By KATHY SCHMUGGE
LEESVILLE — Building a relationship with Christ is a life-long commitment. In five days the Christian Leadership Institute (CLI) attempted to lay down the foundation for such a relationship through prayer, Bible study and fun.
Held at Camp Kinard in Leesville, Catholic junior high students participated in activities designed to “ignite spiritual renewal” and give the youth confidence to share their faith with others.
“The main goal of the camp is to bring the youth into a personal relationship with Christ. It is a process we take them through during the week,” said Jerry White, director of Youth and Young Adults Ministry for the diocese.
“Outbreak of Faith,” the title of the leadership camp, is the first CLI offered to junior high school students by the diocesan youth ministry office. Each day of the camp had a unique theme with a set of activities built around it. For example, the first day’s theme was “God’s Love” and participants studied main figures of the Old Testament, read passages in the Bible about God’s love then answered related questions in discussion groups. Other topics were “Salvation, New Life, and Christian Life.”
“CLI allows the youth to get to know what the Lord has done for them while building leadership skills,” said Joe Maggio, one of the senior counselors from St. Mary Magdalene Church in Simpsonville.
Some of the younger counselors had attended a similar program designated for high school students. Because of their positive experience, they felt called to assist with the junior high. Such was the case with Tonya Baldwin, parishioner at St. Theresa in Summerville, who was inspired by her camp leaders. “We get a lot out of sharing our faith, and we learn so much from each other. As counselors we get much more than we give,” she said.
Participant Alese Peters from St. John the Beloved in Summerville said that the camp has drawn her closer to God. “Being able to meet and get to know other Catholics has strengthened my faith,” she said.
Oratorian Father Joseph Wahl, who celebrated Mass, reiterated the fact that Christ is present in their lives during his homily. “At the holy sacrifice of the Mass you are as close to Jesus as if you were one of the apostles at the Last Supper or at the foot of the cross,” said Father Wahl.
Counselors and participants all agreed about an urgent need to get out the message of God’s love and how that is personified through others. “This age group needs to know that there are people who love them and they need to know right now,” exclaimed college-age counselor Jessica Page, adding that the years of junior high are particularly difficult ones filled with insecurities and heightened peer pressure.
White was pleased with the new initiative to reach out to the junior high students. “Junior high is even more important than high school because if we don’t get them excited about their faith during these formative years, we will lose them in high school,” he said.