More than 30 young men and women participated in this year’s leadership retreats sponsored by the diocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry (OYYAM), dedicating three days in July to prayer, service and deepening their relationships with Christ.
“These retreats are for any high-school age young man or woman who wants to explore their faith more deeply,” OYYAM Director Bob Walters told the Sun. “Sometimes we have young people who are discerning a call to religious life or the priesthood, but they really are for any young person who wants to deepen their relationship with Christ, experience the sacraments and get closer to their faith. We do these retreats because the kids and adults who attend find them an incredibly deep and changing experience — they tell us things like the retreats changed their lives, or that the retreat helped them understand their call to enter the seminary.”
The “Duc in Altum” retreat for boys was held at Camp Adams Eden in LaFayette, while the “Fiat” retreat for girls was made at Christ the King Retreat House in Syracuse. Over the course of the retreats, each group had the opportunity to attend Mass, participate in the Stations of the Cross and overnight Adoration, and to explore their faith and spirituality in small groups.
A service component was also added to this year’s retreats schedule. Students met Sheila Austin, director of the Emmaus Ministry at St. James Church in Syracuse, who taught them about the ministry’s outreach to the homeless, poor and underserved in Syracuse. Both groups visited the Catholic Charities Men’s Shelter and spent time playing with children at the Bishop Foery Foundation Neighborhood Center; the girls were also able to make and serve breakfast for guests at Dorothy Day House, an emergency shelter for women.
At the end of the retreat, both groups reunited for a closing Mass at St. James. In his homily, pastor Father John Manno encouraged the students to remember that it is impossible to step into the same river twice, because the water, like a person, changes.
First time retreatant Josh Link, 16, from St. Ambrose Church in Endicott, found himself changed by the end of the retreat. Conversations with his retreat facilitators — seminarians Nate Brooks and Ken Kirkman — helped him to realize he needs to spend more time serving others and praying, he said. “We were talking about what we feel like God is calling us to do,” Josh said. “There’s a Christian rock band I like to listen to, and I feel that music is really powerful. And when I was writing my letter” — retreatants wrote a letter to themselves, to be delivered two weeks later — “it clicked: I’m going to pray more by writing songs that are prayers.” Josh, who plays guitar, bass, keyboard and drums, has written music before “but this will have a new message that I’m excited about,” he said.
Alicia Arquette, 15, from St. John’s Church in Rome, came to the retreat alone but left with a circle of new friends. Helping each other through a ropes course the first day formed quick bonds. “Everyone had to conquer their fears together and grow as a group,” she said. Alicia has made several retreats before and says this one was special because she got to spend time in service, something she loves to do. And when she makes the retreat again next year, she plans to introduce a friend from home to the experience. She encourages any young man or woman to experience it as well. “Do it,” she said. “It’s there for a reason. It’s not in your path by accident!”
For more information about upcoming OYYAM events, visit www.syrdio.org.