WEST HAVEN – The Archdiocese of Hartford hosted a day full of energy and enthusiasm for more than 300 teens in the form of Youth Easter Retreat 2018 on April 7 at St. John XXIII Parish.
The theme was "Tell Me Who Are You? I Am Your Father."
Participants in the retreat, presented in English and Spanish, came from New Britain, New Haven, Wallingford, Meriden, Stratford and Bristol as well as West Haven for a day of music, speakers, food, videos, short plays, outdoor games, snacks, Mass, and eucharistic adoration. It was coordinated by Andrea Hernández and a team of volunteers.
“We want teens to know they have a Father who knows them, loves them and has a plan for their lives,” she said.
A hands-down hit was SI7, a music ministry from New York that provided a beginning-to-end backdrop of energetic contemporary spiritual music laden with meaningful messages and songs known to many of the students.
“I came because it seemed like a lot of fun, and it’s different than church,” said Raysa Perez, 17, who wore one of the “I Am Your Father” T-shirts included in the $15 retreat package.
Added her friend Atziyaded Cervantes, 14, “It’s not very structured so it good for our age group.”
Speakers included Father P. Carlos Echavarria, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in New Haven, who spoke about the person of God the Father; and Bertha Peralta, who addressed the question, “Who are you?”
She urged retreatants to “Be who you are. … Don’t be conformed to this world … don’t be a follower.”
“Be who you were called to be,” she added, noting,“You cannot be you until you learn who he (God the Father) is.”
Celebrating Mass was Father Michael Casey, archdiocesan vocations director, who delivered an Easter message on the risen Christ, and urged students to be willing to, “Tell the world that Jesus rose from the dead.”
One video on “social distractions” challenged students to limit the use of smartphones and other digital technology. “Take a 48-hour detox” from your phone, and “create healthy digital habits in your family,” said Peralta.
Father Jose Mercado, pastor of St. John XXIII Parish, which draws standing-room-only attendance at Spanish Masses, said, “I hope the kids come away with an experience of encountering the risen Lord through the music, talks, socializing with each other, prayer, and especially in his flesh at Mass …. so they can have a closer relationship with Jesus.”
“It was great,” said Jair Saucedo,” of St. Louis Church. “I got to be near God and hear all about him.”
Jason Hernandez of St. Louis Church pronounced it good, citing "the food, the music, activities and the message.”
The adoration at the end “was calming and relaxing,” added his friend Elvis Quiroz. “It gave you a chance to think and clear your mind.”
This is the 12th Youth Easter Retreat at St. Louis Church. It was the brainchild of parishioner German Hernández
. Hernández. explained that after the festivities of Holy Week and Easter, there was little for students to look forward to celebrating. “So we brought in speakers, music, Mass, adoration, games and food … a lot of food,” said Hernández, who seemed to be enjoying the retreat as much as the teens.
“We have a lot of volunteers and support with donations from the community,” he said. “We believe that if we all come together to share resources, we can create something good for the community and share the experience together.”
A highlight was a stirring, candlelit hour of eucharistic adoration led by Father Jeffrey A. Gubbiotti, pastor of Holy Rosary Parish in Ansonia. As students knelt on the floor, he encouraged them to touch the humeral veil, the ceremonial outside vestment that a priest wears draped over his shoulders and down the front, just as the woman touched the hem of Jesus in Scripture, as he carried the monstrance through the gathering.