By Katrina Genereux/Staff Writer, OND
Park Rapids – This year the Diocese of Crookston hosted two St. John Paul II Camps for middle school students. The first camp was held July 9-13 and the second was July 16-20. Around 180 youth entering grades seven through nine attended the camps at Northern Pines Camp in Park Rapids.
Throughout the four days of each session, students heard presentations, played large group games, did service projects, prayed the Rosary, celebrated Mass, gathered in small groups and had time for recreation.
Brady Borslien, the Youth Director at Holy Rosary, Detroit Lakes, and Renata Kingsbury, the Youth and Campus Minister at Sacred Heart, East Grand Forks served as directors for both camps.
Borslien said it was a blessing to see so many youth desiring to attend the St. John Paul II Camps.
“This camp is definitely a huge bright spot for the diocese and the kids. The majority of the kids leave with something and a desire to come back,” Borslien said. “It just shows that the Lord is doing a mighty work in this camp which for me is very hopeful.”
“Nobody leaves this place unchanged and it’s transforming our diocese from the inside out,” Kingsbury said. “It’s transforming families and parishes and schools because this isn’t one of those camps that they can just leave, that they can just walk away from. They leave completely transformed by the love of Jesus.”
Father Matthew Schmitz, who was ordained June 17, is the Parochial Vicar for Sacred Heart, East Grand Forks; Holy Trinity, Tabor; and St. Francis of Assisi, Fisher. He said working on the staff of St. John Paul II Camp was foundational for him.
“Coming back this year as a priest has just been an awesome blessing because this camp has been so pivotal in my own discernment and my own vocation story,” Father Schmitz said.
He served on the staff for the camp in 2009 or 2010 and said it was the first time he met the seminarians of the diocese and learned about and began praying the Liturgy of the Hours. He said that was approximately the time when his call to the priesthood was being realized. The next year, he returned to serve on staff of the camp, and one thing that stood out to him was a homily Bishop Michael J. Hoeppner delivered.
“He began talking about how sometimes our plans are not the same as God’s plans and when that happens, we need to trust that God’s plan will turn out better than we ever could have thought ours would have,” said Father Schmitz. “I went home and prayed with it for a week and I finally found the courage to leave the nets behind and to pick up the phone and to contact the diocese and enter the seminary.”
The theme of this year’s camp, “Immaculata”, focused on Mary.
Borslien said during the early planning stages for this year, the planning team was discussing how to honor St. John Paul II and realized a camp had never been fully dedicated to Mary.
“We’ve always incorporated her in aspects of talks or we do a rosary or she is mentioned, but we’ve never given her the full honor of an entire camp,” he said. “With Immaculata, it gives us the ability to explore Mary and her involvement in all of the salvation story.”
Kingsbury said she has noticed that the youth of the diocese have “grown naturally more Marian” since the camp began.
“A huge reason for that is the exposure to the Blessed Mother and those devotions they receive at camp, so we are taking what’s already been started and giving them an opportunity to go deeper in that and to have moments of encounter not only with Jesus, but with Mary as well,” she said.
Kingsbury said the presentations throughout the camp focused on Mary and the ways she points us to Jesus. They also incorporated Mary’s relation to elements of spirituality including the Mass, sacrifice and the tabernacle.
“Most of them have focused on who Mary was and who Mary continues to be for us as a Church,” she said.
Tarena Ubel* of St. Joseph, Williams, served as an emcee for the first session of camp and a small group leader for the second session. She said the joy she encountered attending the camp as a middle school student is what continues to bring her back to work on staff.
“With our theme this year of Immaculata, it’s truly touching because Mary is there to bring us to her son and to have her intercession throughout the camp is super powerful and beautiful,” Ubel said.
Aaron Hollcraft from Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Crookston, served as a cabin and small group leader for the first session of camp.
“I’ve never really had a personal relationship with Mary, so it’s really exciting for me because now I’m really starting to understand why it’s important,” Hollcraft said. “It’s great for the kids … so they can understand why it’s important early.”
The directors and staff of the camp hope the students will carry lessons they’ve learned and relationships they’ve built home with them.
“Camp always ends with a talk that challenges and sends the kids out to take what they’ve learned here to apply it to their daily lives,” Kingsbury said.
Father Bryan Kujawa, Parochial Vicar for St. Joseph, Moorhead, served as spiritual director for both sessions of camp. On July 20 he preached the homily during the closing Mass of the second session. He challenged the campers, staff members and the parents and family members in attendance to become real disciples of Jesus Christ.
“This entire week was a complete waste of time if your life is not changed in actual decisions that you make,” Father Kujawa said.
Some of the questions he asked everyone to consider and discuss on their drive home were: How are you going to be more generous with the Lord? How are you going to imitate Jesus more perfectly, follow him more closely and love him more dearly? How does your life become more about Jesus and less about you? How have you become less attached to the world and more attached to Jesus?
“This is what is it to be a disciple, to make your life mission to become just like Jesus Christ,” Father Kujawa said. He encouraged everyone to consider how open they are to the Holy Spirit.
“Let’s become very open to the Spirit; let’s become real disciples of Jesus Christ,” he said.
Associate Editor Janelle C. Gergen contributed to this article.
To see photos from both sessions of the 2017 St. John Paul II Camps, visit: www.crookston.org/photovideo/picturegallery
*The print version of this story incorrectly listed Tarena Ubel as an emcee at both camp sessions.