By Dr. Herron Rodriguez
On Friday, Aug. 2, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades celebrated Mass at Our Lady of Good Hope Church, Fort Wayne, before a unique group of congregants: 186 campers and canoeists, who were kicking off the 20th annual Father and Son Canoe Trip.
The weekend of outdoor adventure was started in 1999 by Douglas Snowball, an airline pilot and father of nine who envisioned a weekend in the wilderness as an opportunity for men to grow in friendship and to strengthen the bonds between fathers and sons. On the very first weekend at the Au Sable River in Michigan, Father Glenn Kohrman, now the pastor of Holy Family Parish and St. John the Baptist Parish, both in South Bend, joined the group of seven dads and their sons and led them to define the theme of the canoe trip: “Christ in all we do; even camping and canoeing.”
Over the years the trip has grown through the apostolate of friendship. For the last 13 years it has taken place at the Culver Academy campground on the Tippecanoe River.
Every day starts with Mass, and every meal is served by an assigned group of fathers and sons who also take care of the cleaning and keeping things in order. There are formative talks, opportunities for confession, spiritual direction and, at the end of the day, a rosary by the fire. The participants play soccer, baseball and football, and on Saturday and Sunday they paddle their canoes in the river for more than nine hours each day.
In the past, the campers have ranged in age from 2 to the 70s. Several families have enjoyed the outings for three generations. They mainly come from Indiana and Illinois, but through an international exchange program Snowball has organized over the years, a few young Catholic men from Spain, France, Hong Kong and Taiwan also have joined in.
In addition to Father Kohrman, visiting priests from those countries also have enlightened the group. This year the fathers and sons enjoyed the company of Father José Vera from Spain and Father Rolando “Rolo” Montes de Oca from Cuba, who is currently in Missouri doing postgraduate studies in journalism prior to returning to Cuba this fall.
“The canoe trip weekend was for me a series of surprises,” said Father Montes. “Before my eyes (was) a huge masculine community having fun, playing sports and praying together in perfect harmony. The dads, in a very natural way, preached by their example and taught the boys how to be Christian men while enjoying an unforgettable weekend.
Father Montes said he at first thought that an “exclusively male’ weekend would be doomed to fail, since it would lack the treasure of the ‘feminine touch.” Nevertheless, he said, during three days, “we saw friendships shine with the warmth of faith, fraternity and sportsman spirit.”
“Our weekend did not lack jokes or chats. The wisdom of Father Glenn during the campfire talk amazed me when he answered the questions about faith posed by kids and some fathers alike.
“I enjoyed Father Jose’s homily about the similarities between canoeing and spiritual life: that when you discover a defect in yourself, it is like seeing a rock or logjam in the river. You must paddle hard to overcome this obstacle. While dodging these obstacles, you also must keep your sight on the horizon so not to lose direction. Rowing always together and staying united is key. Above all, it’s critical to keep your canoe in the center of the river, where steady water flows: You can only do this in the faith by following the pope and the bishops.”
Father Montes said he came back with darker skin and sore arms, but departed with a renewed mission to row along with Christ, in His boat, the Church.
“I took with me a prayer of thanksgiving for the gift of my new brothers, rowers in faith. Men that do not let themselves be carried by the current, but row and teach their sons to row towards the safe ports of holiness and eternal life.”
Organizers intend for the trip to take place again next year. For information, contact Snowball at [email protected].
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