BATESBURG-LEESVILLE — From group worship and skits to running a gauntlet of whiffle balls, this year’s Christian Leadership Institute offered youths ways to strengthen their Catholic faith.
The retreat for high school students took place July 8-13 at Camp Kinard, and drew 100 participants from parishes around the diocese. Twenty counselors, including deacons and youth ministers, worked with the group. A similar session for junior high students took place in June.
CLI gives students the chance to develop their faith in Jesus Christ and their skills in spreading the Gospel through the sacraments, small group discussions and group activities.
The theme centered around 1 Timothy 4:12: “Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but be an example for the believers in your speech, your conduct, your love, faith and purity.”
“What was neat about it was that this was a safe place where they could come and just be themselves, just know they were loved and their Church wanted them and needed them,” said Jerry White, director of the Office of Youth and Young Adults Ministry for the diocese. “They learned that the creator of all things wants to have a personal relationship with them.”
White supervised the week-long session and developed most of the programs used at the annual institutes, which have been offered since 1997.
The young people were divided into “communities” named after the letters in the New Testament, such as Colossians, Philippians and Ephesians. During the week, the groups took part in a variety of activities, including sports.
The daily schedule had full-group worship plus sessions for men or women only.
Activities ranged from serious discussions about issues of faith and moral living to kickball and volleyball contests. Skits and games were used to teach aspects of developing a strong Catholic faith. For example, the young men took part in an “American Gladiators” style game that involved running obstacles and dodging whiffle balls and other items as a metaphor for the battle to maintain purity despite the onslaught of secular life.
The young people also prayed and read Scripture together, attended adoration and Mass, and went to confession. Priests visited to talk with the students and offer the sacraments.
“They need to use the joy they leave with — if they don’t take it back and live it, this was just another amusement ride,” White said.
Then Deacon Andrew Trapp, a seminarian who attended the Pontifical College Josephinum in Ohio who was recently ordained, visited during the week and talked about vocations with some of the students.
White said he was impressed by the devotion the high school students showed.
“It was really something to see how they embraced the depth of the sacraments,” he said.
Most of the activities were led by counselors who serve on the diocesan evangelization team, called the E-team. Many of them are college students attracted to evangelization by experiences at previous CLI sessions.
One group session was led by Joe Burgess, a counselor who also serves as youth minister at Blessed Sacrament Church in Charleston. Burgess described the importance of being a “joyful giver” and used the example of a student he met at a junior high CLI session several years ago. The young man, he said, had just moved to the diocese from another state and was overwhelmed by the friendship he found at CLI because no one in his new town had reached out to befriend him.
“That kid was an example of a joyful giver. Your Christian growth has got to be like that. It has to be joyful, it’s got to be active. Anything that’s not active will die,” he said.
Burgess also urged the students to find daily inspiration in the lives of saints, and to make specific times during the day for prayer and Scripture reading.
David Suggs, 16, of St. Andrew Church in Clemson attended the high school session with his sister, Chelsea, also 16, and another sibling.
“It’s been an amazing week — I was expecting it to be awesome but I didn’t realize how great it would be,” he said. “The way I grow in my faith is to be with others, and knowing I’m not alone in my faith is such a blessing.”
“It’s really been a life-changing experience for me,” said Madison Roth, 16, of St. Mary Magdalene Church in Simpsonville. “This week has opened my eyes to Christ and helped me change my perspective on a lot of things. Each year I’ve come to CLI has just helped me grow stronger in my faith.”