Pastor’s Keyboard: This past week I was away for four days with thirty children, several parents, young adults, and seminarians on our annual youth-group ski trip. At first one might ask why I needed to be with them on such a trip. After all anyone who knows me is aware that I don’t ski, snowboard or do any of those types of activities. What inspired me to start leading these trips years ago was the example of St. John Paul II. As a young seminarian, I remember reading about the trips that he would take his youth groups on. As a young priest and bishop as well, he would take them camping, skiing and out into nature. There are pictures of him celebrating Mass with them and having talks in canoes with the children and young adults to bring them closer to Christ. In this way, he taught them to love and respect the world that the Lord had made for them, to encounter Christ in the beauty of nature and to grow in friendship with each other.
Now I’m no John Paul II. He was an amazing athlete who could hike and canoe for many miles. He was also an expert skier even up into the early years of his papacy. Yet, thanks to the kindness of a couple of families in the parish who allow us to use their homes in the mountains and to the many adult volunteers and seminarians, I too can offer this chance for our kids to encounter the Lord in the beauty of his creation. No, I didn’t do much outdoors stuff, but I celebrated Mass with them daily. I gave them the opportunity to go to daily adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. We prayed daily prayers from the Liturgy of the hours, which was voluntary for the kids who were willing to wake up very early in the morning before mass, and many of them came to confession and spiritual direction.
On some of these trips children have come away with a greater desire to pray more, to go to daily mass more often and to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation more. It has also built up the sound friendships among the kids, which strengthens them on their walk with Christ. There is an old saying, “The people we hang around will affect the way we think, act and speak.” So, was it worth it? Yes! Of the five seminarians that joined us for the retreat this year, all five participated in our youth group activities before entering. All the parents and young adults were very impressed by the children, by how seriously they took prayer and by how well they interacted with each other and with the adults. The best example came from seeing my own nephew, who had never been away on a trip like this, participate in all the prayers (including the optional ones) with joy and excitement because of the example of other kids who love the Lord. Many of our children are not participating in the Sacraments and church activities during their high school years, and most are leaving the practice of the faith by the time they get through college. I’m happy to report that many the children from our youth group are still actively participating in the faith. This came from these deeper encounters with the Lord throughout their formative years, surrounded by other children, parents and young adults who love the Lord. Please pray that more youth will join us.
– Fr. Scott Woods