Although the doors of St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary opened amid an overcast, drizzly sky, excitement brewed among the 200 young adults attending the seminary’s annual Young Adult Retreat Feb. 1.
The seminary courtyard was set up for breakfast, welcoming participants to coffee, muffins, and conversation. Seminarians made their way around to each table asking retreatants about themselves. Many participants had come from throughout the Diocese of Palm Beach and other areas of Florida. One group of friends had traveled from as far as Chicago to be there that day.
This year’s retreat theme reflected the seminary’s larger theme for the year; “Verbum Caro Factum Est, The Word Was Made Flesh.” One of the ways in which this theme was incorporated into the retreat was time spent on lectio divina or “divine reading,” a way of praying with scripture. Joseph Steger, a seminarian from St. Thomas SyroMalabar, Catholic Diocese of Chicago, led the group of young adults through scripture that reflected how “we are called to be like Mary and bring Christ into the world.”
After Steger’s dynamic lecture, retreatants were encouraged to spend time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. “The Eucharist is one of my favorite things about the Catholic faith,” said Jennifer Perkins, a young woman from Boynton Beach. “It is truly the body of Christ—the word made flesh—in our presence. In this way, the theme resonated with me during adoration. Most times I struggle concentrating and sitting still through adoration, but this retreat allowed me to sit in the calm and silence of our Lord and pray. It was moving for me.”
Having the opportunity for quiet was a commonality among the young adults present who expressed that work, busy schedules and personal lives often get in the way of prayer and reflection. Melissa Martin, a young woman from Palm City, shared that she enjoyed breaking into small groups to reflect on meditative questions and share thoughts on spiritual experiences with her contemporaries. She also noted that confession, offered throughout the retreat, was “the most influential part of the day, being with God away from noise and distraction.”
Throughout the moments of quiet, retreatants were invited to listen to guest speakers lecture on a variety of topics. Deacon Connor Penn, who will be ordained this summer for the Diocese of St. Petersburg, spoke about cultivating a receptibility to God’s love by framing this topic in a metaphor based on the workings of electricity.
“I walked into my room one day and flipped on the light switch,” said Deacon Penn. “I had never really stopped to think about how electricity worked. How is that when I hit this switch this light comes on?” Deacon Penn went on to explain that out of curiosity, he went to the internet and began researching the whole process of how electricity works. He humorously described a video her discovered for children explaining all the different stages of how electricity arrives in a house, from the generators, transformers, power lines, circuit breakers and all the steps in between. “But even after all those steps, even after the electricity arrives in your home, the light will not come on unless you turn the switch,” said Deacon Penn. “And this is like God’s grace in our lives.”
This openness to a receptivity to God was exemplified in the religious men and women who attended the retreat in conjunction with World Day for Consecrated Life, Feb. 1. Throughout the retreat, attendees could visit with religious sisters who had set up tables with information to share about their communities and vocations. Many young adults spent time with Sister Jadwiga Drapala and Sister Anita Gabarczyk of the Sisters of the Most Holy Soul of Christ the Lord from St. Joseph Parish in Stuart.
Hunter Ernde, a former seminarian now teaching at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Ft. Lauderdale said, “As someone who has personally experienced the highs and lows of discernment, attending this retreat was refreshing, bringing with it a lot of peace and joy to share with other young people who are also in the process of seeking God’s will for their life.”
A highlight of the retreat was the closing vigil Mass, which began with a candlelit procession. Msgr. David Toups, rector of the seminary, encouraged anyone considering a religious vocation to approach the sanctuary for a special blessing. A striking number of young people knelt before the alter, indicating an openness to a call to vocations.
The retreat—organized and led by seminarians—connected young adults in community and worship, reaching people of different backgrounds by offering talks in other languages. Tom Anthony, a parishioner of Our Lady of Health in Coral Springs, said, “It was powerful that we prayed in different languages during the Mass. It shows how universal our Church really is.”
For more information on next year’s Young Adult Retreat, visit svdp.edu or follow the seminary on Facebook @SVdPSem. Learn more about events for young adults in the Diocese of Palm Beach by visiting diocesepb.org or following Catholic Young Adults of Palm Beach on Facebook @CYAPB.
By Ryan Gustin and Cecilia Padilla