BATESBURG-LEESVILLE — Bryan Murdaugh stood in front of more than 100 high school students in a packed meeting room at Camp Kinard on July 10 and spoke for them all.
With one sentence, he summed up why they had just spent a week of their summer at the rural conference center 40 miles outside Columbia instead of at the beach
, mall, or other hangout.
“We came here because we have a great desire to walk with Christ,” the youth director from Corpus Christi Church in Lexington said.
The teens were attending the Christian Leadership Institute for high school students, an increasingly popular event sponsored by the Diocese of Charleston’s Office of Youth Ministry.
Each summer since 1997, junior high and high school students have attended the program, which is designed to help them discover the richness of their Catholic faith, its meaning in their daily lives, and equip them to share the Gospel message with others.
More than 200 students attended the junior high and high school sessions. Jerry White, director of youth ministry for the diocese, said they sold out a month early.
“That tells me there are good things going on in youth mi
nistry around the state,” he said. “We’re seeing an increase in the junior high attendance the last several years, and that’s because more parishes are understanding that in order to have a good high school program, you have to have a good junior high program.”
The junior high retreat was held June 22-26, while the high school students met July 6-10. The young people spent time each day in small groups, talking about issues of faith, studying Scripture and discussing the various pressures and challenges of living as a Catholic in a largely secular culture.
Members of the diocesan “E Team,” or evangelization team, served as counselors and gave daily talks to the students, focusing on topics like self-respect, modesty, and developing a strong prayer and faith life.
Murdaugh’s talk during the high school session reflected the theme of many of the discussions from both weeks. He stressed the importance of looking for God’s presence in daily life and realizing that the Catholic faith offers answers for any problem, no matter how large or small.
He urged the teens to seek out a spiritual advisor, and said it might be necessary to give up certain friendships or activities if they go against Catholic va
“In order to grow we have to desire to change,” he said. “Keep it simple … begin your faith journey with something simple you can do. Even if it’s five minutes of prayer a day, even if it’s one Hail Mary a day, that’s a start.”
Each day also included group sports such as volleyball, kickball, and epic games of dodge ball, which were so popular they were even referenced in counselors’ skits performed during the ending sessions.
Faith and spiritual development is a central element of the leadership experience.
High school students had the chance to attend Mass daily and participate in eucharistic adoration. Both groups took part in daily Scripture study, prayed together several times a day, and had daily time for private prayer and reflection.
Father Jeffrey Kirby, parochial vicar at St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken, celebrated Mass during the junior high session. Father Andrew Trapp, parochial vicar at St. Michael Church in Garden City, attended the entire high school program, and was available every day to celebrate Mass, offer the sacrament of reconciliation and talk to young people pri
vately about vocations.
“It’s a big deal to be able to offer Mass, reconciliation and adoration every day,” White said. “It was also special for Father Trapp to be available to just talk informally. Two young people from the high school session said it was a highlight of the week to be able to just sit down with a priest and talk about what their calling is.”
“It’s amazing to see the energy that all the youth have, and how they’re able to grow closer to each other and closer to Christ in a very profound way during the week,” Father Trapp said. “I think the name of this event is appropriate because there are a lot of future leaders of our church present among the youth, and hopefully a good number of religious vocations will come out of this as well.”