By Diane Freeby
MILFORD — What do you get when you combine campfires with catechism? For one warm week in July it was Catholic Youth Summer Camp 2012, held at Camp Mack in the woods of Milford.
This is the second year for the Catholic camp, with 38 campers from 15 parishes in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend participating. Adult and young adults volunteered their time as counselors. The Catholic Youth Summer Camp has long been the dream of Dave and Jan Torma, parishioners at St. Jude in South Bend.
“In the past, I have directed week-long camps for children and have seen their value,” explains Dave Torma, a former Boy Scout leader. “Along with activities like swimming, canoeing, crafts, an obstacle course, archery, games and campfires, camp is a wonderful environment to nurture their spirituality as young Catholics. I felt that a Catholic camp could draw campers deeper into their Catholic faith through daily Mass, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, prayer and foster their love for our Blessed Mother through the rosary.”
The campers made up six groups — fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade girls and fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade boys.
The camp theme was “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch. Luke 5:4.”
Rising by 7:30 each morning, the camp met to honor God and country by singing, learning Scripture and raising the American flag.
After breakfast and morning activities, everyone gathered for Mass in the small stone chapel with dirt floors and a large window overlooking Lake Waubee. Campers enjoyed serving and reading at Mass, and their singing filled the chapel and beyond.
Each day a different parish priest celebrated Mass. They included Father Daryl Rybicki, pastor of Corpus Christi Parish, South Bend; Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades; Holy Cross Father John Patrick Riley, parochial vicar of St. Joseph Parish, South Bend; Father Charles Oyo, parochial vicar at St. Jude Parish, South Bend; Holy Cross Father Neil Wack, pastor of Christ the King Parish, South Bend; and Father Bob Lengerich, pastor of St. Dominic Parish in Bremen.
After lunch, the children took a rest before heading into the afternoon activities, gathering again at 5 p.m. to retire the American flag before dinner. Campers and counselors went back to their cabins to get ready for campfire at 7 p.m.
This year, after campfire, one of the male counselors led the boys in prayer and conversation during “Bro Time” before lights out. The girls turned to Our Lady and recited the rosary in their cabins.
On Friday, after Mass and a time of Eucharistic Adoration, there was a picnic followed by all-camp activities and a family campfire to close camp.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for children to have a Catholic camp where they’re not only having a lot of fun with various outdoor activities but they’re also learning the faith, they’re praying together, they’re learning important messages from the Gospel, which I was glad to see,” said Bishop Rhoades. “They’re building bonds with Christ and each other. That’s what we’re all about!”
A group of sixth-grade boys was so inspired by an encouraging message Bishop Rhoades wrote when he signed their camp flag that they turned his message into a skit, performed later that evening at the campfire.
T.J. Freeby, a fifth-grader from Corpus Christi Parish in South Bend, had met the bishop on other occasions, but said having him visit camp was different.
“This was special because I answered more questions correctly this time,” T.J. said. “He ate lunch with us and he was actually a very funny guy, believe it or not.”
Other campers shared their thoughts.
“Learning Scripture every day through skits and prayer made me feel closer to God and doing this with friends was great,” said Corpus Christi sixth-grader Aubrei Donica, who talked about camp the entire car ride home. “I also got to fish and boat, and I left camp with a stronger faith and friends from all over.”
Many of the boys agree that “Bro Time” was a powerful experience.
“It’s a time after camp fire when the guys got together and we discussed how to be men of God,” explained Alex Fosnaugh, a fifth grader from St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Fort Wayne. “The last night the guy counselors set up a cross and we all meditated and prayed with each other. We cried, even me, and I felt very connected with God.”
Pam Fosnaugh said she was touched by her son’s words.
“I knew the camp had offered him the gift of God’s spirit and had given him the knowledge to see it and feel it,” reported Fosnaugh. “I’m thankful my son, through the camp and God’s spirit, has given him this insight of Our Lord’s love. Through faith and sharing with other faithful people you see God and His gifts to and in you.”
For information on next year’s camp or to volunteer, call (574) 291-3381.
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