Photo taken by Angelo Vasquez
“[The retreat] is more than fellowship, prayer and faith. It is sacramental preparation,” said LIFE TEEN administrative assistant Maddie Santos, who helps youth minister Brandon Kawachi coordinate the confirmation program for youth at Holy Family Church in Glendale. “As much as it is fun hanging out with friends and living a life outside of the cookie-cutter lifestyle [assumed by] secular society, our community shows openness and how unique each individual is. It also proves that we are not who society thinks we are, which is perfect, elite and too innocent. We are more.”
Upon our group’s arrival at the Salvation Army Camp, Mt. Crags and Gilmore on Nov. 8, I joined nearly 50 of my fellow confirmation classmates as we exited our buses and formed a group around the bus compartments, waiting to grab our belongings and head to the cabins — or so we thought. As we lugged around sleeping bags, pillows and suitcases, we felt a great coldness around us.
The LIFE TEEN core members — a team of Catholic volunteers with the goal of helping teens become closer to their faith — led all the confirmation students to the main hall doors. As our group waited outside, we heard the rhythmic beat of drums. “Are we really partying? It’s literally 10 p.m,” one student said.
That was the start of the three-day retreat.
“When we got there I was excited, but, at the same time, tired,” said Loyola High School sophomore Gabriel Javier. “The singing and [drums] woke me up.”
This retreat, entitled “Kingdom Come,” was important to my journey in receiving confirmation, a Catholic sacrament that seals one’s faith, allowing them to fully join the Catholic community.
I began attending confirmation sessions in Sept. 2018. In these sessions, students learn more about their religion. Students are put in a small group, led by a core member, where they learn complex aspects of Catholicism.
The retreat actually started at the Holy Family’s grade school auditorium in Glendale.
After we ate dinner, Kawachi introduced the guest speaker for the day: Hannah Hines, a Catholic mother and actress from Denver. Hines discussed the importance of The Lord’s Prayer verse, “forgive us our trespasses,” by describing her near-death experience that involved pushing away confession.
While driving on an ice-covered freeway in Denver, Hines thought of going to confession but refused to go. She believed that she simply didn’t care anymore until, moments later, her car began to spin around, gliding on the freeway’s icy surface. “I kept repeating in my head, ‘Help. Help. Help,’” Hines said.
Once her car finally stopped spinning, she realized that it was time for her to return to God. “Our souls are too precious to risk walking around not in a state of grace,” Hines said.
After her talk, we were divided into small groups specifically for the retreat. My small group consisted of four female students and two female core leaders. We discussed each of our relationships with God and were told that we’d be receiving penance, or atonement for one’s sins, that day through confession.
Before Nov. 8, I confessed once more than seven years ago. As I waited for my turn, I was worried that I wouldn’t know what to say, but it actually went pretty well. All my worrying disappeared, and I felt great.
After everyone confessed and did their acts of penance, we made our way to Camp Mt. Crags where the sound of drums welcomed us outside the main hall. There we saw the LIFE TEEN band playing music on a small stage. The band’s main singer, Renee Paladini, began to sing as song lyrics appeared through projectors around the room.
“They began to play really nice music,” said Glendale High School sophomore Justine Uy. “Over the whole retreat we did this thing called ‘Praise and Worship,’ which is singing and understanding the meaning behind Christian songs.”
After our first Praise and Worship of the retreat, we scattered into our small groups to answer questions and later went to sleep in our cabins. In the morning, we walked to the cafeteria for breakfast.
After eating, we transitioned into a two-part icebreaker that focused on trust. In the first part, groups worked together to find members while blind-folded. The second part was a trust walk guided by the core leaders.
Catholic speaker and elementary school teacher Jamison Luke presented the Latin phrase fiat voluntas tua, which means “thy will be done.” Luke’s talk reflected the meaning behind the icebreaker earlier by focusing on our trust in God, whether it be lacking or enough. “Sometimes a leap of faith is what you need to trust God,” Luke said.
“God’s in control,” Kawachi said. “We kind of repeated the theme of ‘fiat voluntas tua’ and [focused on] really making that a prayer. Even when we don’t see what His plan is for us, just be able to trust that He’s working. He’s guiding and steering our lives.”
Later that evening, we attended mass and heard another talk from Luke. This time, it emphasized the Our Father verse, “Hallowed be thy name.” Luke focused on his childhood experience of losing his adopted father to skin cancer. He explained that he wasn’t as close to his father and often stayed in his room all day. It broke his heart to see that his father could not fight the cancer anymore.
As I listened to his talk, I became overwhelmed with emotion and couldn’t hold back my tears. I lost my father only two years ago, and it still hurts when I’m reminded of it. I felt so bad that Jamison had to experience the great loss of a loved one, but, at the same time, I was inspired by his strength in sharing this event in his life. This talk opened my eyes and heart the most by showing me how to accept.
“Jamison gave really touching talks, and it really hit me,” said Glendale High School sophomore Jairo Nunag. “It made me realize that I’ve been pushing away my family recently and I don’t have the rest of my life with them.”
Following Jamison’s talk, we began Adoration in which Father Jim Bevacqua of Holy Family brought the Eucharist into the room. The Eucharist is essentially the body, or bread, of Christ given during the Last Supper — Jesus’ last meal with his disciples. Adoration allows for the worshipping of God in His presence.
“This weekend has been fast-paced, exciting and fun, but adoration was slow,” Nunag said. “It gave me time to reflect over what I’ve experienced.”
The last day of the retreat was filled with songs and food. At one point, the boys and girls were separated, which was confusing at first, but core leader Esmie Alonso’s talk on women’s attitudes toward one another explained the situation. She emphasized that some people are unable or even afraid to tell others, “I need you.” Alonso talked about her best friend and their relationship, which involved mistakes and forgiveness.
Female core leaders then helped us with an activity that involved praying over each other and drawing fierce, black lines on faces. The next activity was based on the saying, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” In a horizontal line, all the girls had to walk at the same pace on the outdoor basketball court until we reached a certain point. After the second activity, we used the rest of our time to create a powerful chant that we later surprised the boys with.
After lunch and free time, we got our retreat shirts and put them on for a group picture. Then we made our way back to Holy Family grade school auditorium where we discussed our overall experience. We went to the 5:30 p.m. LIFE TEEN mass and sat together like a big family. Later, we retrieved all of our stuff including our affirmation bags: bags filled with notes from friends
, group mates, and core leaders.
“Leaving made me worry made me worry about leaving my faith [t]here once we left,” Uy said. “I was upset that it didn’t last longer and that I didn’t take advantage of being there, in the moment.”
“There were definitely challenges, but just seeing how the team has opened up and God moved was a lot,” said core member Yani Palencia. “The physical aspect of going away to a place that’s further…and not normal gives people the freedom to really explore their faith, live out the gospel and see where they’re comfortable.”