COLORADO SPRINGS. Holiness and fun were the twin themes of the High School Rally that took place Jan. 19-21 at the Great Wolf Lodge in northern Colorado Springs.
The event, titled “Rooted in Christ,” from Colossans 2:7, offered the students a chance to hang out with friends, enjoy an indoor water park, and take part in retreat events that involved worship, catechesis, and for some, a life-changing experience of the power and love of the Holy Spirit.
Keynote speaker Stephen Eguino, 28, gave a Saturday morning talk that struck a chord with the teens. It was titled “The Church is lit.”
“I was with the Salesians, the St. John Bosco religious order, in discernment for the priesthood for the past seven years, and it was this past June that I left the discernment and the pursuit of the priesthood,” he said. However, Eguino said he didn’t regret the years spent in discernment because he was in religious formation with the experience of community life, receiving the sacraments and daily prayer, and then went out and talked to people about it. This grew his faith.
“I want to tell you why the Church is lit,” he said. “The Mass, the word ‘liturgy,’ starts with lit. And when you walk into a church, into the sanctuary, you see a tabernacle, you see a red candle, and it is lit. As long as that candle is lit, so am I!” This was greeted with a chorus of laughs and “Amens.” He closed the morning session with an “I am” rap about how God especially loves teens.
Deacon Dave Bull of Divine Redeemer Parish led Eucharistic Adoration during the rally and was impressed by how the teens spontaneously knelt as the Blessed Sacrament was carried into the meeting-room-turned-adoration chapel.
“No one told them to do it, they just knelt,” Deacon Bull said. Participants sat or knelt in the candle-lit room for the hourlong service, taking turns going to confession, while a duo up front softly played guitar and sang, “It’s Who I Am.” Teens remained still and prayed for long periods of time, with sobs and tears heard intermittently through the room.
Cody Herman, a freshman at ThunderRidge High School in Highlands Ranch, said that he had a deep spiritual awakening during Eucharistic adoration.
“What happened was, as soon as he brought it out (the monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament) and I knelt down, I felt this presence. At first it was good. Then it felt like there was this battle going on inside of me between Satan and God. God won, of course. Why wouldn’t he? I just started to tingle and to shake and cry. In my state, I couldn’t move and I knew from then on that God had taken over me and I was there, present, no worries. God was telling me, ‘I love you, stay with me, believe in me,’ and then he told me, ‘Spread this to as many people as possible.’ I went into confession with one of the priests and I talked to him about everything and I felt really good,” Herman said.
“On retreats, oftentimes kids can have moments — just by being away from all the distraction — where they are able to experience God in a deeper way, sometimes more emotional, which affects them more,” said Patrick Meleney, director of youth ministry and catechesis at St. Mark Parish in Highlands Ranch.
“Part of our job as youth ministers and volunteers is to help to interpret for them what it is they experience, so that when they go back into their daily life, they don’t experience it as a one-off, weird emotional moment, but they can point back to it as a real encounter of God, rather than not knowing what it is they experienced.”
Claire Wilmes, a senior at Air Academy High School and a member of the Diocesan Youth Board, paused from helping a group in line for lunch to say how the board began working in fall to make the rally a success. The group met monthly to come up with ideas, she said, and in December they had a three-day retreat at El Tesoro Retreat Center in Woodland Park where they mostly worked on planning the rally.
“Everyone said, ‘we want to impact people. We want people who come here to come away with something more and deeper,’” she said.
Wilmes said she enjoyed being at the rally and seeing her fellow high-school students deeply moved by the experience.
“It was wonderful to see all our work pay off,” she said.
Roughly 200 people attended the high school rally, including staff and chaperones. Five priests heard confessions throughout the weekend, and Bishop Michael Sheridan presided over the closing Mass on Sunday morning.
A middle school rally will take place Feb. 17-18 at the Marriott Hotel in Colorado Springs. To register, contact the youth minister at one’s parish or Michelle Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org.