SALUDA—A rustic Boy Scout camp complete with tents, campfire rings and a climbing wall might not seem like a place where youth would think about becoming a priest or religious sister.
But vocations were definitely on the minds of Catholic Scouts when they visited Camp Barstow in Saluda County Jan. 6-7. The young people at the retreat focused on earning religious merit badges. Ad Altare Dei is for middle school Boy Scouts, and Pope Pius XII is a badge for high school age boys and girls that encourages candidates to think about church teachings, prayer and their vocations in life. Young people spend months earning the merit badges. They talk about their work with Scout leaders on a special review board, and Pope Pius XII candidates give a presentation on controversial issues facing the church, such as embryonic stem cell research.
Two seminarians, Will Frei and Francisco J. Onate-Vargas, talked to the youth about what inspired their vocations, prayer and the sacraments. Father Jeffrey F. Kirby, vicar for vocations and Scout chaplain, also led discussions and celebrated Mass for the group.
The retreat was just part of an ongoing effort to focus on vocations as part of Scouting, said Jim Weiskircher, chairman of the diocesan Catholic Committee on Scouting.
“You really feel like every high school student should go through a program like Pope Pius XII, because it really shows the young people all the options for vocations — the priesthood and religious life, marriage or living as a confirmed single person,” Weiskircher said. “Right now their vocation is being students, but they learn that through life God gives you choices. A lot of people don’t understand that everyone has a vocation, a calling from God. Scouting gives the young people a chance to explore all the opportunities available to them.”
As part of the Pope Pius XII program, Scouts study a special book that offers detailed descriptions of different vocations, and why they are all important parts of the church’s mission.
“I still have questions about what life choices to make, but this definitely opened me up to more options I can think about,” said Colton Kostelnik, 15, of Venture Crew 115 from St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken.
“I’ve gotten closer to God through my work on Pius XII, and it’s also made clear the different life choices I have,” said Katie Morgan, 16, another Venture Scout from Aiken. Morgan said she has thought about both marriage and a commitment to religious life, but isn’t sure yet.
Thomas Peacock, 16, a member of Troop 79 from Jesus Our Risen Savior Church in Spartanburg, has been considering a call to the priesthood for about a year. He said he would recommend the Pius XII study program to any young person wondering about their life’s calling.
“It’s helped me more fully understand the implications of a vocation, because I sometimes question what I really want to do,” he said. “I’ve definitely decided more firmly to become a priest after working on the badge.”