By Tania M. Geist
FORT WAYNE — About 150 teenagers from across the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend came together for the weekend of Feb. 7-9 for the second annual Ignited retreat, “Enter the Fire.” The event, held at Bishop Dwenger High School in Fort Wayne, was a collaboration of numerous Catholic schools and parishes in both South Bend and Fort Wayne.
Ignited 2014 offered a chance for teens to encounter the person of Christ in the sacraments, prayer and fellowship. The aim was “that they would come to know that He will fulfill their deepest longing,” said Cindy Black, a retreat organizer and director of the diocesan Office of Youth Ministry.
“It’s about a call to authentic relationship — realizing that God’s love is what we are made for, and it is the only thing that satisfies,” said Liz Cotrupi-Pfunder, who led praise and worship music throughout the weekend with the Liz Cotrupi Band.
Eucharistic Adoration was one aspect of the weekend that several of the teens named as a high point. Adoration is “really building your relationship with Jesus,” said Ariella Witt, 18. “Just like you spend time with your friends to really get to know them, you have to spend time with Him. It’s that part of the day when nothing else matters — it’s just you and Jesus being best friends. It’s that special time when you find yourself by finding Him.”
Witt, who gave a teen witness, added: “Coming on retreat is the main reason that I found God in my life; so for me, it’s everything. I can’t put it into words. A couple of years ago I would have never spent my weekend like this. It’s really special to see that if you’re a teen living your faith, you’re not alone.”
Another favorite aspect for teens was the participation of numerous religious — both men and women — who helped with activities like leading small group discussions. At the retreat’s conclusion, the teens expressed their strong appreciation for all the religious with a standing ovation of thanks.
“The nuns are especially cool to have around — to see young people in the convent is really inspiring,” said retreatant Abby Lyon, 17. “I really enjoy seeing everyone come together, because we all have the same passion. This is what the Church is about — fellowship, community, communion. The love that’s in this room is beyond our comprehension. It just feels like a big family.”
For Brother Francis Mary of the Franciscan Brothers Minor, who served as retreat sacristan, this family dynamic was especially fitting, in that teens might take away a “new understanding of which God the Father is, as truly someone who cares for them and wants them to be a part of His family — who wants to be a Father to them.”
In his homily at the closing Mass, Franciscan Father David Mary Engo expounded on the same truth: “In Baptism, God really and truly became your Father. More than the chair you are sitting on is real to you, God is really your Father.”
That is exactly the sense that teens like Alex Biggins, 17, have gleaned from Ignited. “I’m taking away a feeling of community, the feeling that God does love me, even if sometimes I feel like He doesn’t.” He added that last year’s Ignited retreat was “one of the best weekends of his life.”
The depth of our desire to love and to be loved played prominently in Father David Mary’s homily, as well. “I’m challenging you to love the God who loves you, to love Love,” he said. “If you believe in that radical, intense love, you have no other choice. What is your reply? As teenagers, you are now geared for ‘radicality.’ If not now, when? If not you, then who?”
On the reality of this responsibility, Witt said, “A lot of my friends don’t know God or go to church, so a retreat gives me the boost to realize that I may possibly be the only Gospel they’ll ever see.”
Justin Seng, the retreat’s emcee, also spoke on the importance of conveying a passion for Christ in daily life: “My ‘mission statement’ would be to present Christ as irresistible to the human heart, especially in a world where it seems required that we water everything down. We’re not allowed to be really passionate about anything today, because we have to be cool and levelheaded and PC. We can’t go over the brink about anything.”
In a similar vein, Father David Mary preached, “Jesus didn’t say, ‘Tolerate others as I have tolerated you.’”
He therefore challenged all those present: “Go deeper! Deeper into your prayer life, into your faith, and do not stop until you have reached perfect union with Him. Be on fire for the God whose heart is engulfed in flames for sinful humanity — for you and me.”
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