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Week-long retreat helps teens build connections, deepen faith

By Mark Labbe Pilot Staff
Posted: 7/22/2016

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Discipleship Week attendees take part in a prayer and faith-sharing session. Pilot photo/Mark Labbe

WARNER, N.H. -- Participating in daily Mass, confession, prayer, and lectures on Catholicism might not be typical summer activities, but don't tell that to the 40 young people who attended the Archdiocese of Boston's Discipleship Week, June 26 to June 30.

Held on the campus of Northeast Catholic College in Warner, N.H., and sponsored by the archdiocese's Office of Lifelong Faith Formation and Parish Support, Discipleship Week gave youth from the Archdiocese of Boston and the Diocese of Worcester an opportunity to meet Catholic teen peers, deepen their faith and form a stronger connection to Jesus.

"Discipleship Week is a five day immersion into the Gospel, inviting teens to study and contemplate the greatest story ever told, and how this truth affects every aspect of our lives as disciples of Jesus," said Father Matt Williams, Director of Faith Formation at the archdiocese and one of the organizers of the event.

The group, which was accompanied by about 20 adult organizers and chaperones, stayed in the college's dormitories, which are separated by gender, for the week. The college provided the food -- breakfast, lunch, and dinner -- and gave the group access to its education buildings and chapel, where daily Mass was held.

The youth were also able to participate in daily prayer, attend confession and take notes on a number of lectures held by event organizers. The lectures addressed numerous aspects of the Catholic faith, from dating with Catholic morals and values in mind to how to develop a "prayer life."

Outdoor activities and evening socials were held, too, as was Eucharistic Adoration.

"The sacraments, prayer experiences, talks, testimony, faith sharing, games and recreational activities make for a dynamic week that seeks to meet the human and spiritual needs of our youth while also equipping them to be witnesses to their peers," said Father Williams.

Tim Wenger, a parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes in Carver who is going into his senior year of high school, said the week's spiritual activities helped him feel "at peace."

"A huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Between going to reconciliation and the adoration, I feel like I grew a lot spiritually," he said.

He noted that in the lectures he learned new skills for evangelization.

"This week really helped to teach me different ways I can go to people who aren't necessarily involved in the Catholic Church or involved in religion," he said.

Kathleen McCarthy, a parishioner at St. Catherine in Alexandria who is going into her junior year of high school, said she had the "best week," saying that she made "so many friends."

"I have never seen a group of people this amazing in one place," she said, saying she was likely to keep in touch with many of the other attendees.

However, she said, she didn't just bond with her peers, but she also strengthened her bond with Jesus.

"I encountered Jesus Christ this week, truly," she said.

"I could not have possibly imagined (the week) being this good," she continued.

Organizers said that many of the youth expressed their disappointment at having to leave when their time at Northeast Catholic College was over raising the possibility that they will hold a similar, and perhaps larger, event next year.

Ann Genaro, one of the organizers of the week and the Projects and Events Coordinator for the archdiocese's Secretariat for Evangelization and Discipleship, said she was surprised by the maturity and spirituality of the youth.

"I would say most of them are either in love with Jesus or are in the process of falling more deeply in love with Jesus, and that just brings something to them that I think a lot of their other peers don't actually have," she said.

"There's just this depth to them, which means they can have these beautiful deep conversations, it means they can actually enter into silence or enter into times of prayer and not be afraid or fidgety," Gennaro continued, before adding that she will miss them.

"It's just been a week of meeting saints, more or less. Saints in the making," she said.