By RENEE WEBB
ONAWA – As a priest, Father Michael Erpelding said from time to time he is asked by older parishioners – where are the children?
“I can say they are all with us, they have come to be a part of us, part of the church to take the journey of faith,” said Father Erpelding, pastor of St. John Church in Onawa, who baptized nine children Feb. 12. “It gives me great excitement to know that people are approaching the church to have their children saved and to make them part of our community.”
The nine children, who ranged in age from a few months to 8 years old, were from three families. Cari Eich had four children baptized: Isabelle, Lawson, Parker and Zthan. Brent and Amber Griffith had two children baptized: Addison and Mason. Chris and Jacki Archer had three children baptized: Lakin, Charlee and Rowen.
“I had four families who had children to be baptized and I said wouldn’t it be nice to do it all at the same time,” said Father Erpelding, who noted one family had a conflict with the date so couldn’t take part in the group baptism.
What motivated Eich to get her four children baptized was the approaching time of her son Parker’s first Communion.
“I wanted them to have that opportunity,” she said. “For us, it means that they get a fresh start and they will continue with their religion.”
Describing the experience like a true boy, Parker described the baptism as “wet,” but noted it was special.
Learning about the sacrament in parish religious education classes, Parker knew baptism was about original sin. Now he is focused on learning the Act of Contribution as the sacrament of reconciliation nears and he looks forward to receiving Communion.
Brent Griffith explained their two older children were already baptized, but they hadn’t yet done so for the two youngest who are 4 and 5 years old.
“We wanted to get it done so they could keep growing up in the Catholic faith, attend CCD and eventually receive first Communion,” he said.
A lifelong parishioner at St. John’s, Griffith said it was important for his children to carry on the faith.
Father Erpelding pointed out these families are taking a step in their journey to be evangelized in the church and to know Jesus Christ better. He told the parents that in having their children baptized, they were accepting the responsibility of raising them in the faith. The priest then traced a cross on each of the nine’s foreheads and he invited the parents and godparents to do the same.
During the homily, the priest spoke of the great joy and celebration in inviting nine children into the kingdom of God.
“We cannot take this lightly. These parents and godparents are presenting these children to the church, especially to Jesus Christ who will assist them to maneuver through this world of choices and difficult relationships,” said Father Erpelding.
Referring to the Gospel, he stressed the importance of family relationships but acknowledged there can be many challenges.
“Our baptism calls us to be a people of God, a people of the church – wherever we set our feet or lay our head. The very idea of the church means a community who lives and loves and forms each other,” Father Erpelding said. “In the midst of interactions there can be some difficult times as stated in the Gospel.”
Jesus continues his “Sermon on the Mount” today and demands that people act justly toward one another, pray for our enemies and forgive, the pastor noted.
“When you approach this altar, offer your sacrifice of forgiveness for those who have harmed you,” said Father Erpelding, who added that relationships with one another mirror one’s relationship with God.
Just as Jesus would free the children to be baptized of their original sin, the priest said Jesus promises to forgive the sins of the faithful to “allow us to move from the past to now. He doesn’t care about the past, he cares about now. When we love ourselves we can love others in the way God wants us to love. All of these other people who sit with us today are broken trying to find their way. We are all in this together and that is why we gather each week as church – to love, to forgive and take one step closer to our redemption with Jesus Christ.”
“God has saved us and in a few minutes, we will watch him save these children from original sin and make them part of this church,” Father Erpelding said. “Let us give praise and thanks that God loves us, heals us, forgives us and brings us everlasting life.”
In an interview prior to Mass, Father Erpelding called the baptisms a celebration for not only the individual families, but the entire parish family.
“There is an excitement in the families – they are all on a similar journey together,” said the pastor. “They can be an example to the rest of the church.”
Father Erpelding pointed out he has never baptized so many as part of his priestly service in the Diocese of Sioux City. However, while working outside the diocese as he was taking part in canon law studies, Father Erpelding did baptize about 12 during a special ceremony held on a monthly basis.