Amanda Lawrence describes a diocesan youth retreat: a day of spiritual refreshment for teens and youth ministers.
“Follow the nuns!” someone shouted as we exited the big yellow school bus that brought us to Woods Hole. It was sage advice. I adhered to it for the rest of the trip as more than 250 teens and youth ministers spilled into the ferry parking lot. Everyone headed for Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard to celebrate Catholic Youth Day 2021.
The two nuns cloaked in blue disappeared into the crowd near the terminal. Our group followed suit, remaining close behind as they navigated towards shade. The pair seemed cool as cucumbers beneath the scorching August heat. Twenty-four parishes from across the dioceses mingled together. No doubt uncomfortable in the steamy climate, waiting for another ferry to arrive.
“It’s a practice in patience,” I told my son. “Just breathe and meditate.” We inhaled the ocean air and watched the cars exiting the next boat, with lines of vehicles waiting to take their place.
After some time passed, we prepared to board the behemoth. Single file lines, like grade school, finally moving up the ramp. Exhaust fumes flooded my nostrils near the gate of the gargantuan ferry. Our group sat at the helm of the ship in shiny metal seats. An American flag flew before us in the hot breeze. The temperature only rose as gray clouds moved in. The air grew thick with salted fog and seagull songs. Sweat beaded my brow. “Suffering is redemptive,” I reminded my son, mostly to remind myself.
A boat horn blared, warning nearby vessels of our departure. The ferry backed away from the dock, wobbling on the sea green waves. Droplets of rain escaped an ominous gray cloud following us. We pulled out of port, leaving the storm behind. A bright yellow sun burned through the gloom putting blue skies before us.
Arriving on the island was a little stressful. It was still violently hot and many of us ran out of water on the boat. Our group followed the nuns away from the gazebo, towards Trinity Park. We passed colorful gingerbread houses perched behind white picket fences among blooming hydrangeas. The air smelled of fried dough and ice cream. Fluffy clouds filled the bright blue sky. Bicycles wove through the crowds. Life was all around us.
Strolling through the charming island reminded me what had been lacking in my life. Community and human connection went missing in the months since the pandemic. Both resurfaced on Martha’s Vineyard that Saturday. Greeted with food, laughter, and much needed playtime.
Spray painted sheets announcing "Catholic Youth Day" decorated the tabernacle pavilion in Trinity Park. It smelled of fresh cut grass and pizza. We received t-shirts, gift bags with handmade rope rosaries, and customized sports bottles filled with ice water — a literal godsend on such a humid afternoon.
Oscar Rivera, Jr, the new Director of Youth Ministry, stayed upbeat through the heat. He remained entertaining and inspiring the whole time. His enthusiasm, energy, and experience are a blessing for the Diocese of Fall River. I look forward to more of his ministry in the future! It was delightful to see so many teens talking to each other in real time, not on TikTok! Playing tug-o-war, rock, paper, scissors, and train wreck — community building games. All in celebration of faith.
Over 250 humans worshiped in the large, outdoor area alongside our Bishop, Edgar da Cunha. During his homily, the Bishop, in glorious garb, spoke of the importance of remaining close to God. He encouraged the youth to stay connected with their faith, it will help them face whatever challenges they may encounter in life.
At the event’s end we all shambled off into the sunset with handcrafted sandwiches to munch on. Pinks and oranges illuminated the dusky blue sky while we walked back to the terminal. A cool, ocean breeze greeted us. Vehicles were already unloading from the ferry. Lines of hot, sticky people waited together with full hearts and sore feet. We’d reconnected with the rest of the world as the sun dipped beneath the sea.
On the bumpy bus ride back, while others dozed off, the nuns and I prayed the Rosary.
Another gracious opportunity to connect.
After a difficult year of pandemic restrictions, everyone needs more events like Catholic Youth Day. More adoration and opportunities for reconciliation. More time with God at the encouragement of their families. Because it was hard for some kids to open up in only a few hours after being absent from society for nearly two years. Maybe longer.
The event was a true gift in a lot of ways. The food was excellent, the music was entertaining, and as a whole it reintroduced participants to community. Without meaning to, it even showcased perseverance for God in the presence of uncomfortable circumstances.
Catholicism is a contact sport.
Training for it may not get our kids into college, but it will get them into Heaven.
Isn’t that the goal we give our children?
Copyright 2021 Amanda Lawrence
Images: Ferry landing photo copyright 2021 Diocese of Fall River, used with permission, all rights reserved; all others copyright 2021 Amanda Lawrence, all rights reserved.
About the Author
Amanda Lawrence is a cradle Catholic, mother, librarian, writer, and speaker. She lives in her own little slice of Heaven on the coast of Massachusetts with her son and dog. She hopes to make disciples through wisdom, truth, and her service to God.