One of the most exciting experiences I have had here in Kansas is Camp Tekakwitha. I quickly mastered how to say it (the camp is named after Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha who will be canonised on October 15) and soon felt right at home on this enormous ranch in the middle of nowhere, thanks to incredible American hospitality, which I wish I could take back home with me to England.
The land was transformed by the diocese 15 years ago to house their vision of a Catholic summer camp for teenagers. Now, hundreds of young people come every summer to camps dedicated to different age groups. A typical week includes adventure activities galore (from horseback riding to canoeing, and from high ropes challenges to archery) – but these are adventure activities with a difference. Every activity is connected with the Faith, so campers do not simply enjoy a morning of climbing – they also learn about Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati and what it means to strive upwards in our life of faith. A blindfolded obstacle course is linked to the story of Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha, who, though partially-sighted, travelled 200 miles to a place she could freely practise her faith. After each activity, campers gather to share their experience (very American, you might think) but this time is often fruitful in discussing virtues learned through the activities, such as fortitude, strength, perseverance, putting others first, and so on.
The fruits of the experience are plentiful to see. Each night, every cabin of eight campers share their highs, lows, and ‘God-moments’ of the day. I was blown away by the maturity of faith and sincerity of the 13-14-year-old campers I met. You can tell they are generally extremely well catechised and evangelised, and the camp experience seems to deepen this even further. Here, they are with 100 other campers for the week, share in with chores, umpteen crazy traditions and codes I couldn’t keep up with, campfire songs, humorous skits, and a full prayer and sacramental life. One girl said she couldn’t wait for Reconciliation night.
One extremely powerful element of the camp is the role models it provides. Each cabin is led by a young adult – mostly college students and seminarians. These young adults are fully dedicated to their cabin for the week, from early morning to late at night, taking part with them in activities, leading their catechesis sessions, eating meals with them, praying with them… This non-stop service and spirit of generosity impressed me the most. Many of the young women were discerning religious life, many of the young men were seminarians, a few were engaged to be married. One of the camp directors told me that many vocations to priesthood and religious life have come through camp, and you can see how! Here is a culture of discernment, of seeking the Lord, which the campers naturally absorb.
There’s one thing I want to say – come on Church in England and Wales! We need to pray for a new spirit of eager evangelisation, and be open to starting initiatives such as this.
Oh, and did I say, in the spirit of fully entering into camp life, I jumped off a thirty foot pole?! Possibly the most terrifying experience of my life, but I did it… Despite needing a bit of encouragement and cheering from thirteen-year-olds…