By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

LIMERICK – Father Paul Brandt nailed it in his Saturday morning homily. The 8 a.m. Mass March 27 at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Limerick, which ended the overnight youth retreat, was a grand finale and had all of the elements of the spiritual journey of Lent. It encompassed “almsgiving, prayer and fasting,” he said. There was camaraderie, too, but that was an added bonus.

If some of the 19 young people who attended the retreat were not wide awake, it was understandable, considering they hadn’t bedded down in their sleeping bags until 3:30 a.m.

Sacrifice was involved because the participants, even though they were up most of the night, fasted through the retreat until a 9 a.m. breakfast after the morning Mass. Prayer was present throughout all of the events of the retreat, even those that seemed to be just fun. Almsgiving came into play because each of the young people either raised or donated money to be given to the Missionaries of Charity for their works of mercy in Norristown.

“I did it because this was a fun way to hang out with my friends while preparing for Holy Week coming up,” said Molly Davis, a freshman at Pius X High School in Pottstown.

The evening started, she explained, with Stations of the Cross, but with a twist. All of the kids had backpacks, and after each station they would pick up a fair-sized rock to put into it. By the 14th station, on average, their burden was 25 pounds of rock.

“This was a symbol of the suffering Jesus did for us,” Davis said.

Among other activities before the girls and boys separated for bed were Benediction, Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, confession and, finally, the Chaplet of the spanine Mercy.

“In the end, I felt spiritually ready for Good Friday. I had quiet time with Jesus and I knew I was prepared for Easter,” Davis said.

In the evening a more subtle spiritual exercise occurred when the young people separated into two teams for a scavenger hunt with specific instructions for each inspanidual and team along the way. For example, one team had to dig a hole on a small hill. The other team had to build a cross. It was when they joined up at the end near the hole that they discovered the cross would be planted there, and it is actually the proposed site for a future church for Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, a parish even younger than the teens – it was founded in 2006.

It was only then the teens understood they were all playing roles in a reenactment of the Passion, according to John Sietz, youth minister at Blessed Teresa.

“The one who took the cross up the hill didn’t know he was playing the role of Christ,” he said.

The final activity after the Saturday morning Mass was breakfast for the hungry teens. The menu included muffins, breakfast sandwiches, yogurt, coffee and hot chocolate, all provided by Java’s Brewin’, a nearby coffee shop owned by Bob Barretta, a member of Visitation B.V.M. Parish in Trooper.

Each person had his or her own reasons for attending the retreat.

“Personally, my mom made me come, but it was a good opportunity for me to be with my friends in a religious aspect,” said Alex Abdulla, a junior at Fox Grove High School. “This makes me more firm in my religion; when you are a teenager you get away from it a little bit. After confession and talking to Father Brandt, now I have a firmer faith.”

The entire experience, Abdulla said, “was definitely a positive thing, an opportunity to be with kids who share the same faith and values as I do. God willing and time permitting, I’ll stay with the group.”

The whole idea of the retreat came through the monthly meeting of Montgomery County youth ministers, Seitz explained. Also participating in the organization and execution of the retreat were Clare Boyle, youth minister at St. Titus Parish in East Norriton, and Amanda Cowley, youth minister at Corpus Christi Parish in Upper Gwynedd, who also brought along a few of their young people.

His own group meets every Sunday night, Seitz said, and in addition to spiritual and recreational activities, they also do works of mercy, for example, helping at the Missionaries of Charity soup kitchen.

“I’m glad that our youth minister was able to coordinate such a wonderfully powerful experience for our young people,” Father Brandt said. “This was our first time; we are a young parish but we have a vibrant youth group.”

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.