Friday, January 02, 2009

Co-Ed Catholic Youth Retreats

I was recently looking through some old papers and letters from my adolescent years and I came across a slew of correspondence from people whom I met at a 4-day event known as the Catholic Leadership Institute. I have to say that I was most sincere in my participation in this event way back when. And I think most of the other teenagers there were as well. Of course, we had a lot of feel-good Catholic theology and the goals were well-intentioned. But what I really remember from this retreat was a bunch of hormonal teenagers engaging in all kinds of emotional bonding. And all the letters that I still have from the folks I met during those days mention absolutely NOTHING about faith, religion, and theology, and focus almost exclusively on emotional bonds and romantic silliness.

My verdict on such things as the Catholic Leadership Institute for youth: BAD, BAD, BAD IDEA.

I read through some of those letters with the benefit of 20+ years under my belt and what I see are sexually, emotionally, and psychologically confused kids. The most insidious part of all this is that it was wrapped in the legitimacy of Christian spirituality. There's nothing wrong with co-ed Catholic leadership retreats for teens, but it's probably wise not to have them as overnight things and they certainly shouldn't engage in activities that consciously and purposefully bring out raw emotions. Candlelight "sharing" sessions at night. Touchy-feely "ice-breaker" activities.

Now, I'm all for teenagers having some kind of camp fun, and even engaging in the headiness of camp romance and emotions; but not wrapped in Catholic spirituality that comes out of a tradition of repressed guilt about sexuality.

If anybody else has had one of these experiences, I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on the subject.

1 comment:

Eric said...

While it wasn't ever marketed as a leadership conference, there is a very popular Baptist summer camp around here called Falls Creek. It has been around since my parents were kids, and apparently even way back then it was known as a good place for young evangelical Christians to discover the thrill of the first two bases, and maybe even third if any Catholic kids showed up. ;-) (I kid the Catholics, but I doubt they have half as many teen pregnancies as our local Protestant population).

Getting away from religious camps, when I was a Junior in high school I was forced at academic gunpoint to attend a four day scholastic leadershp conference at East Central University in Edmond, OK, and in retrospect I think it was actually a good experience, though still "frought with horn", as any social gathering of hormonal teenagers is likely to be.

After my senior year of high school, I attended a Close Up program in Washington, D.C., which was a more high caliber leadership conference, and it was one of the seminal experiences of my young adulthood. If the program still exists, I couldn't recomend it highly enough for young adults with an interest in politics. (While my casual interest in politics did survive the trip, after spending half a day in a 'consesus building excercie' with 49 other opinionated young people, I came to the realization that I would never be cut out for professional politics unless somebody was willing to make me dictator).