By Kenneth J. Souza, Anchor Staff
MEDWAY, Mass. — Nearly 30 teen-age boys from parishes across the Fall River Diocese will be heading to the Betania II Retreat Center in Medway next month for the annual Quo Vadis Days experience.
The five-day program, to be held July 7-11, was initiated by the diocesan Vocations Office to help young men discern their vocation in life and perhaps answer a special calling to serve God as priests.
According to Father Kevin Cook, assistant vocations director for the Fall River Diocese and pastor of Holy Family Parish in East Taunton, this year marks a change of setting for Quo Vadis since its inception in the diocese four years ago.
“In previous years we have held the Quo Vadis Days at the Sacred Hearts Retreat Center in Wareham, which worked very well for many different types of activities,” Father Cook told The Anchor. “But we thought of trying Betania this year to see how it works with the extra space they could offer us and the use of several buildings.”
Located about an hour north of the diocese, the new location is also closer to one of the highlights of the Quo Vadis retreat — the mountain-hiking excursion to New Hampshire.
“It cuts the travel time we use for our annual hike dramatically,” Father Cook said. “Holding it in Medway will cut off close to two hours of travel time.”
Father Cook noted that the hiking adventure in New Hampshire has become one of the favorite activities of Quo Vadis campers every year.
“The hike is a highlight of the week, not only for those who have never hiked up a mountain before to see the beauty, but also for the experience as a group to help each other,” he said. “I think there is always a great lesson — not only physically but also spiritually — when you hike a mountain. You learn about perseverance, about sacrifice, and about the beauty of God’s creation — especially when you reach the peak and it is a great lesson on the joy of reaching our ultimate goal, which is Heaven.”
Quo Vadis Days — which takes its name from the Latin phrase meaning “Where are you going?” (which the Risen Jesus is reputed to have appeared outside of Rome and questioned St. Peter, as he was fleeing persecution) — consists of a team of priests, seminarians and adult advisors who provide guidance and advice to help high school-aged young men deepen their faith and better discern what God is calling them to do.
Aimed at young men ages 14 to 18 from the Fall River Diocese, the original Quo Vadis Days was cofounded by Father John Cihak of Portland, Ore. and Father William Dillard of San Diego, Calif., in the summer of 2000. Twenty-two young men attended that first camp and the idea has since spread to dioceses throughout the United States.
Father Cook said the response to Quo Vadis here in the Fall River Diocese has been quite positive and the annual retreat seems to be bearing much fruit.
“Each year has been a very enjoyable time for all those who have taken part,” he said. “One highlight for me each year has been seeing the young men from all over the diocese coming together and forming great bonds.
“Spiritually, it is also very moving to see the great faith of some of the young men and seeing many become more open to praying about their vocation — whatever it may be — and seeing how some of them become very open to discussing questions they may have about vocations and discernment. One of our (current) seminarians took part in the retreat over the years and he attributed this experience as a big help for him in his discernment.”
Unlike the typical retreat experience, Quo Vadis Days isn’t just about prayer and meditation interspersed with long talks about vocations — it also provides opportunities for social interaction and outdoor activities with fellow attendees, priests and seminarians, which is a crucial component of getting to know what a potential vocation to the priesthood entails.
In addition to providing conferences, spiritual guidance and fraternity through prayer, celebrating the Liturgy and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, activities also include hiking, swimming and sports such as flag football and ultimate Frisbee. There are also plenty of great food and discussions.
Father Cook said a key to the success of Quo Vadis is in maintaining that balance between quiet times for prayer and reflection and the more fun-filled recreational activities.
“Teen-age boys naturally enjoy activities, so it is important that we give some time each day for it,” he said. “But I think most recognize the importance of times for prayer and the Sacraments, and the structure of each day enables them to put that importance into action. For some of them, they may not naturally give that time if they are around their peers, but this retreat helps foster that and they quickly realize they enjoy the balance we try to give.”
In this digital age where smart phones and social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter constantly compete for a teen-ager’s attention, Father Cook said an experience such as Quo Vadis can be very refreshing.
“All of us can allow many good things in daily life to distract us and we don’t realize we need time for rest and spending time in reflection,” he said. “As great as social media can be, it can also function as a great distraction from reflecting on our daily lives. Once the guys get away from the social media stuff, they start to find the joy of getting away from the daily grind and discover the beauty of peace found when we give time to the Lord.”
In addition to the change of venue this year, Father Cook said there are a few new items that have been added to the 2014 Quo Vadis agenda.
“This year we have our newly-ordained Father Chris Peschel coming to celebrate Mass with the men, which I am certain our past participants taking part will enjoy since they got to know him over the years,” Father Cook said. “Also we have Father Jay Maddock, pastor of Holy Name Parish in Fall River, coming in to talk about his life as a priest and the joys of living this vocation.”
As in past years, plans are in place for Bishop George W. Coleman to celebrate Mass and spend some time with the campers during Quo Vadis.
“A highlight each year is when the bishop comes to celebrate Mass and chat with the young men,” Father Cook said. “I know the bishop enjoys it, but you can tell on the young men’s faces the joy they have being able to spend time with the bishop, ask him questions and have lunch with him as well.”
Father Cook credits the ongoing success of Quo Vadis Days to the support and participation of many of the recent and current diocesan seminarians studying for the priesthood, who often serve as mentors and chaperones for the five-day retreat.
“Father Chris Peschel and Father Jason Brilhante were never campers on Quo Vadis Days, but they helped as seminarians in years past,” Father Cook said. “I think the young guys really enjoy having them come (back to Quo Vadis) as priests and it helps them understand that the priests were like them at one time. It helps the guys open up with the young priests, because they know them from previous years and have already built up a strong aspect of trust in them.”
The Quo Vadis Days retreat runs the first full week after the Fourth of July and will begin this year on July 7 starting at 1 p.m. and conclude on July 11 at noon at the Betania II Spiritual Life Retreat Center, 154 Summer Street in Medway.