Lowcountry youth bask in the light at Antioch Retreat

BLUFFTON — During a  typical weekend in autumn, most teens can be found at high school football games,  sleeping, at the beach, or surfing the net.
The weekend of Oct. 10-12 found more than 20 Lowcountry youth from four area parishes at the Running W Ranch in Bluffton for the first Antioch Retreat.
The theme  was “Marvelous Light.” That name came from the Acts of the Apostles: “… and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26).
Antioch  retreats originated at a post-Cursillo meeting at the University of Notre Dame in the 1960’s. A group of priests, youth ministers, professors and college students felt that a similar program was needed but exclusively for young people.
The first Antioch Retreat for college students was held in South Bend, Ind., in 1966. It used the Cursillo approach as a guide and was adapted to be effective at Newman Centers.
By 1973, word had spread to local parishes about the success of the program at the college level and weekend retreats also were made available for high school students.
Today, Antioch Retreat weekends are held throughout the United States and in many other countries.
Lisette Velazquez, former director of youth ministry at St. Gregory the Great Church in Bluffton, attended a Cursillo retreat in February where she learned about the Antioch weekends. She felt compelled to bring the message of faith and service home to the youth in her community. She now  volunteers  on the program with her husband John.
Velazquez, Alison Griswold, youth director at St. Francis by the Sea Church in Hilton Head, and Mike Sammut, youth ministry coordinator at St. Peter Church in Beaufort, planned the weekend.
They recruited many volunteers, including Deacon Greg Sams, of St. Gregory the Great, who served as a spiritual director. Also, several local Cursillo members spent three days preparing meals for the participants.
Four Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, who are teachers at St. Francis by the Sea School, spoke about their vocations and how they discerned their callings.
On Saturday and Sunday, Father Jeremi Wodecki, parochial vicar at St. Gregory the Great Church; Father Christopher Smith, parochial vicar at St. Francis by the Sea Church in Hilton Head; and Father Michael J. Oenbrink, administrator of St. Francis by the Sea, celebrated Masses and the sacrament of reconciliation.
The priests were thrilled by the number of participants and the strength of their faith.
“I am so encouraged and joyful about the future of the Catholic Church after spending time over the course of the weekend with this group of young people,” Father Wodecki said. “To see so many teenagers receiving the sacrament of reconciliation, and participating in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament with such reverence, was very uplifting to me. They seem to understand better than some much older how important these things are in their spiritual life.”
Katie Parent, 15, said the Antioch Retreat cemented her relationship with God.
“It was so much fun, and I loved all of it, but the best part for me was that now I am so sure of how much God truly loves me,” she said. “And, I have a whole new group of friends that love me too, no matter what.”
Another highlight was a performance by the musical group Popple. According to their Web site,  www.popple.us, musicians Kyle Heim ann and Dan Harms met while students at Purdue University. The duo, who bill themselves as “two Catholic guys,” travel the country sharing their unique comedic-acoustic music and passion for the faith.
“It is so exciting to finally have all the area churches have organized active youth groups and to be able to hold events like the Antioch Retreat,” Griswold said. “Our focus as youth ministers is to find ways to not only enhance and grow our own individual programs at the parish level but to interact with other Catholic youth at conferences, retreats … Antioch was a wonderful step in that direction and we believe it is the beginning of many more exciting things to come.”