Abide: Forming Young Disciples in Christ College Students “Pay It Forward” by Volunteering at Catholic Youth Event
By Rebecca Sontag
Abide, a five-day conference for archdiocesan teens, is no typical retreat. Abide is immersive and intense. It is a “going deeper” experience seeking to form teens into missionary disciples whose whole lives are solidly rooted in Christ. It cultivates authentic Christian community and fellowship, docility to the Holy Spirit and an eagerness to go forth from the conference to evangelize in the wider community as witnesses of Christ’s love.
“It’s one thing to praise and worship Jesus at a retreat; that’s easy. It’s when you’re in the real world – in your schools and in your families – and you’re actually trying to live out that life that it’s not easy,” said college sophomore and Abide volunteer, John Giroux.
But that is exactly what Abide has successfully prepared John, as well as many other young people, to do. For three years, he attended the conference as a participant during his high school summers. While attending Abide, he witnessed miracles of healing, learned to recognize the image of God in all people, made lasting friends and strengthened his devotion to Jesus Christ. He learned to go deeper into prayer, gained a greater appreciation for the sacraments and discovered a love for music and song as a way to offer praise and worship. Greater still, he learned how to carry with him all he learned, and much more, after the conference ended.
Living on a college campus and away from home has brought many challenges to John’s continued growth in faith. As a college student, he is now responsible for getting himself to Mass with no parental nudges. There is certainly no shortage of temptation in which to indulge, experiences that offer instant gratification over the arduous work of living as a disciple of Christ. Abide has prepared John to confront and overcome these challenges.
“What Abide has helped me do is to have God on my mind at all times. Walking to class, I can have a conversation with God. It doesn’t have to be Hail Mary, Our Father or Glory Be all the time. I can be like, ‘OK God, I’m really tired this morning. I need your help.’ Or ‘God, if there’s someone I meet today that you want me have a special impact with, give me the graces to do that’.”
This is John’s fourth year at Abide but, as a college student, he is no longer a participant. Instead, he is a volunteer. He welcomes high school kids to the Mount St. Joseph University campus and helps get them settled in the dorms they’ll call home for the next five days. He organizes games and activities, sets up chairs, cleans off tables and serves in any capacity needed.
He serves the teenagers at this conference so that they may receive some of the same gifts he’s been given. He serves so that they can find the same conviction Abide has stoked in him — the confidence and willingness to talk to peers about religion, God and faith. Giroux serves because, “This can change peoples lives, and it changed mine too,” he said.
We are blessed as an archdiocese to have these vibrant and passionate individuals: the adult leaders and organizers, the participants and all the volunteers. As they continue to grow and flourish in the faith, the fruits of their labor will reach far beyond themselves. They witness to Christ through their actions and not just words. They show up daily after the retreats are over and the conferences have ended to persevere and reach out, looking to share the joy they have found in God with all they meet.
Abide, now in its fifth year, is a collaborative effort between VIA (the outreach initiative of the Office for Youth Evangelization and Discipleship of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati) and local youth ministers. For more information, please visit: www.viaabide.org.