First Life Teen camp gets youth ‘excited’ about Jesus, Church

CHARLTON -- Local Catholics were among leaders and participants at the first New England Life Teen camp, which was held in the Worcester Diocese.

Themed “Discover the Sacred,” the camp for high-schoolers was held at a new facility at Prindle Pond Conference Center Aug. 7-10. Elizabeth Cotrupi, coordinator of Life Teen at St. Joseph Parish, organized it with Sean and Patricia Flynn, of St. Mary Parish in Dedham. Sean Flynn is the New England area contact for Life Teen.

Life Teen is an international youth ministry movement which also involves religious education, Cotrupi said. Cotrupi and Patricia Flynn said the camp was an optional part of Life Teen programs at St. Joseph’s and the Leicester parishes in the Worcester Diocese, St. Mary’s and other parishes in the Boston Archdiocese, and St. Andrew Parish in Colchester, Conn., in the Norwich Diocese. The camp drew 64 teenagers and 34 leaders, including Life Teen alumni and adult chaperones, the women said.

Future New England Life Teen camps will be open to any high-schoolers, whether or not they live in New England or have Life Teen at their parish, Cotrupi said.

“It’s been a dream of ours for awhile,” Patricia Flynn said of holding a local Life Teen camp. “My husband and I just felt New England needs something like this, deserves something like this.” She said that a couple of youth from their parish had been counselors at the closest Life Teen camp in Georgia which was very expensive.

The dream is to bring Life Teen programs together in a eucharistic-centered camp, the Flynns said, and Sean Flynn added, “Mass and adoration is the center of every single day.”

Patricia Flynn and Cotrupi said other activities included praying the rosary, the Angelus and the Stations of the Cross; listening to talks, sharing in small groups, and participating in the team-building “messy olympics” and low ropes course.

“We have to keep our eye on what the real treasure is -- eternal life and relationship with God,” Cotrupi said, explaining the camp’s theme. Leaders wanted to help youth discover sacred things like their own lives and journey, as well as adoration, confession, Mass, the rosary, and being with the community of believers, she indicated.

Confession was always available, Flynn said. She said Father Matt Williams, of St. Mary’s in Dedham, and Father Dave O’Donnell, of Christ the King Parish in Brockton, were there all week and Father Normand Tremblay, of St. Joseph’s in Charlton, and Father Jim Clark, of St. Monica Parish in Methuen, came to hear confessions.

“I have a great pastor who makes it possible for me to be here, so we can have a priestly presence at important camps like this,” Father Williams said. Such camps are important “because we must make young people a priority,” he said.

“The Church must meet them at these crucial points in their lives to help them understand that Jesus loves them, the Church loves them -- God has a plan for their lives and that plan can only begin to flourish by a vibrant participation in the Church, as they understand they are members of his body and play an integral part in the mission of the Church, said Father Williams.

“It is so powerful for me as a priest to watch teens get excited for Jesus and his Church, to see their hearts explode with love for the Eucharist and to see their hearts poured out, healed and renewed in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, because it’s the sacraments where they truly encounter Christ and where I see miracles happen,” he added.

“The retreat atmosphere builds faith, because faith comes by hearing, and when they hear the word of God and they see it lived by the camp counselors, it becomes contagious,” said Father Williams.

“This week, it’s our time, our treasure,” Sean Flynn told the youth in a wrap-up talk Aug. 10. “Out there it was their time,” and it didn’t change out there.

“Here, lives were changed,” he said. “We can’t be a Pentecost, locking the door. ... No youth minister can do the work you can do in your colleges, your homes. ... So take that Spirit back with you. ... Infect your youth group, your school, your home, so everyone’s, like, ‘What went on at that camp?’”

“Look in the mirror,” Father O’Donnell urged the congregation in his homily at the closing Mass. “First say to yourself, ‘I’m good. God created good stuff. God loves me.’ You start out with that positive affirmation.” He urged them to stay honest with one another, remember that God has plans for their good, and fulfill their own mission.

The congregation prayed for those who have given up hope or have fallen through the cracks, for the renewal of all family life, that clergy and religious would embrace Jesus’ invitation to give up everything, and “that we can go home and be authentic witnesses.”