in the barn.