Running a retreat is like running a marathon … if marathons lasted four to six months.
First you have to prepare everything: get the main idea, the teachings, the theme, the talks, decorations and above all the two most important things: the team that builds the foundation and the candidates who experience the weekend. And I didn’t even go into specifics yet!
I am currently planning two retreats. One is for a youth group I run with friends at my college, Holy Family University. First let’s backtrack; I don’t want you thinking, “Who is this person and why is she telling me about retreats when I don’t even know what one is?”
I grew up in North Jersey all of my life. It was there that I began to develop my love for Christ. I went to junior youth group when I was 10, advanced into senior youth group in middle school, and I occasionally stop back to participate in the young adult group held at my parish in North Jersey (which is ironically named Holy Family Parish … I like to keep things simple!).
I went on my first retreat when I was 15. Shortly after, I was asked to help lead retreats. After leading my first one, I knew this was something I wanted to have consistently in my life. The feeling of planning for months so that people who go on the weekend are able to see God, some maybe for the first time, was exciting!
The retreat I am running now is the first one I’ve ever started. Normally the people who make up the organization of the retreat are the team. They are a select group of individuals who have shown maturity, leadership and a desire to strengthen their relationship to Christ in some way.
Another part of the organization is the support group. These are people who usually do all the background stuff such as running the sound and music equipment, and help the team with decorations and extra prayers (which are always needed). Finally there are the persons who run the retreat, organize the schedule, distribute talks, work with and lead the team, etc. In a perfect world this is how a retreat team should look.
Now is the part where I tell you that this is not a perfect world and this is also not what my retreat formation looks like. Because this is the first retreat for the youth group of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Bensalem, the seven youth ministers will be doing the “trial run” team.
My plan for the next retreat will be to scout out team members with the qualities I mentioned and have them be the team while we become the support.
I won’t give too much away for fear that my youth group may read this column and figure out what they’ll be getting themselves into. That’s a key aspect: do NOT reveal the retreat; the more secretive the better.
I will tell you the teachings we will be using: Theology of the Body written by Pope John Paul II. These teachings are wonderful for high schoolers. Theologyofthebody.com has tons of resources, links, videos and more if you’re looking to plan a TOB retreat of your own. Amazon.com has the student workbook online for affordable prices.
I will write again about the process of my retreat as well as the planning for my other retreat that I will be running for my university. For now, the lesson learned is: although the weekend is overnight, the planning is over months of preparation.
Christina Mastroeni is a senior at Holy Family University in Philadelphia and an intern at CatholicPhilly.com
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