Hispanic young adult retreat focuses on community

BATESBURG-LEESVILLE—Vanessa Mata, 20, says challenges greet her at every turn in her life as a Catholic young adult.

The North Augusta resident balances a job, school and service to the church with family demands and social pressures. Many of her friends, she said, are already married and having children, while she is still trying to determine what God has planned for her life.

Yezenia Aguayo, 28, a member of Immaculate Conception Church in Goose Creek, echoed Mata’s concerns.

“I see all these people around me making different choices, some having bad relationships,” she said. “It makes it more challenging but important to stick to my path with God.”

The two women joined 51 of their peers March 23-25 for the first diocesan retreat for Hispanic young adults. The “Encounter with Christ,” included workshops focused on faith, Scripture, the sacraments, marriage, dating, and morals.

Annual retreats are held for Hispanic high school students, but this was for the over 18 crowd, said Rhina Medina, associate director of Hispanic youth ministry for the diocese.

Attendees said they deal with a long list of daily obstacles. Some, such as balancing work and school, are common to many in this age group. Others deal with the difficulties of learning a new culture and language, plus immigration issues.

Even the constant pull of an increasingly “wired” world can be a stumbling point when it comes to a life of faith, they said.

“We’re used to wanting to always have the cell phone and Facebook,” Aguayo said. “We’re becoming slaves to technology instead of spending real time with God and family.”

Father Eloi Antonio Chavez Carreño, 27, a newly ordained priest from Mexico, led discussions, heard confessions and celebrated Mass.

He said it was important for young adults to spend time discovering how they relate to Christ and to others.

Many Hispanic young adults lack a sense of community because they are isolated from peers who share their culture, he said, and often don’t have Hispanic priests as role models in their churches.

“Hopefully a retreat like this will help them learn how to form relationships with each other and be part of a larger community, and also help them learn the freedom that comes through knowing Christ,” Father Carreño said.

Workshops used dramatic events to illustrate important points about Christ’s relationship with his people. One featured a young man who sat, head bowed and covered and tied, in the role of Christ as he suffered during his passion. In one corner of the room, Carlos Huizar read in Spanish from the Gospel of Luke. Suddenly, a young woman burst into tears and approached the man in the chair, tore off his head covering and struggled to remove his bonds.

Others followed her, removed the bindings and then fell to the ground in sometimes tearful prayer.

Huizar, 22, a member of Immaculate Conception, has spent the past 18 months at Mepkin Abbey in Moncks Corner, discerning a vocation to the priesthood. He identifies with his peers who are struggling to find their place in the world.

“For a long time I didn’t realize God’s love,” he said. “I felt Jesus didn’t love me even though I had seen some friends change dramatically because of Him. I had never experienced that close love from God, but when I did, it changed me.”

“Many Hispanic young adults have feelings that have been hurt, they have hardened hearts and they take refuge maybe in drugs, alcohol, wrong relationships,” Huizar continued. “I want to bring Christ down to a level where they can be open to Him and learn to love Him.”