By Fran Lavelle
CANTON – Last year the Department of Faith Formation launched a pilot project to see if there was interest in the diocese offering a high school confirmation retreat. It proved to be well received and valued. Determining that we would offer a similar retreat again was an easy decision. What we could not have anticipated was the amount of interest in this year’s retreat.
Watching the cars and buses unload was a sight to behold as more than 180 youth from around the diocese came out for the day-long retreat to spend some prayerful time reflecting on the sacrament they will all receive this spring. To say we were at capacity is an understatement, but the youth and their adult leaders took it all in stride.
The retreat was held on the grounds of Camp Bratton Green in Canton. Thanks be to God the weather forecast was wrong and what was expected to be a cold-rainy day turned out to be a day filled with beautiful blue skies and sunshine.
The mood of day was upbeat as the youth met new friends from around the diocese and had a chance to further strengthen the bonds within their own parish groups. Bishop Joseph Kopacz commented that the crowd present represented nearly half of the young people he will confirm this year. An opportunity to be with the larger church and spend some time with one another is perhaps the greatest benefit of day.
Looking out on that crowd of young faces was a great inspiration for the catechist, DREs and youth ministers and other adult leaders present. To echo the sentiment of Abbey Schuhmann, youth director for Madison St. Francis Parish, “Our Church is alive and well!”
Father Rusty Vincent, associate pastor at Greenville St. Joseph Parish, was the retreat master. The theme was “Proclaiming His Marvelous Deeds.” Father Vincent’s first talk focused on our gifts and talents and his second talk invited to students to think about how they are using their gifts in their own discipleship.
Even with our large crowd we were able to offer small group activities where the young people could share their faith stories and reflect on the talks. When asked his impression of the day, Father Vincent responded, “It was a wonderful day bringing those seeking confirmation together. You could really feel the Holy Spirit moving with each and every one of them.”
Bishop Kopacz joined the group for the afternoon activity and celebrated Mass at the conclusion of the retreat. Underscoring our participation in Mass of both Word and Eucharist and our responsibility to take our faith beyond the walls of the church into the world, the bishop challenged the youth to be advocates for the marginalized. He encouraged them to find ways to continue to serve others either through organizations like Habitat for Humanity or local food banks.
Encouraging the young people to recognize that they are not the future church, rather they are the church today was quite possibly the most important message imparted. Confirmation is the completion of the Sacraments of Initiation and not Catholic graduation. It is our responsibility to provide opportunities for young people to serve the church throughout their college years into older adulthood.
If we want a vibrant church we need to support our youth today. May we all pray for those to be Confirmed this year that the Holy Spirit capture their hearts and fill them with a burning love for our God. If your parish is not celebrating confirmation this year and would like to be a prayer partner for the youth of another parish, contact me at email@example.com to be paired with one of our parishes celebrating confirmation this year.
By Fran Lavelle