Gathered in a field at Mount St. Francis Retreat Center Feb. 23, 50 high schools students stood in a circle, ignored the frosty morning air and took turns blessing each other.
They were on an archdiocesan retreat last weekend called “On the Side of Angels.” The retreat, held annually, drew teenagers from 25 parishes in nine counties around the archdiocese.
It was led by college-age students and young adults who guided the teens in a variety of prayer experiences, including the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, the rosary, a Native American Catholic blessing ritual and Mass. The young people also took part in small group discussions about their inner faith life, meditations, games and they held a bonfire. The young people also took the time to examine their consciences and discuss the value of reconciliation.
At the end of the weekend-long retreat, they were commissioned to “become angels to others” and carry God’s message with them, said Dr. Carole Goodwin.
Goodwin, director of youth and young adult ministry for the archdiocese, said this retreat and one held two weeks ago called “Teens and Twenties Encountering Christ” (TEC) help deepen the faith of young people.
“Both TEC and On the Side of Angels give young people the opportunity to have an intimate experience of their faith” in which it can “be challenged and grow,” Goodwin said.
Several retreatants who took part in the TEC and Angel retreats said that’s exactly what happens to them on retreat.
“I like to come to these retreats because hey help us grow in our faith,” said Bryce Ashby, a junior at Oldham County High School and a member of Immaculate Conception Church in LaGrange, Ky. “At first, you are kind of shy — some people are — but we all open up to each other and you begin to trust and we become like a little family.”
Bryce and her friend Rachel Allen, a classmate and fellow parishioner at Immaculate Conception, said retreats complement and supplement what they learn in youth group. Retreats also help them connect to a larger community of Catholic young people, they said.
“You’re with other people your age and you can really communicate with them (during a retreat),” Rachel said, noting that people on the retreat are there because they choose to be. “You get to see different people and you learn new things from them. It’s good to see other people who have the same faith as you. I grow stronger in my faith.”
During the retreat, participants are encouraged to share their personal experiences of God and their faith. Rachel called these reflections “reassuring.”
Bryce said the personal reflections help her to trust God, noting that many of the stories she hears testify to God’s presence in the lives of young people.
“Sometimes when you think God isn’t going to be there, he comes and he’s there,” she said.
Bryce and Rachel have made many friends on retreat, they said. Among them is Alex Carter, a DeSales High School senior and a member of St. Thomas More Church.
Carter, who attended the TEC retreat two weeks ago and the Angel retreat this year and last, said he values the friendships and new perspectives he gains on retreat.
“The friends that I make through these retreats I wouldn’t know otherwise,” he said, noting that these friendships are lasting.
“I meet so many people who share my thoughts and ideas,” he said. “You learn different ways you can connect with God. You totally rethink how you experience your faith” on retreat.
Carter, who will graduate this spring, said he plans to be a retreat leader next year. Rachel and Bryce said they are looking forward to his leadership.