Campers Zac Connelly and Alana Short absorbed the infusion of faith at Camp St. Louis.

WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER

Campers Zac Connelly and Alana Short absorbed the infusion of faith at Camp St. Louis.

September 8, 2014
CHRIS MILLER
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

The fire of faith was ignited in teens who came to a week-long camp near Bonnyville with the desire to grow in their knowledge of Christ and be empowered to share their faith with others.

Organized by Face to Face Ministries, Ignite 2014 was held Aug. 24-29 at Camp St. Louis, near the entrance to Moose Lake Provincial Park. Its goal was to inspire Catholic youth, Grades 9 to 12, serious about growing in holiness.

"Ignite is a conference-style camp that we host for teens who are serious about growing in their faith. I find it's a really good opportunity for teens that are looking to take that next step in their faith," said Amanda Hertz, director of this year's summer camp.

Face to Face Ministries began in 1999 with a small youth retreat. The 30 participants were tremendously impacted by their encounter with Christ and their lives were transformed. When other young people heard about their experience, they requested a youth retreat of their own, and the fruits grew.

YOUTH RETREATS GROW

By 2002, numerous parishes were calling for youth retreats and a more formal retreat team was formed. This team travelled across the Prairies leading youth retreats in Catholic parishes.

"Ignite has been going on in Saskatchewan for about eight years. I've seen a beautiful community of young men and women form to support and encourage each other, not just for the week but throughout the year," said Hertz.

A warning of blue-green algae, which plagued many lakes, ponds and reservoirs throughout Alberta, was issued for Moose Lake. Campers were not able to access the lake because of the potential for harmful toxins. But the campers found other fun activities to keep them busy, including three-ball, Ultimate Frisbee, Dutch blitz and nightly campfires.

"There's a variety of activities because there's a variety of people who come here," said Hertz. "It's a good group here, very energetic and enthusiastic."

If the teens forge new friendships while at camp, they are likely to stay in contact afterwards via Facebook and other social media, she said. There is also an annual conference (Nov. 22-23 in Saskatoon) where many campers reunite.

WHO WE ARE

"This year we are sharing the truths of our identity, being the sons and daughters of God and how we are made in his image. If they learn this truth, they can stand firm in the truth of who they are," said Hertz.

Jon Courchene, from Lanigan, Sask., is executive director of Face to Face Ministries and co-director of Ignite. After high school, he spent four years in various types of youth ministry, including two years as deanery youth ministries coordinator in the Prince Albert Diocese. He has a bachelor's degree in social work.

With a renewed desire for retreat ministry, he joined Face to Face Ministries in 2007.

"Basically, in everything that we do, our goal is to build up the youths' encounter with Christ. The vision of Face to Face Ministries is that all people encounter Christ and embrace the call to be saints," said Courchene.

Ignite summer camps have been held in Alberta for four years, previously near Gull Lake. This was the first time the group partnered with the St. Paul Diocese, but Courchene said it won't be the last.

More than half of the 38 campers were from the St. Paul Diocese, but there were also teens from Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Calgary and other areas of Alberta.

Organizers look forward to spreading the Gospel message to teens through Ignite in other provinces.

The summer camp is a chance to escape the busyness of town life and enjoy the outdoors. The camp offers youth a place to discuss their faith and open themselves up to a community of others with similar questions about God and the world.

Jon Courchene

Jon Courchene

"This camp will springboard the teens, and help them go back to their respective dioceses and into their parishes where they can hopefully be fully alive in their faith and they can live authentic Catholic lives," said Courchene.

"To grow in our faith, we need to have that fellowship. We need a supportive community around us," he continued.

"The whole week really builds up to different moments of encounter. The sacraments are an obvious moment of encounter. In small groups with each other are opportunities for encounters with Christ.

"By doing fun activities and playing games, we are building trust, so when it comes to the more important moments, (the campers) are open and willing."

A typical day had three main sessions, in the morning, afternoon and evening. Each day has a particular theme, such as forgiveness or mercy, which led into Adoration every evening. Reconciliation was held once during the week.

"It's during the sacraments that we see a lot of grace. We give the youth a chance to share what their highlights were for the week. So many of them say it was in the sacraments," said Courchene.

Camp St. Louis was founded in 1988 to develop children's faith in God, set an example for youth and strengthen friendships.

Alana Short, a Grade 12 student, was told about the camp by some friends. She knew the camp would allow the chance to make new friends, grow in her faith and have tons of fun. She welcomed the opportunity for a week of fun.

NON-CATHOLIC'S DELIGHT

A non-Catholic, she was fascinated by encountering Christ through the excellent talks, Adoration, praise and worship. She welcomed the chance to learn more about the Catholic Church.

"I learned a lot about the saints. I had no idea how you became a saint or really what the saints were. I learned all about them, so that was really cool," said Short.

Zac Connelly, a Grade 10 student from Prince George, B.C., was told about Ignite by Father Jack Michalchuk, from Burns Lake, B.C. He was told good things, and had no regrets about going.

"I've really enjoyed the prayerful moments, the fellowship, Adoration, daily Mass, and getting into the spirit of holiness," said Connelly. "We've had lots of group games, and the music is a big part of the camp."

The best part was, he said, getting to meet new people through amusing activities.

While the initial focus of Face to Face Ministries was youth retreats, it has since expanded to accommodate parish retreats, reaching out to all people, from pre-school children to seniors.