While the Year for Priests, which began last June, is coming to an end, an innovative program aimed at cultivating love and gratitude for the priesthood among grade-school children is just getting started. “Circus of the Stars: Spotlight on the Father” is this summer’s vacation Bible school offered by K4J (Kids for Jesus).

K4J is a program of Mission Network under the guidance of Regnum Christi. K4J’s mission is to motivate children to lead virtuous lives and to love Christ and his Church through creative and unique programs.

Kathleen Conklin, national director of K4J, says that this year’s VBS theme responds to Pope Benedict’s call for the Church to focus on the priesthood.

“This year, the ‘Circus of the Stars’ will teach kids that the priest is ‘another Jesus.’ The children will learn how important the role of the priest is for the Church,” Conklin says.

The weeklong camp is open to kids from pre-K through eighth grade. Fifth- through eighth-graders serve as camp leaders. A typical day begins with group prayer and a skit, as well as a Scripture verse and a teaching from the Catechism. The kids then go off to a number of activity stations that relate to the theme of the week. These stops include crafts, games and music. Conklin notes that one of the virtues to be highlighted at this summer’s VBS is the virtue of balance.

“The kids will learn that they need to work, play, rest and pray each day,” says Conklin. “They will take home a package each day that motivates the kids to practice balance on their own.”

The Year for Priests theme has some unique features. Students are encouraged to bring spare change to help the retirement fund for priests and religious in their local diocese, and the children will perform the “Thank You, Father” song for their parish priest at the end of the camp.

“The kids learn that they are their Father’s stars. He has given them a special mission in the Church,” Conklin says. “The fourth day of the VBS helps kids understand that this mission is their vocation from God, and it is theirs to discover.”

The Smith family of Clarkston, Mich., enjoys K4J’s programs. For the past nine years, Beth Smith has sent one or more of her 11 kids off to vacation Bible school.

“My kids love it,” Smith says. “They are already asking me if they are going to get to go again this summer.”

Smith estimates that a typical five-day camp in her area attracts 75 to 100 youngsters from local parishes. She says that her kids come home singing songs that they have learned.

“The camp does such a good job of transmitting the faith in a creative and fun way,” she shares.

In the Reno, Nev., area, Dolisa Winkleman agrees. Over the years, her five children, ranging in age from 4 to 14, have received age-appropriate lessons at Bible school.

“My kids really enjoy the fun activities,” she explains. “The morning skits are not only educational, but the content is reflected through the lessons and activities of the day. They can relate everything together.”

According to Joanne Reich, that’s the goal. Reich has been the co-director of the St. Francis de Sales vacation Bible school program since it began in Akron, Ohio, nine years ago. About 150 children participate each summer.

One of her favorite stories is of a non-Catholic 6-year-old girl who attended the camp with her Catholic cousin. When it came time for the cousin to receive her first Communion, the non-Catholic family went to buy a card. After her mother read aloud the card, the girl responded, “I know what that means: Jesus is truly in the Eucharist.”

The mother asked where she had learned that. The daughter responded: “Vacation Bible school.”

“The week is a way of forming the children in the faith — and the adults, too. It’s a means of community. It’s a fun, faith-filled, vibrant experience,” shares Reich.

St. Francis de Sales’ pastor, Father G. David Bline, says the K4J vacation Bible school encourages the children to be proud to be Catholic.

“This VBS gets our youngsters excited to be truly Catholic,” notes Father Bline. “They want to learn about and do activities related to the saints, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the sacraments, such as the Eucharist.”

Winkleman says parents should be eager to send their kids to VBS this summer: “It’s an action-packed way to learn about the saints, virtues and our Catholic faith. They learn so much in such a short week. We love VBS.”

Eddie O’Neill writes from Green Bay, Wisconsin.

INFORMATION K4J.org