By Becky Aubut, Anchor Staff
EAST FREETOWN, Mass. — For the past 24 years, the Fall River Diocese has been seeing high school youth say YES! to having a closer relationship with God during the annual YES! Retreat program, the latest of which is being held April 10-12 at the Cathedral Camp in East Freetown.
“Retreats are an important element in the Spiritual formation of the adolescent,” explained Claire McManus, director of the Fall River Diocese’s Office of Faith Formation. “The National Study of Youth and Religion, the findings of which were first introduced in 2004, stated that ‘Young people who have participated in at least one retreat, rally, conference, mission trip, or extended service project report significant increases in the closeness they feel to God, the degree of importance faith has in their daily lives, and how often they read the Bible.’”
She added, “We try to offer to the youth of the diocese as many of these experiences as possible. Some of our parishes have wonderful youth programs that offer excellent retreat experiences and service immersion experiences. But we will continue to offer the YES! Retreat and the youth convention so that all parishes can give their youth the best opportunity to grow in faith.”
Deacon Frank Lucca, Catholic campus minister at UMass Dartmouth and chairman and director of the Diocese of Fall River YES! Retreat program, is also a youth minister at St. Dominic’s Parish in Swansea, and he recognized that while the youth were benefiting from participating in the Catholic Leadership Institute program, the diocese needed another program that offered an additional resource.
“Wouldn’t it be good to build a retreat where young people could come to that it would allow them to go to CLI and then move to a more Spiritual direction for their own development, and then move back to the parish and work in youth ministry?” recalled Lucca, who said the first YES! was very “rudimentary” but “it went very well” and that so many turned out, attendance “was a full house.”
Within a couple of years, Lucca had taken the best elements of the program and honed it into a fulfilling weekend for youth “that was highlight structured” where directors follow what is in the program’s binder and “it’s run exactly the same way each time.”
“I think that’s important because it allows the Spirit to work. I don’t add or take anything away from YES! I don’t influence YES! with myself, it is what the Spirit makes it to be,” said Lucca, adding that incorporating an independent board early on also helped keep the integrity of the retreat intact. “Most of the dynamic is selection of theme and directors, and gives another input. We want to make sure the weekend stays true to what it’s supposed to be.”
The title of the retreat comes from the fact the program uses the song, “I say yes, my Lord” by Digo si Senõr. The retreat is built on Sacraments, and there are 10 team members — five youths who have already participated in YES! and five adults — and each pair off, in a sense, as adult talks match each youth talk but from two age-related perspectives.
“All these talks are what we call ‘Sharing the Stories,’” explained Lucca. “We tell [the youth attending the retreat] the team is sharing their stories with you, and then it goes into discussions.”
To date, there has been only one rewrite of the program in 1996, simply to make the program and activities up-to-date, but the YES! candle activity hearkens back to the original YES! Retreat.
“In that candle [the wax] of the very first YES! candle is in there,” said Deacon Lucca. “We break up the wax and add new wax so there’s always wax of the previous candle in the new candle, so it goes back to YES! number one.”
The first day of the retreat is for self, while the second day is for others. Activities are based around many of the talks, and prayer services and other moments of reflection are woven into the weekend.
“It’s typical when you build retreats, Saturday night is always the high point,” said Deacon Lucca. “On YES! that’s the moment when we’re coming through on Reconciliation. We’ve talked about friendship, we’ve talked about the concept of reconciling, and then we move into the prayer service. There’s a skit and that moves into an activity, and then the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which goes on for quite a bit of time, and then we move on to Mass.”
A youth can only do one YES! Retreat in his or her lifetime unless that youth decides to participate as a team member, said Lucca, “because the experience is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the problem is when you try to replicate that, you know everything that’s coming and you’re never going to be able to experience it the same way. If you’re on team, then you get to experience it another way and seeing it from a different perspective, and sometimes that’s even more powerful than their original YES!”
The age for a participant of the YES! Retreat should be post-Confirmation or within a month of his or her Confirmation, so if they’re going to make Confirmation this year then they can attend.
“Any retreat is an opportunity for young people to get away, which is what retreat means, and to participate with young people who share that same faith and see that,” said Deacon Lucca. “It’s so powerful when you see a teen-ager get up and willing to share their story as a team member and it truly affects these young people who are sitting as candidates. It gives them an opportunity to learn how other young people their age have sought faith in Christ and how that has moved forward and how the relationship with Christ developed. It gives them some direction and that it’s OK to be this way.”
The YES! Retreats are about going to a place where saying grace at meals is not odd; a chance to encounter God through the sharing of Sacraments; fellowship with a peer group; discovering a deep appreciation of the Catholic faith and finding the inspiration to go out and spread the Word of God.
“I always like to tell them,” said Deacon Lucca, “‘Look guys, we’ve experienced a little bit of Heaven here. We’re in a place where everybody’s accepted and everybody’s loved. We’ve taken care of each other but now we can’t stay here. Now that you’ve said YES! you’ve got to take that Word out and to evangelize others to Christ. It’s not something you can hold inside.’”
For more information on the YES! Retreat, go to www.FallRiverFaithFormation.org