Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 3, 2000
Faith comes alive at OLVC
At Our Lady of Victory Camp, youngsters make God's ways their ways
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
Among the good reasons to go to Our Lady of Victory Camp is that they have cool counsellors.
Other reasons include arts 'n' crafts activities, games galore, swimming and singing by the campfire under a clear summer sky. And then there's daily Mass, Reconciliation, and talks on spirituality and God.
The latter wouldn't exactly be a huge draw for new campers, but it's become a favourite pastime for many of the returning ones.
"At first I wasn't sure I'd like it," said Rachel Watson, 12. "But you make lots of friends. And we have Mass everyday and I get to receive Jesus. I really like it now."
As much as the fun and games are synonymous with camp, at OLVC, they also go hand in hand with Catholic teachings.
"Many of the older campers' attitudes are that they come to camp to meet God," said Janie Warawa, camp director. "This is a place they can be themselves - to find God - without the peer pressure they can get at (school)."
The campsite has existed since the 1950s, but the program used today dates back to 1976. The camp welcomes more than 100 campers each week in July and August.
Parents and volunteers also spend a week or two at OLVC cooking daily meals, manning first-aid stations or doing general maintenance around the campsite. About 30 counsellors are on site along with visits and spiritual guidance from Fathers Sylvain Casavant and Paul Moret.
The experiences at OLVC build a strong faith foundation for campers and counsellors, said Warawa. Young campers may not immediately recognize the effect, but Warawa said she has seen many transformations over the years.
"These foundations are set so that when they get older and they go through struggles, they have something to fall back on," Warawa said. "Even the simple things as saying grace before meals becomes part of their lives at camp and after."
Faith is not only a program campers and counsellors follow, it's a part of their environment. It's as natural as the trees that surround the campsite. It's just there.
"We have kids crying at the beginning of camp because they miss their parents, but by the end of the week, they're crying because they don't want to leave," Warawa said.
Krista Ganton's first experience with OLVC was as an eight-year-old accompanying her parents who were camp volunteers. She's now 24 and returns to the camp as an associate director this year.
"I've been going there for a long time," said the University of Alberta student.
As a camper, Ganton knew she was going to a Catholic camp and that was going to mean faith-related talks and what seemed at that time like the worst part of all - daily Mass.
"But that became my favourite part of the day," she said. "This was my first realization that the Church was bigger than my parish or my town. It was bigger than just me or my family."
Ganton sees camp as another building block in the growth of a child.
"I think that God set up his Church so that we can be a support to one another," she said. "The reason God gives us these things (like camp) is because we can't do it all alone. Sometimes we need help from others."
Camp may even have a greater effect on children than their parents would, said Ganton, especially when it concerns faith and religion.
When it comes to the Word of God, youngsters may be more willing to hear it explained by a youthful counsellor in baggy shorts and a wrinkly T-shirt than by a parent.
"(Counsellors) are four to five years older than the campers," Ganton said. "It seems they would have more of a real sense of what's going on in (a camper's) life, and they wear cool clothes."
At OLVC, campers and counsellors also get a sense of faith outside the stained glass windows and wooden pews of a church.
Praising God and celebrating Mass does not always mean sitting in high-ceilinged churches echoing with organ music. At camp, Masses are sometimes celebrated outdoors or in tents.
"It makes it more pertinent to the kids," said Matt Hoven, an associate camp director. "It's a kind of fresh look at the faith.
"You can't underestimate the intelligence of a kid, even at that age (nine years old). They have a lot of questions."
These questions need a comfortable environment in which to be asked. OLVC offers such an uninhibited environment. There is ample opportunity for the campers to ask questions of faith ranging from "Do pets go to heaven?" to "If someone commits suicide, do they also go to heaven?"
"The priests are so accommodating and the kids don't feel intimidated by them," said Lisa MacQuarrie, an associate camp director from Red Deer.
It's also a place where teens can feel accepted not for the name brand shoes they wear, but simply for who they are.
Ryan Goertzen, 16, says he was a "little chubby" kid growing up.
"And people didn't like me that much," he said. "But it wasn't a big deal at camp. Everyone was really friendly."
Camp has been a life-changing experience for Goertzen, a Grade 11 student from Lacombe.
"I find myself praying more," Goertzen said. "And I enjoy going to church. It used to be that my parents would make me go every Sunday. Now I go on my own and really enjoy it."
So was it camp that changed him?
"It sure was," he said without hesitation. "I'm proud of (my faith) now, I'm not afraid to be Catholic."
Goertzen started going to the camp when he was only a year old. His mother volunteered as a camp nurse. He attended as a camper when he was nine, but it wasn't until he hit 13, that he realized the spiritual talks were no longer boring.
"It started to make sense to me," he said.
Goertzen thinks many young campers are there more for the fun and games and it isn't until they hit their early teen years that they realize the prayers and Mass are also part of that fun and games.
"The teens do most of the talks, so the kids listen more. They like us counsellors more than (adults). I think we'll be better influences on them."
As for how much influence he thinks he has on the young campers, Goertzen said he seeks out the shy campers or the ones who feel they don't fit in.
"I wasn't too popular when I was young, so I look for the ones who are hanging out by themselves and talk to them. I understand how they feel."
For more information call Warawa at 481-6893 or check out the website at www.olvc.ab.ca.