BATESBURG-LEESVILLE — Everyone knows about the pressures teen girls face in daily life, ranging from making good grades to issues of self-esteem, peer pressure and dating.
Imagine the challenge of those pressures topped with trying to maintain strong Catholic values in an overwhelmingly secular world.
Those are the challenges that youth leaders and others who work with high-school girls around the Diocese of Charleston help them cope with every day. The issues were addressed at a retreat for girls held Nov. 20-22 at Camp Kinard in the Midlands.
The retreat theme, “Less is More,” referred to the idea of finding less gratification in worldly things, and more inspiration from a relationship with God. More than 60 high school girls took part in three days of workshops and small group activities that focused on finding the inspiration to maintain their faith and values in daily life.
“Girls have such a unique set of struggles. We see all sorts of areas where girls need to be spiritually fed in a unique way,” said Alison Griswold, youth director at St. Francis by the Sea Church in Hilton Head. Griswold helped organize the retreat and took part in a panel discussion on Nov. 22.
She said one of the weekend’s most important goals was to help the girls learn the difference between recognizing true beauty and becoming caught up in the world’s often false ideas of what makes a woman beautiful.
“The things that make us beautiful as women can also make us struggle,” Griswold said. “The world tells us the most important things is how we look, and what is so much more important is how God sees us.”
The girls focused on their Catholic faith and identity with group prayer, praise and worship music, Bible study, and time for individual prayer and reflection.
On Nov. 22, they had the opportunity to go to reconciliation, participate in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and attend Mass.
Griswold said another goal was to show the youth how much Catholicism offered them as women.
“One of the biggest misconceptions I find is that the Catholic Church doesn’t understand women, and I think it understands them much better than any other organization,” Griswold said. “We’re showing the girls that our church is relevant to us, that it wants us to recognize our gifts. Women are called to be a moralizing influence in the world, and the more we can instill in girls the sense of what their unique gifts are, the more they can use those gifts to improve the world.”
Kristine Henry, 21, a student at Furman University, said this was the fourth year she has served as one of the organizers for the young women’s retreat. Henry spoke on Nov. 21 about how women struggle to be proud of their accomplishments without being vain.
“The important thing is to ask how can I use my talents to serve God, and to have a servant’s heart like Jesus did,” Henry said. “God has created us with such love and care, and you can be proud of what you are and what talents you have, but not with vanity.
“As we get older, we cling to pride and people start defining themselves through material things. Through prayer and perseverance, you can ask God for a servant’s heart, and ask how you can serve the body of Christ,” she said.
Henry said later that she helps with the annual retreats because they provide vital support to girls who are struggling with questions of identity and morality.
“This is a chance for young women to get together and not worry what they’re going to look like for a few days,” she said. “We’re teaching young women we don’t have to be what society tells us to be. I want them to go home with the sense that they are daughters of Christ, and they are to be treated accordingly and should act accordingly.”
Griswold took part in the panel discussion with a college student and two adult youth leaders. They talked to the girls about the many different roles available to Catholic women as students, singles with careers, wives and mothers, and the religious life.
“There are many different ways we’re called by God to be holy women,” she said. “God is going to call each of you in a different way to be a Catholic woman in the world today.”
On Nov. 22, Claire Long, a freshman at College of Charleston, told the girls that their challenge is to live a life of humility in spite of a world that encourages selfishness.
“If we love God, it’s our duty as Catholics and Christians to serve others,” she said. “When we fill ourselves with things of the world, there’s no room for God.”
Long also encouraged the group to discover the power of Catholic sisterhood and to reach out to other young Catholic women for support in following a life of faith.
“As sisters, we are connected to each other because we’re responsible for holding each other up to God,” she said.