College students gather for statewide Catholic retreat


GARDEN CITY — “We are salt for your people! We are light for your world!” the crowd of students responded. With a theme of “Discipleship and the Sermon on the Mount,” over 100 college students gathered for a weekend of praise and worship at Chapel by the Sea in Garden City, on Feb. 5-7.

Beyond having a weekend free of stress, the retreat offered the students opportunities to focus on Christ in their life and to find ways to maintain that foundation in everyday life.

Vlasta Zekulic, a freshman at The Citadel, knows what it is like to be pushed to the limits. Zekulic is from Croatia and can only return home in the summer.

“This weekend will last the whole semester,” she said. “If you are doubting your faith, God can put you back on the right path. Our love for God is always there — it will always remain.”

As the keynote speaker, Father Dennis Willey, pastor of St. Mary’s in Georgetown, spoke to the students on Saturday about success in relation to others and themselves.

“True success comes when you are an instrument of God’s grace,” he said.

There are three essential levels of growth needed to attain this grace, according to Father Willey.

The first is prayer through which people can understand their direction in this world.

Second, surrendering oneself to bettering this world rather than focusing on the material goods, which often attract more attention.

And lastly, discovering God’s will and accepting it as his gift will allow for the enjoyment of life.

“All of you are called to participate in his ministry,” Father Willey told the students. “We are called to be his disciples.”

Other activities during the weekend included various sessions from which the students could choose. These included “Basic Catholicism 101,” where frequently asked questions were answered and explained; “Movement and Dance in the Liturgy” and how to incorporate it in churches unfamiliar with these worshiping methods; and “Vocations in the Church,” which was presented by Father Willey.

Jason Westmeyer, a sophomore at the University of South Carolina, said the chance to speak openly about Catholic ideals was an empowering experience.

“The discussions on issues we face as Catholics gave us the answers we need to defend our faith,” Westmeyer said. “Many Catholics don’t know the answers to the questions people ask and it’s important to be knowledgeable.”

Correen Lembolmn, a sophomore from Greenwood, attends Coastal Carolina University where the Catholic student population is 25 percent. She said beyond the knowledge of the facts presented, students find solace in the unity of the group.

“There are so few people our age who come to Mass, and to know there are people around the state who participate is nice,” Lembolmn said.

As the campus minister for Coastal since 1996, Tim McCormick said the college faith experience is beneficial and should be encouraged.

“As little as four students can be a catalysts for other students to get involved,” he said. “This experience is so essential because it reaffirms the institution of faith.”

This retreat was the third consecutive gathering of college students since last spring. The growing number of students who attend the retreats attests to the increased popularity of the gatherings. The schools who attended included The Citadel, Claflin College, Coastal Carolina University, College of Charleston, South Carolina State University, University of South Carolina and Winthrop University.

Through the course of the weekend friendships were made, memories were created and students worshiped in the fullness of Christ.

“It is a little miracle from Friday to Sunday,” Vlasta Zekulic said. “We all are walking away from this place a little stronger than when we came.”