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Students learn lessons from biblical petting zoo

(H. Rick Bamman –
St. John the Baptist Catholic School eighth-graders release doves at the conclusion of Dennis Holian's Little Shepherds petting zoo program Friday in Johnsburg. Holian discussed the significance of lambs, chickens, donkeys and doves in the Bible and what role they play during Holy Week, which begins Sunday.

JOHNSBURG – Palm Sunday marks the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey – much like the donkey that visited St. John the Baptist Catholic School on Friday.

Lambs, doves, a donkey, a rooster and other animals overtook the school parking lot as students at the Johnsburg school learned about the significance of animals during Holy Week and other biblical times.

“We got to connect animals with the Bible,” fifth-grade teacher Amy Billings said.

This biblical petting zoo was led by a parent, Dennis Holian.

Early in the presentation, he showed a donkey and discussed how the young animal Jesus selected wasn’t usually ridden by royalty or high priests.

“He rode this humble little beast of burden,” Holian told the students.

Holian also pointed out a dark cross-like mark that is visible on most donkeys’ backs, connecting it to the cross on which Jesus was crucified.

While showing a rooster, Holilan told the group of students about the warning that Jesus gave the apostle Peter – that Peter would deny Jesus three times before hearing a rooster crow twice.

“That’s coming up Thursday,” Holian said. “... On Holy Thursday when Peter says ‘Jesus, I will never deny you.’ ”

Holian also brought a goat and explained to the students where the term scapegoat originated.

During Old Testament times, Jews would use goats to obtain atonement for their sins.

Priests would select two goats. One would be used to purify the priests of their sins and the second would be used as a sin offering for the people.

The first goat would be killed on an altar, and the second would be cast out into the wilderness and, Holian said, likely killed so it wouldn’t return.

“If the goat came back, [the people] were in big trouble because the sins came back,” Holian said.

Holian closed the presentation by inviting eighth-graders to release several doves – a symbol of the Holy Spirit – into the air.

“It was more hands-on and better than just the books,” eighth-grader Bailey McCrea said.


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