Bridging the social distance
A light spatter of warm rain only seemed to add to the joyful normalcy of a youth group canoe trip through the Salamonie Reservoir in Andrews on July 30. The date marked the feast of Blessed Solanus Casey, and a canoe pilgrimage in his honor allowed 60 high school students to embark on a three-hour journey undiminished in fellowship by the day’s gloomy weather.
Experienced and beginner adventurers explored, drifted and even played games in the midst of the tranquil natural escape. The celebration of the Mass at the St. Felix Catholic Center in Huntington teed off the pilgrimage, centering it in Christ before a healthy and wholesome release.
No matter what plans for the pilgrimage had been made and changed due to the coronavirus pandemic – including the location from which the canoes would be launched — this first reminder of love and goodness proved inspiring to the participants. What might have deterred less mission-oriented canoers only seemed to encourage fuller immersion in the opportunity.
“We had a ton of fun,” beamed Ryan Norden, a parishioner at St. John Bosco Parish in Churubusco. He marveled at the beauty of the St. Felix center and his introduction to Blessed Solanus Casey.
John Pratt, director of the Office of Youth Ministry, affirmed the wholesome fun the pilgrimage provided. “For young people, there seems to be a strength in numbers, and to gather together with young people from other parishes and pray together at Mass in the morning, then have a great time canoeing together, is a really wholesome way to celebrate the faith.” He reflected that at this point in time, such an opportunity could show that faith is still “something that can be celebrated and lived out vibrantly with others.”
Even under their masks, the excitement in each participant’s voice was unmistakable. The expedition had been a needed interaction, even with social distancing practices in place.
Groups traveled in families or parish ministries, independent of one another. Pratt noted that, in accordance with COVID-19 guidelines, “the [canoeing] squads were more rigid,” yet it did not hinder the adventure. “That gave our young people hours of quality time with one of our seminarians, deacons or priests, and that is a great thing. There can be surprising fruit from new models of ministry during this time.”
The highlight came in perfect summary from Lexie Kloska, a parishioner at St. Pius X Parish in Granger: “Being with a bunch of people my age and just having a blast.” For Kloska, the reality of spending time with people of faith in a lighthearted fashion was “a huge relief” from the isolation of the world — a time to simply have fun with a community and, for a short time, be removed from worldly chaos. The experience lightened participants and volunteers alike; it was an opening to the small, simple help Christ offered through the pilgrimage.
“As you embark upon your journey of life and continue to, you’re going to have some rapids and some rocks in your way,” said Father Tony Steinacker during the morning’s Mass, “but know that Christ is journeying with you wherever you go.” Just as Christ had accompanied and inspired Blessed Solanus Casey in simplicity and peace, so was the same done in each young voyager.
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