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'We Teach for Life'

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By Miriam Austin

Teaching needy children to love God comes naturally to Fr. Ladislaus Ciaglo, MIC, who is Rector of Our Lady of Hrádek Shrine in the Czech Republic.

This 14th century shrine, situated in a rural area about a 90-minute drive from Prague, is in need of renovation. Father Ladislaus is seeking to re-evangelize the Czech people by revitalizing the Shrine and its ministries. He knows the people's faith has suffered after many years of communism. And he hasn't forgotten the children.

Even while he tackles renovations to the Shrine to better serve the pilgrims,
Fr. Ladislaus has repaired other buildings on the Shrine's grounds to create
the facilities for a summer camp program for needy children and youth —
with many of them coming from Prague, the big city.

"I thought that the best way to spread the message of God's great love and mercy for all would be through the children," he told my husband and me on our recent visit there. He showed us around some of the buildings he has restored, which are now used as dormitories for the needy children he invites to come as campers.

He calls his camps "Holidays with God." The camp attracts more than 1,000
children and teenagers each summer. Teenagers stay at camp for two weeks,
while children come for a week. Some weeks are designated for handicapped
children. The camps are funded through donations from the faithful.

Far more youthful than his 42 years, Fr. Ladislaus has a lighthearted spirit and a great zest for life. He plays football (soccer) and water games with the kids. It's no wonder that the children of Prague enjoy coming to his summer camps.

"We have a lot of fun," he told us, "but we also have catechism and prayers
each day. We stage plays (in full costume) of the Nativity, the Crucifixion,
and other Bible stories to help the children understand the significance of
these events.

"I also try to give them real-life experiences — lessons they can take home
with them and call upon throughout their lives," he said. One summer, for
example, he sent the children to look for a hidden treasure in the woods. During the course of the treasure hunt, they had to walk several kilometers from the camp. By the time they found the treasure, it was getting dark. It was a long journey back — six kilometers through the woods, up and down hills.

Father Ladislaus walked 20 meters ahead of them, dressed in camouflage, so
they could not see him. He was testing their faith and courage. "The children
were afraid but did not panic," he reported. "Instead, much to my surprise,
they began to pray — asking God for His guidance. When they got back to
camp, I asked them if they had seen me. They confirmed that they had not. I was surprised by their ability to follow God's inspiration and find their way back."

Another summer, Fr. Ladislaus was going to send three disruptive boys home early. But, four days into the camp, they came to him and apologized for their behavior. "They told me that they had changed and were willing to cooperate," he said. "I later found out that the other boys had been praying
for them."

The motto of the camp, which is posted on signs in several of the buildings,
reads: "We teach for life, not for school." It's a constant reminder to Fr. Ladislaus that he wants his lessons at camp to prepare the children and youth to live their Catholic Faith every day.

Miriam Austin is a freelance writer who lives with her husband in New Orleans, La.

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