BATESBURG-LEESVILLE — Dozens of young people playing kickball and volleyball on a field at Camp Kinard on a recent Thursday looked like any other group of summer campers — that is, until the games ended.
Then, the competitors gathered together, linked hands and prayed for each other.
This focus on prayer and God’s presence was the core of the annual Christian Leadership Institute for junior high students, sponsored by the Office of Youth and Young Adults Ministry of the Diocese of Charleston.
About 100 middle school students attended, along with a staff of counselors and adult volunteers.
The annual retreats have been held since 1997, and offer Catholic young people a chance to grow in their faith alongside their peers. A similar session for high school students is scheduled for the second week in July.
Joe Maggio, youth minister at St. Mary Magdalene in Simpsonville, supervised the week’s activities. He said the main goal is to help the students learn to trust in God and not be afraid to live their Catholic faith every day.
During the day, the students attended special sessions for just men and women, then broke up into small groups for Bible study and reflection. Other activities included daily sports, games and skits, all centered on an element of Catholic faith.
“We play a lot of games that are fun and also help you come close to the Lord,” said Luke Carter, 12, of Duncan, who belongs to Jesus Our Risen Savior Church in Spartanburg. “I’ve learned about respect this week. I’ve learned there are different types of love, and you can show love to people just by lifting them up and helping them.”
Prayer and worship sessions were held nightly. The men’s and women’s sessions centered on specific values key to living life as strong Catholics.
Andrew Fryml, a counselor from Jesus Our Risen Savior, led the men’s sessions, which focused on brotherhood, respect for women and each other, and purity.
“The guys are learning about brotherly love, how we’re a brotherhood that needs to lift each other up,” Fryml said. “When this is over, it will be easy to go back with old friends and our old ways of doing things, so we tell the guys they need to keep in touch with each other and keep strong in their faith.”
Fryml said the boys also learned about personal purity and the importance of respecting and supporting their Catholic “sisters.”
He said the students at CLI discussed the importance of finding their vocation in life, and how that word can mean more than just a desire to join the priesthood or religious life.
“We tell them that right now their vocation in life is middle school,” he said. “I tell them, ‘Your vocation is to go back to your families and friends, and to go on to your middle school and show God in your daily life.’ ”
The sessions for young women stressed faith and purity, and also touched on issues of self-esteem and trust.
“We’ve been talking with them about how to be women of God, and focusing on the different women in the Bible and the lessons we can learn from them,” said Wendy Smits. She is a counselor who also is a member of St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken.
“They’re learning about the importance of purity and God’s faithfulness, and that to become a woman of God we need to put our trust in him,” she said.
Prayer and worship services were held each evening. The importance of knowing the Bible was one of the week’s main themes. Daily Bible studies focused on specific aspects of the Catholic faith, and each student was encouraged to memorize the books of the Old and New testaments. They then would recite them for one of the counselors or staff members.
Prayer was central to every activity. Students linked hands and prayed together in circles before and after sports activities, before meals, Bible study and small group sessions.
During sessions when both boys and girls were together in the large gathering room, they lifted hands and prayed for the counselors and other speakers. There also were opportunities for private prayer.
The counselors, mostly high school and college students, gave daily talks on the challenges and joys of facing life as a young Catholic.
Angela Bozzo, a rising freshman at USC-Aiken and member of Our Lady of the Lake Church in Chapin, spoke about the joy of surrendering to God and giving control to him.
“We need to take all the things in life holding us back from the Lord and let them crumble,” Bozzo said. “We need to stand aside and let the Lord take over, and accept the new life he wants to give us. We need to be open to what God has in store for our lives. Let our loving God be your saving grace. Strive when you go home to make being holy with the Lord the center of your life!”
Many students who attended CLI said the week taught them important lessons about their faith and how to apply it to daily life.
“I’ve never been moved so religiously before,” said Caroline Jett, 14, who attends Our Lady of the Hills Church in Irmo. “I’ve learned that God will help you out in life no matter what.”
“It’s so nice here, because everybody treats you with love and respect, and you learn to take that love and respect outside here and show it to the world,” said Natalie Domis, 13, of Our Lady of the Hills. “You also learn to be open to God.”