By JULIE CAVANAUGH
SAVANNAH, Ga. — More than 45 Catholic college students gathered at the Isle of Hope outside Savannah two weeks ago for a statewide retreat that focused on “Faith as a Journey.”
From Feb. 13-15 the students examined their faith through several activities, one of which included a Saturday morning session led by Abbot Francis Kline of Mepkin Abbey in Moncks Corner.
Abbot Kline identified three areas of reflection for the group to work toward for spiritual maturity: knowing who you are, who others are and who God is.
“You can’t get to know God unless you know yourself, because that is where he is,” Kline said. “God only starts to make sense when you need him to love you.”
The afternoon session featured a panel discussion led by four students who shared some of their experiences with God. Instruction on different forms of prayer followed the discussion.
Francisco Sarmiento, a 21-year-old resident of Charleston, spoke on the panel about his life growing up in Colombia, South America, in a strong Catholic family.
“I didn’t understand how it (Catholicism) worked, but now I do,” Sarmiento said. “Now I go to church for the teachings and I know God in my heart.”
Sarmiento, who plans to return to Colombia to study medicine and minister to the poor as a doctor, said that prayer was an essential part of this transition.
According to Brother Jim Connolly, CFX, campus minister at South Carolina State University and Claflin College, different forms of prayer were taught to demonstrate that spiritual fulfillment can be reached through a variety of paths.
“We wanted to provide people with different styles that will be comfortable for them and help them in their spiritual growth,” he said.
Brother Connolly also works as a prison minister in Orangeburg and finds key similarities between college students and prisoners.
“I find the same hunger in both populations,” he said. “It is a basic human hunger to explore spirituality.”
For the students the retreat gave them the opportunity to examine their faith and share their reflections.
Mary Bratsch, a 19-year-old freshman at the College of Charleston, said that going to college had forced her to deal with several complicated issues and that it was a challenge to confront these difficulties while retaining faith.
“The most significant part of this experience was talking with different college students about issues that influence our lives like alcohol, drugs and friendship,” Bratsch said. “It is important for us to know that students from every college go through the same things and confront the same issues.”
The chance to share these experiences drew many students, including Matt Gomes, to attend. Gomes, a junior studying English and pre-law at The Citadel, said that worshipping God is important for college students to do as a group.
It helps us to move to a better relationship with God and the Holy Spirit,” he said.
After the success of this retreat the Office of Campus Ministry for the diocese has plans for another retreat in the fall.
Brother Connolly said that these gatherings are an example of the strength behind the student’s faith and that the he looks forward to participating in the next retreat.
“I think there is a real power of God’s spirit when these young people gather together,” Brother Connolly said. “It is the Lord’s spirit who works with and through them.”