By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published November 10, 2011
It was a weekend of searching, listening and dialogue, both internal and external.
Nearly 100 young adults joined Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and Sisters of Life for the “Saved In Hope” retreat, held at Simpsonwood Retreat Center Oct. 14-16. The weekend encouraged the 20- to 40-year-olds to embrace their vulnerability and grow in their trust in God.
“It has been peaceful, getting away from busy life,” said Teresa Nguyen, 30, a parishioner of Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church, Norcross. This was her first YAM (Young Adult Ministry) retreat.
She particularly enjoyed a talk by Father Luke Fletcher, who spoke to the group about how vital it is to have hope in God and become aware of his presence in their lives.
“I learned that God is there, just sometimes in a way you don’t realize,” Nguyen said.
The weekend blended talks, breakout sessions and free time, which at different moments meant quiet prayer or intense games of Ultimate and volleyball. Silent, reflective time was also encouraged.
“It was wonderful to have the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and the Sisters of Life with us,” said Dorothy Polchinski by email after the weekend.
Both religious communities are relatively new, established in the last 25 years.
“They were completely down to earth … yet, at the same time, challenged us throughout the weekend to go beyond our comfort zones and to get off the fence,” wrote the associate director of the archdiocesan Office of Formation and Discipleship.
“The friars and sisters were also generous with their time,” Polchinski said. “They led the different sessions and spent one-on-one time with the young adults both in giving counsel and hearing confessions. They not only prayed hard, but they played hard. Father Gabriel led a hike along the Chattahoochee during the free time while Father Luke tore up the soccer field during a match of Ultimate. I think the young adults sensed their authenticity through the gift of their presence. It wasn’t a matter of just delivering a message, but of showing us through their actions that God is truly with us.”
Sister of Life Marie-Noel Maximilienne, who professed her vows just six months ago, was attending her first “Saved In Hope” retreat like many of the young adults. She was inspired by those who came.
“I marvel at how the Lord brings people together,” she said. “It’s beautiful; it’s like being in heaven.”
“I’m very edified by the sacrifices that people have made to be here,” she added.
But the sacrifices are shared. Just as many young adults made sacrifices to attend, the team that planned and ran the weekend event also put a lot of their time into the retreat.
Julia Henkels, a graduate student in bioengineering at Georgia Tech, began meeting with Polchinski in March to plan the retreat.
“It is amazing to see the amount of detail” that went into it, said Henkels, who attends Mass at the Georgia Tech Catholic Center and served as a retreat emcee. It is really tailor-made for this group of young adults, she said.
“Dorothy takes things to the next level,” Henkels said.
In addition to talks presented to the entire group, there were also separate male and female breakout sessions, giving the retreat leaders an opportunity to address specific challenges relating to each gender.
Two Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, Brother Innocent Montgomery and Father Gabriel Bakkar, led the men’s session in which they discussed their masculine identity in Christ and some of the struggles that arise when discovering and fostering that identity.
“Living in fear can prevent us from being true men,” Brother Innocent said. “The reason why we struggle is because we lose our identity, we forget who we are.”
Sitting in a circle, the men discussed the difficulties and advantages of being vulnerable before God and before their families. While it is difficult to bare their souls to God and family, the advantages outweight the difficulties, the men decided.
“When your interior is hidden, you are more likely to do things that you wouldn’t normally do when exposed in the light,” said Father Gabriel.
Sister of Life Mariam Caritas led the women’s session and explored the idea of a “feminine heart.”
“Men and women are different,” said Sister Mariam. “It’s not by chance that we are made the way we are.”
“Being embraced by love is the desire of every feminine heart,” she continued, adding that this desire can only be truly fulfilled by God and not by another person. “It is this that we are constantly seeking.”
Morning and evening group prayer and Eucharistic adoration were also staples of the weekend. It was meant to be a weekend of exploration of relationships, with God, each other and themselves. And to many, “Saved In Hope” was very successful in that regard.
“People are really getting deeper with themselves and with Christ,” said Jason Braga, 26, a parishioner at the Cathedral of Christ the King, who served as an emcee. “They are opening their hearts to the Holy Spirit.”
“We are so blessed to have the CFRs and Sisters of Life,” said Henkels. “They are telling the young adults what they need to hear. … They are saying to us that we are suffering, and that is OK. They are encouraging us to hope through our suffering.”
For Polchinski and the young adults, the weekend was seen as a wonderful expression of faith and led participants into deeper relationships with God.
“The ‘Saved In Hope’ retreat was a great success,” wrote Polchinski. “This was evident not only through the verbal affirmations that I received from the participants but also through their joyful expressions. It seemed that many of the young adults walked away lighter, more free, and more full of life: definitely signs that grace was at work in them throughout the weekend.”
For more information on upcoming YAM retreats and events, visit www.yam.org or look up YAM on Facebook.