Scouts see lions, hikers and bears on trek

Nine young people hit the New Mexico trail seeking adventure and a closer walk with God on the St. George Trek this summer.

Established by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone, it is a Catholic leadership program for Boy Scouts and Venture Crew members. They hike, camp in the wilderness, and spend many hours in prayer, discernment and discussion.

Two seminarians, Christian Gaeta and Will Frei, also made the trip and worked alongside priests to lead Scouts from around the country.

The trekkers met in Albuquerque before venturing into the Sangre de Cristo Range of the Rocky Mountains for their 15-day journey.

Father Matthew Gray, parochial vicar at St. Joseph Church in Columbia, spent a week at Philmont Scout Ranch training for his role as Scout chaplain and attended a Mass welcoming the youth back from the trail.

“The people who saw them before they left said you could see the change in them,” Father Gray said. “They really get to know themselves within the struggle. They had to push forward many times and really found that inner strength to overcome adversity.”

Scouts dealt with high altitudes, long hikes, days without showers, and unexpected encounters with wildlife. Stas Watson of Mount Pleasant said his troop saw several bears and they were briefly stalked by a mountain lion at one point during a night hike. They used caution, throwing rocks and making noise to drive the predator away.

Katie Morgan,17, of Venture Crew 115 from St. Mary Help of Christians in Aiken, appreciated the leadership of two Benedictine sisters who led her troop of 10 girls.

“Seeing the sisters, their really strong faith and how they are always praying for people really inspired me,” Morgan said. She was also awed by a sunrise Mass at one of the highest peaks in the area.

Eva McLaurin,17, of Venture Crew 119 at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston, said praying the rosary on the trail and other spiritual exercises made her a more mindful person.

“I learned to remember to stop and thank God for things during the day, and to think about Him all during the day no matter how busy I get,” she said.

Others who completed the Trek were Paul List of St. Mary Magdalene in Greenville; Thomas Hammen of Christ Our King in Mount Pleasant; Margaret Szwast of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist; and Catherine Jackson, Colton Kostelnik and Ashley Bodner, all from St. Mary Help of Christians.

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