Each of us is made in the image and likeness of God, giving us everything we have, from the sun in the sky, to the food we eat and the clothes we wear. How we respond to that gift from God will define who we are, and who we are becoming.
This was the straightforward message shared with more than 500 youth at two separate retreats on Nov. 11, 2023. Building on Jesus’ questioning of the Apostles in the Gospel of Matthew (16:13-20), the two retreats focused on engaging the teens to think about their personal relationship with the Lord, and how they would answer the question Jesus posed to the Apostles, “Who do you say that I am?”
At St. Raphael Parish in Lehigh Acres, more than 300 Hispanic youth from Parishes in Lee and Collier counties gathered for a day of prayer and reflection in a presentation led by the group Los Hermanos Unidos. Among the first speakers were Father Christian Chami, Parochial Vicar at St. Jude Parish in Sarasota, and Father Daniel Scanlan, Parochial Vicar at St. Thomas More Parish in Sarasota.
The second group included 170 high school sophomores from nine different Parishes in Sarasota and Manatee counties, who gathered at the Zazarino Center of St. Martha Catholic School for a Confirmation Retreat. The theme of the retreat was “Hearts on Fire, Ablaze, Live Out Loud,” and the guest speaker was Jimmy Mitchell, founder of Love Good. Mitchell is also the director of campus ministry at Jesuit Catholic High School in Tampa.
At both retreats, the youth heard about the need to build their personal relationship with the Lord, the importance of prayer and virtue, and how to find their vocation in life.
Father Chami told the Lehigh Acres group that a vocation to the priesthood, religious life, married life, or consecrated single life, is how you choose to respond positively to God because he made us intentionally and personally. Father continued by saying that a vocation is a free choice that comes from an open dialogue with God by going to Mass and through personal prayer time.
“If you take the time, God will make it clear what you are called to do and will help make evident what He is calling you to do,” Father Chami said. “Believe me. By choosing to follow the Lord, you will not regret it. It is the best life you can live. It is not always easy, but it is the most joyful and wonderful life.”
Father Scanlan said his vocation to the priesthood was a way that he could give himself completely to God.
“It is our prayer that you have a personal encounter with God today and every day,” Father Scanlan said. “When you get to know God, you can answer that question, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ What is more important in your life? Does God have a place in your life?”
Each teen will answer that question differently, but Father Scanlan said that they must keep their hearts open to listening and hearing the call of God in their life.
“God is always reaching out to you,” Father said. “Are you listening?”
The day in Lehigh Acres also included Eucharistic Adoration, the opportunity for the teens to go to confession, small group activities and more.
Both retreats concluded with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
In addition, in Sarasota, the teens took part in service projects that included making “Get Well” cards for those sick in the hospital, bagging lunches for the homeless, and making Christmas treat bags for children in foster care.