The Office of Youth Ministry is hoping a pilot project will help draw First Nations Youth closer to God, and closer to each other while offering them leadership skills to serve their people today and into the future. The pastors of the First Nation Reserves in southern Alberta met this year on several occasions with pastoral staff and members of the Mission Council who strongly supported the idea of a camp experience for First Nation Youth. The camp was held at Camp Columbus, the Knights of Columbus Camp in Waterton, National Park. A perfect backdrop to wonderful week.
Diocesan Youth Retreat Team (DYRT) coordinator Wesley Raymundo, directed the camp pilot project. He was working with the DYRT members, and religious sisters from the Seeds of the Word, Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM), and the Daughters of Mary Mother of the Church (DM) as they reached out to 13 high school youth from the Blood Reserve at Standoff, and the Piikani Reserve at Brocket. Youths were offered an experience of fun and faith over the five days, and together they laughed, played games, took part in skits, celebrated Mass, went horse backing riding, took short hikes, made crafts, prayed and sang songs.
Fr. Long Vu from the Siksika Nation in Cluny assisted at the camp as Chaplain for the five-day camp. One of Fr. Long Vu’s parishioners, Kelsey Solway, visited the camp and was encouraged by what she saw. She would like to be more involved next year, and bring some youth from the Siksika Reserve at Cluny. Kelsey shared:
“What I hope is that next year we are able to send more children to St. Kateri from Holy Trinity Parish in Siksika. Fr. Long expressed how important it was for our youth to be involved with building a relationship within the Catholic church and to become more involved. St. Kateri camp is a great way to foster those relationships. I was very impressed and cannot wait to attend next year. We hope that this is an annual event and I hope we can help more of our First Nations youth attend.”
First Nation youth, are not unlike youth in our cities and countryside who are longing for meaning and purpose in their lives. They desire to have fun, and experience God’s presence in their midst. As a diocese, we share a responsibility to reach out to the youth on our Reserves, and to communicate the Good News with them. Building community and relationships by our words and deeds speaks of God’s transforming love of peace and reconciliation, and is part of our mission as Catholics.
The youth who attended the camp came away feeling loved and part of a bigger family, and they were encouraged to be examples to others, to “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” [1 Tim: 4]. Selina Young Pine, from the Blood Reserve made sure prior to camp that she told everyone that, “at camp we are family, brothers and sisters.” She was not disappointed when she reflected, “From this camp I have gained more faith, and strength in Jesus, and I am humbled to say that I am a child of God.” Janelle Many Bears, told us that she “loves her new holy family.”
Taila Big Throat of the Blood Reserve summed up her experience by saying: “I really enjoyed coming to this camp; it was very nice meeting everyone and getting to know everyone, and most of all sharing each and everyone’s stories about faith. I really loved how everyone was Catholic and we all love and share in our God.”
Justin Lang, one of the counsellors for the week commented that “he had gained an incredible experience which was getting to know the youth, and being able to see them grow in their faith and really bond together with each other and with counselors to become more of a family.”
Let us continue to shape what has begun. Together we can build a civilization of love, and transform the communities that make up our diocese. We cannot just talk about what is possible, but we must have the courage to get involved, and take action going forth to make a difference. As the youth step forward and are encouraged in their faith they too will be formed as leaders who reflect the Gospel message in their lives, helping to transform the communities that they have grown up in, and also the world itself. St. Kateri is quoted as saying, “Who will teach me what is most pleasing to God, that I may do it?” May we do our part to reach out to the youth on the Reserves, and help to strengthen their faith.