‘Holy Fire’ retreat ignites faith of middle schoolers from 10 dioceses

By Theresa Laurence
NASHVILLE, Tenn (CNS) – More than 1,800 Catholic middle school students and their chaperones from 10 dioceses danced and prayed their way through an interactive retreat event at the Catholic Pastoral Center in Nashville, the largest of its kind ever staged in the diocese.
“I’m still in awe,” said Bill Staley, director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Nashville.
The daylong event Dec. 1, which included a mix of high-energy musicians and inspirational speakers, along with quiet moments for eucharistic adoration and prayer, was well-received by the youth, their parents and chaperones who attended.
Holy Fire, produced by the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, is developed in collaboration with host dioceses, like Nashville as well as Chicago recently. Both events have been extremely well attended by thousands of young people.
“We had over 10 dioceses in all, including representatives from across Tennessee and three of four dioceses in Kentucky,” Staley told the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Nashville Diocese. Groups also traveled from Birmingham, Alabama, north Georgia and Evansville, Indiana.
“I feel really good to grow this event into something great,” said Staley, who is already thinking about hosting a two-day event next year.
“It was a great experience and we can’t wait to go back next year,” said Cindy Sabatino, director of religious education at Our Lady of the Lake Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee, who brought a group of 30 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders to the event.
One of the high points of the day for Sabatino and her group was adoration. “Many of them had never experienced adoration like that” among such a large group of peers, she said. “They can be intimidated to pray in front of their peers,” she said, but here they were encouraged to let their guard down and “just be with the Lord” in the moment.
The entire experience of being with so many Catholic young people for a full day of Catholic musicians, speakers and prayer was new to many Holy Fire participants, young people and their parents alike, Staley said.
“Many parents joined for the whole day,” he said. “A lot of them didn’t have an experience like this (in their own childhood), which is a wonderful benefit of the program.”
Holy Fire is the newest evolutionary step in the Diocese of Nashville’s annual confirmation preparation for middle schoolers, and now reaches beyond the students preparing for the sacrament.

Father Andrew Bulso, a priest of the Diocese of Nashville, Tenn., carries the monstrance holding the Blessed Sacrament during Mass for about 1,800 middle school students and their chaperones at the Holy Fire retreat event Dec. 1 at the Catholic Pastoral Center in Nashville. (CNS photo/Theresa Laurence, Tennessee Register)

Partnering with the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry enabled Nashville’s youth ministers to stage a much larger-scale event than they could have done alone, complete with professional sound and lighting designs, big screen video and multimedia presentations.
Holy Fire’s mission is “to set young people ablaze with the love of Christ and inspire them to live as disciples of Jesus Christ in the world, to embrace their baptism and engage with the relevant and powerful Gospel of Jesus.”
Speakers and performers from the day included: Joe Melendrez, Noelle Garcia, Dom Quaglia, Sarah Hart, the Cimorelli Sisters and the Sarah Kroger Band. Throughout the day, participants also had the opportunity to receive the sacrament of reconciliation, renew their baptismal promises, and talk with exhibitors, which included the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, among others.
Nashville Bishop J. Mark Spalding, who drove back to Nashville from Cincinnati just in time to make the closing remarks at the Holy Fire Mass, encouraged the young people to be examples pointing towards Christ, “to bring the love of Christ into your home and community.”
“I think the bishop’s message was very meaningful,” said Sabatino, encouraging the youth to go forth and have a positive influence. “He’s young, he’s motivated, he inspires the kids.”
Overall, Sabatino said, her group wasn’t sure what to expect going into the day, but thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Holy Fire “put them in a place where they could open their hearts to Jesus,” she said.

(Laurence is a staff writer for the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.)

Teen-led Search retreat offers vocational support

GALLMAN – The Diocesan Fall Search Retreat took place November 9-11, at Camp Wesley Pines. sixty-five juniors and seniors from across the diocese participated in the weekend retreat either as Searchers or Staffers.
Search is unique in that it is a retreat “for teens; led by teens.” Modeled after the Cursillo movement, search has been an active ministry for youth in our diocese for the last 15 years. The retreat is sponsored by the Diocesan Office of Youth Ministry but St. Richard parishioners, Ann and Jeff Cook have been the longtime volunteer adult coordinators
The Spring Search Retreat is set for March 1-3, 2019 at Camp Wesley Pines. Juniors and Seniors can register for the retreat via www.jacksonsearch.com. Space is limited. For questions, please contact Abbey Schuhmann in the Office of Youth Ministry – Abbey.Schuhmann@jacksondiocese.org or (601)949-6934.

GALLMAN – Graham Hlavac and Father Nick Adam prepare for the closing Mass on Sunday afternoon.

Presentation coordinator, Catherine Cook welcomes the Searchers and leads the opening session of the retreat.

(L-r)Will Foggo, Flowood St. Paul; John Payne, Ellie Heilman and Leila de Gruy, all of Jackson St. Richard; Olivia Artigues, of Starkville St. Joseph and Jack Dowdle of Pearl St. Jude get to know each other during small group time. (Photos by Abbey Schuhmann)

Youth perform parable skits during the retreat.

Snow Play

GREENVILLE – The first-graders at St. Joseph School got to play in a dusting of snow on Wednesday, Nov. 14. Above, Carson Triplett shouts for joy on the plyaground. There was not enough snow to cancel school in Greenville, but the children still got to take some time to enjoy it. (Photos by Craig Mandolini)

Students honor, pray for veterans

SOUTHAVEN – Sacred Heart students offered Mass for veterans on Friday, Nov. 16. Father Greg Schill, who celebrated the Mass, served in the U.S. military. (Photo by Sister Rose Hacker)

JACKSON – St. Richard School sixth-grader Logan Burger attaches a flag pin to a visiting veteran during the school’s veteran’s day program. Students sing the songs from all the military branches, hear from local veterans and present a reflection on soldiers who never came home. (Photo by Wendi Shearer)

Project CHEW offers colorful food lesson

COLUMBUS – Annunciation prek through second grade students were honored to have the ladies from Project CHEW with the MUW (Mississippi University for Women) Culinary Arts Institute join them on Thursday, October 18. Chef Mary Helen Hawkins and Registered Dietitian, Amanda Dahl, along with student Chef Nicole and student Chef Nolan demonstrated how to “Eat the Rainbow” to get all the nutrients they need to grow. (Photo by Katie Fenstermacher)

Vicksburg code writers place in top 10 for competition

RIDGELAND – Vicksburg Catholic School students Andrew Brewer, Caden Pickle, Tommy Martin and Andrew Ulmer placed in the top 10 teams at a coding challenge sponsored by C Spire on October 30. During the event, the team worked with a software developer on a series of puzzles using the Python programming language. More than 100 high school students from schools across the state participated in the event. They also got to interact with a robot and experiment with virtual reality. (Photos courtesy Christin Matthews)

Sister Thea students

Sister Thea students promote the vote

JACKSON – Sister Thea Bowman students cast their votes during a Promote the Vote event. The students had voter registration ID cards, the student council representatives were the poll workers. The students had to sign-in after their names were checked and after voting, they were given “I voted today” stickers. District 3 Hinds County Election Commissioner Zakiya Summers spoke to the students about why it is important to vote. She gave the students a quiz about the history of voting which included the various amendments related to voting rights. (Photo by Shae Robinson)

Master gardeners plant science seeds at Sister Thea

JACKSON – Master Gardeners John Malanchak and Valerie Anderson teach Sister Thea Pre-K students a science lesson on plants. Malanchak provided two plant boxes: one for the students to plant violets and pansies and the other to plant their vegetables: kale, spinach, onions and radishes. (Photos by Shae Robinson)