Faith soars at retreat for teens and youth ministry leaders

Lindsay Steele
Youths create paper airplanes with inspirational messages during a retreat for Catholic teens and youth ministry leaders Nov. 13 at Crooked Creek Christian Camp in Washington. Youths and adults from the Iowa City Deanery organized the three-day event.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

WASHINGTON — Paper airplanes flew around the lodge at Crooked Creek Christian Camp. Each contained a hand-written message of encouragement, crafted by participants of the Walk on Water retreat for high school youths and adults.

About 100 youths and 35 adults participated in the three-day retreat Nov. 11-13, which youth ministers Michelle Montgomery and Angie Goodwin organized with the input of 17 youths from the Iowa City Deanery. Montgomery serves at St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville; Goodwin serves at Holy Family Parish of Richmond, Riverside and Wellman. Four of the youths emceed the retreat, while others took on roles as speakers or small-group leaders.

“Write something you think God would say to your friend,” youth emcee Lanee Duwa suggested to participants before they launched their paper planes. After the planes landed, Duwa instructed participants to each pick one up and unfold it to reveal the message. “I’m proud of you and I believe you are going to do great things,” one participant read. “You are amazing,” read another.


Throughout the weekend, participants heard witness talks, participated in team-building activities, studied the saints, engaged in small-group discussions, celebrated Mass, prayed before the Blessed Sacrament and had the opportunity to go to confession.

Tanner Knight, a senior from the Coralville parish, served as an emcee and gave a witness talk. He believes it is important for older youths to help younger youths become engaged in the life of the Church. “Kids don’t listen to adults as much as kids their own age,” he told The Catholic Messenger. “It’s important for them to see youths who are engaged in their faith and having fun.”

Youth testimonies on Saturday covered a variety of topics including abstinence, overcoming suicidal thoughts and having the bravery to forge your own path. Gloria Mancilla, a youth ministry assistant from St. Anthony Parish in Davenport, said it is often easier for youths to relate to peer leaders because “they are facing the same problems.”

Tina Wagschal, secretary for the Davenport parish, also assists the parish’s youth ministry. She said the high school youths had expressed an interest in participating in retreats and listening to peer witness talks. The Walk on Water retreat provided a great opportunity to do that.

Participants had plenty of time for fellowship as well. On Saturday night, they bundled up and took a hayrack ride to the gym where they played volleyball, giant Jenga and other activities. “I’m

Lindsay Steele
Taylor Vittetoe and Malea Kampman of St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville take a selfie with a cardboard cutout of Pope Francis during a retreat for youths and youth ministry leaders Nov. 13 at Crooked Creek Christian Camp in Washington.

loving how (participants) are interacting, seeing how our kids have blended in and stood out at the same time,” Wagschal said. It was a warm and welcoming environment for the adult leaders, too.

On Sunday morning, Father Chuck Adam offered a talk on letting go of fear and trusting God. He said that initially he was afraid to tell people he wanted to become a priest but eventually trusted God and found the courage to pursue his vocation. Fear can hold people back from doing the right thing but listening to God, letting go of regrets and resentment, being part of a community of faith and seeing struggles as growth opportunities can help, he said. He celebrated Mass to conclude the retreat.

Emcee Lucy Nolte, a young adult from the Coralville parish, said she observed that people who didn’t have strong faith at the start of the retreat were able to see how God has worked in their lives and in the lives of others.

Participant Malia Wiederien, also from the Coralville parish, said the retreat was successful in helping youths open up about their experiences. “People were being super vulnerable and willing to share with the large group. That’s really hard!” She acknowledged that, while most of the people in her small group attended because their parents wanted them to, they were glad they did and were interested in participating in a future retreat. “Their eyes were opened and they had that ‘wow’ moment, they had their Jesus moment.”

Emcees Duwa and Landry Gingerich, both from the Holy Family Parish of Riverside, Richmond and Wellman, said they appreciated the opportunity to help their peers embrace the Catholic faith. “I liked watching everyone participate and observe God’s presence,” Duwa said.

Sarah Berdo, a youth participant from St. James Parish in Washington, attended the retreat with her older sister, Tess. Sarah Berdo said she left the retreat with new friends and a new perspective on her faith. Tess Berdo said she grew closer to God and learned how to reflect on and go deeper in her faith.

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