By KATHY SCHMUGGE
LEESVILLE — “Who am I? Who is Jesus? What do I really believe? What does it mean to be a real authentic Catholic Christian?” These questions framed the junior high retreat sponsored by the Diocese of Charleston Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry. For three days, 60 youth ranging from sixth to eighth grade were shown how to see and integrate Christ in their daily lives with the help of a program that moved fast enough for this fast pace generation.
Jerry White, director of the Youth and Young Adult Ministry Office who organized the event held at Camp Kinard, made sure that no one was left out. Serving as the spark plug that kept the fire burning, White attempted to give real life answers for the seeking young minds through laughter in games and sharing with their peers. He also wrote a powerful skit that his high school staff members performed.
The skit, called “Jesus Stay,” began with a young girl who sits down with her Bible in hopes to get to know Jesus, who is sitting next to her. When the doorbell rings and her friends entice her to leave and go to a party, she tells Jesus to stay in her room, promising to return. But as soon as she leaves, Jesus follows her, placing his hand on her shoulder. Once again she goes back to the room to try to dismiss Jesus who is persistently at her side. Finally after four times of going to the door and finding Jesus beside her, she loses her temper and in an angry voice says, “I don’t want you to go with me. There are things I will be doing that I don’t want you to see.” She begins to simulate nailing him to the cross. When the other actor who played Jesus, stood alone with his arms outstretched, he did a masterful job showing the pain of rejection Christ must feel each time anyone walks away from his loving arms.
The play was the perfect introduction to Erin Walsh’s talk titled, “Getting off the Fence — Living My Faith For Real.” Walsh, who had the lead role in the skit, gave her emotionally charged and inspiring personal testimony. “Many people say they are followers of Christ and do unChrist like things. It is as if they are wearing two faces,” said Walsh, who tried to make the young people see that being a Christian is a choice one makes with their actions not just their words.
She gave examples of her own fence straddling, recalling a time she did not stand up for another girl who was constantly ridiculed because she was different.
“I didn’t speak up for her but laughed with everyone else even though I did not want to,” said Walsh, who now is trying to befriend the same girl but has discovered that trust must be rebuilt.
She also talked about the challenge of not having her friends from church go to her school, a situation most Catholic youth face in a state where Catholics are in the minority. Her acquaintances from school seemed to be taking her into a pit, and she first recognized a better way to live through the people she met at the summer Christian Leadership Institute (CLI). Although CLI was a beginning, she credits the sacrament of reconciliation for getting her off the fence.
“I didn’t get better miraculously but in gradual steps. I had to let go of all of my old friends and find new ones, but I found that you become free when you accept Jesus in your life,” exclaimed the youth, who now describes her life as “consumed with God.” Now as a member of the Evangelization Team, Walsh is happy to volunteer so that she can “give back in a small way what [she] got out from these retreats.”
After the talk, White gave the youth an opportunity to reflect on their own commitment to their faith.
“You have choices you have to make every day. Don’t think you can say one time, ‘Jesus I am going to follow you,’ and think that is it. Every day you should say, ‘ Jesus this is your day what do you want me to do?'”
The participants then broke into small groups and discussed peer pressure and the tough decisions they make in their lives. In one group, a youth spoke of a time when her friend shoplifted and how she tried to get her to stop. Because of the incident, she is no longer as close with that friend.
There was also live music provided by Chris Caudle, youth director at St. Peter Church in Beaufort. The talented musician sees music as a part of the language of today’s young people. He describes music as “a way they can speak and pray when they can’t find the words.”
Toward the end of the retreat, Matt Linn, an eighth-grade student from St. Philip Neri in Fort Mill, so enjoyed the music that he spontaneously proclaimed, “God is good,” as he smiled from ear to ear. When asked why, he quickly answered, “Because he gets me through the day!”
The youth of today are faced with tough decisions in culture that can be hostile to Christian values.
Walsh shared a quote “from this guy named Thomas Merton who was a monk.” She read, “The Christian must have the courage to follow Christ. The Christian who has risen in Christ must dare to be like Christ. He must dare to follow conscience even in unpopular causes. He must if necessary be able to disagree with the majority and make decisions he knows to be according to the Gospel and the teachings of Christ. Even when others do not understand why he is acting this way.” She simplified Merton’s quote when saying, “You have to be courageous and daring. Take the hard roads because the rewards are great.”