First Place Award for General Excellence, Catholic Press Association, 2013-2016

‘Fearless Retreat’ Reinforces Teens’ Relationship With God
By DAN PIETRAFESA
Photo by Nate Whitchurch ©
TEEN RETREAT—Brother Benjamin Emmanuel, C.F.R., answers a written question from a camper during a question-and-answer session at the Fearless Retreat at John A. Coleman Catholic High School in Hurley Sept. 16. Brother Emmanuel was on the panel with Father Chris Argano, vocations director for the archdiocese; Matthew Breslin, a seminarian at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie; and Jennifer Edwards, executive assistant of Fearless Retreat.

Clara Hart and Janna Rutkowski see Fearless Retreat for exactly what it is—an opportunity to strengthen their faith and relationship with God following Camp Veritas.

“This is an extension of Camp Veritas, so it’s great to have a mini-weekend where you see people from camp and have the same type of camp experience,” Janna, a 15-year-old parishioner of St. Mary-St. Peter in Kingston, told CNY. She was one of about 100 teens and volunteers participating at the Fearless Retreat at John A. Coleman Catholic High School in Hurley Sept. 15-17.

“Camp Veritas taught me how to love God and be a disciple. With (Fearless Retreat), it’s great to keep reinforcing the same message that you hear (at Camp Veritas).”

Fearless Retreat is a three-day weekend retreat during the school year serving as an extension of Camp Veritas, a weeklong summer camp operated by Ryan and Elizabeth Young, with the same mission of mixing fun and faith to strengthen the relationship of teens with God.

“Everyone can say after Camp Veritas, I’m very religious, and I will pray the Rosary every day,” said Clara, a 14-year-old parishioner at St. George-St. Francis in Jeffersonville. “But then I get busy with sports and stuff, so I’ll say I’ll skip today and that keeps happening and I’ll grow farther from God. These retreats will keep me with Him.”

The Fearless Retreat at Coleman was the first of the 2017-2018 school year and only the second ever held in the archdiocese. John F. Kennedy Catholic High School in Somers will host the next Fearless Retreat in the archdiocese Dec. 8-10.

Ryan Young, the CEO of both Fearless Retreat and Camp Veritas, said the retreat serves as a logical reinforcement for kids who “are on fire and hungry for the Eucharist.”

“The question we’ve had for many years is, what’s next? To be able to give them a regional retreat through the school year, and the off-season of the summer camp keeps that fire going and keeps kids active in the faith.”

The retreat at Coleman included talks by priests of the archdiocese, Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and staff members, Rosary, opportunities for confession, a Eucharistic procession around school grounds and daily Mass. Auxiliary Bishop Peter Byrne celebrated the Sept. 16 Mass in the gymnasium, and Auxiliary Bishop Dominick Lagonegro visited with students for about an hour on Saturday afternoon.

“I’m seeing people praying in front of God and praying the Rosary, doing the same things I enjoy doing,” said Nicholas Paris, a student at St. Mary’s School in Bethel, Conn., who also belongs to St. Mary’s parish.

“I hope to have a stronger relationship with God and meet new friends. We have adoration every night, and we get to pray in front of God for a long time. I’m going to the talks, and they’re telling us how to strengthen your relationship with God, sharing stories about it and important things you need to know about God.”

During a 90-minute question-and-answer period, the teens jotted down questions for a panel comprised of Father Chris Argano, vocations director for the archdiocese; Brother Benjamin Emmanuel, C.F.R.; Matthew Breslin, a seminarian at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie; and Jennifer Edwards, the executive assistant of Fearless Retreat.

“What’s appealing about this ministry is that I’m seeing something thoroughly effective. The kids are being reached,” Ms. Edwards said. “We need to bring them to Him and provide an environment where they feel loved, warm and welcome, and give them some fun so they feel faith can be fun. At the end of the day, we’re giving them an encounter with Him and that’s what it’s all about.

“I raised my kids in the faith and brought them to Mass since they were babies. When they came home from (Camp Veritas), they were changed and finally got what I was trying to teach them all those years as a parent. I could only do so much. They needed that environment of positive peer pressure where they didn’t feel alone when they said yes to Christ and followed him as a disciple. As a parent, it’s been a great gift to our family.’’

The students returned home after Mass Sept. 17 to share their experience with their families.

“I hope there are more like this because it’s so beautiful,” Clara Hart said. “I love to see all the youth get together and really show there are still youth in Catholicism because most people think it’s all older people, and it really isn’t.’’

Information: www.fearlessretreats.com

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