By Kevin Feyen
Special to The Witness
DUBUQUE — Eighteen teens from the Archdiocese of Dubuque, along with six adult chaperones and three support staff, recently traveled to Estes Park — the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park — where they experienced God’s grace at a heavenly altitude.
The group took part in Life on the Edge: Colorado (LOTEC). The nine-day youth leadership retreat challenges teen and adult participants in mind, body, and spirit. Originally developed in the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin in the 1980s, archdiocesan youth have been on LOTEC retreats in the past, most recently in 2014. The 2019 excursion, held July 26-Aug. 3, featured a day of whitewater rafting and a peak hike to over 12,700 feet, among other challenges, but this was more than just an outdoor adventure. The ultimate purpose of the retreat was to foster a deeper faith in the young people who went as they prepare for their lives beyond high school.
During LOTEC, participants are challenged catechetically. They are encouraged to memorize Scripture, key passages from the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Nicene Creed. They are exposed to leadership formation to equip them to better communicate about their faith with their peers. In fact, the thirteen weeks prior to the trip are spent reading and reflecting on key teachings of the Catholic Church.
Young people are also challenged each day. Some of the physical tests involve a personal task and some can only be completed by depending on a team
The participants are exposed to a different prayer style each day ranging from the rosary, to adoration, to guided meditation, to charismatic prayer. The first Mass they celebrated together included a catechetical, physical and spiritual challenge. It was at Mills Lake, a two-hour hike into the Rocky Mountains.
What is unique about this retreat is the amount of time and energy required by the participants. Before anyone boards the bus for Colorado, each squad already spends 13 weeks in preparation. This year, there were three squads — one from St. Mary Parish in Waverly and two from St. Patrick Parish in Cedar Falls. The squads were each comprised of six teens and two adults. Weekly preparation sessions included studying and discussing an aspect of church teaching, praying together and spending at least an hour in a training hike. Some group leaders have said that those 13 weeks of formation leading up to the retreat are actually the best part of the program.
Not only have we seen the benefits teens and their adult companions experience while preparing for this trip, but we have also witnessed the impact LOTEC has on whole parish communities. This trip is not without costs … literally. All of the squads in attendance depended on their faith community to support them financially. With a cost of about $850 per teen, parishioners stepped in this year to make it affordable to all who went. In fact, once some adults in the parish communities heard of the trip and its goals, they were quick to invest. We feel that adults who see the need for leadership and encouragement for our teens to thrive in their faith are more than happy to invest in that. Benefactors are critically important to this program’s success.
Once on the bus, though, the retreat is consistently uncomfortable. The team works hard to get through challenges and unexpected hurdles are presented to the teens to encourage them to work together, dig deep, pray hard and discover the strength that God gives them to overcome anything thrown their way. One of the theories that guides LOTEC is that young people need to be challenged; not because they are bad kids or have made mistakes, but because they are amazing teens on whom the church depends. We strengthen them for greatness and mission. We know that life will throw curveballs and that college will shake their faith (50 percent of Catholics stop practicing their faith after leaving high school). We want to give them the tools and confidence to not only survive in their faith, but to thrive in their faith.
When the young people return to their parish, they are fully equipped to play a significant role in continuing the mission of Jesus and his church. They are competent in sharing their own faith stories and listening to the stories of their peers. They are competent in communication skills and strategies. They have a functional background in Catholic theology. They have a personal prayer life that is rooted in listening to where God is calling them. They are supported by a faith community – both the squad that supported them in Colorado and their entire parish community. Finally, they have the confidence that there “ain’t no mountain high enough” to separate them from God’s love. They believe they can change the world … because they can!
Feyen is director of the Office of Adolescent Faith Formation for the Archdiocese of Dubuque. Plans are in the works for another LOTEC retreat in 2020. For more information on participating in or supporting the effort, contact Feyen at email@example.com or call 563-556-2580.
A part of the group of teens from the Archdiocese of Dubuque that attended Life on the Edge: Colorado is shown whitewater rafting. (Contributed photo)