Taking a journey down the Gospel Roads

  • September 21, 2013

TORONTO - The Gospel Roads service retreat invites students to step outside of their normal summer routines and into the lives of the less fortunate.

In Canada, retreats have been organized out St. Benedict’s Church, Toronto’s Salesian parish. This past summer, young people aged 15 to 19 from parishes across the city and Salesian parishes in Montreal, Quebec and Surrey, B.C., were invited to stay in Toronto for seven days.

“Salesian Gospel Roads is a week-long service retreat where young people live and work side-by-side in order to fulfill Jesus’ call to serve our brothers and sisters who are in need,” said Mariel Cabrera, the youth movement co-ordinator of the Eastern Province for the Salesians.

“It allows them to really immerse themselves in the experience, whereas if we allowed them to go home at the end of the day they’d be back to their regular social media or extracurricular sports, for example. We kind of lose them... the focus isn’t there.”

She says that in summer, students cannot always afford to go on vacations and their families are not always able to send them to camp or to partake in other extracurricular activities.

“Salesian Gospel Roads allows them that experience at least for one week, not only to get their volunteer hours... If they’ve learned anything about themselves, that they’ve deepened their faith in any way or made a friend or two, then we’ve done our role.”

Thirty-three people attended this summer’s retreat. They lived in community at the Consolata Missionaries in the city’s west end, living, praying, playing and serving together.

“By the end of the week, they’ve become brothers and sisters in Christ,” Cabrera said.

For the first day of the week, participants focus on team building.

“The program starts off with icebreakers and team building in order to strengthen the bond of the participants who first start out as strangers,” said Cabrera. “By the end of the second day together, it’s amazing to see friendships develop amongst the young people, young adults, adult chaperones and the core team leaders.”

Day two is the first day of service. For five days, participants are rotated in groups of five to different organizations.

“The sites we had the pleasure and honour to serve this summer are HumberView Terrace Senior’s Home, Dr. (Andrew) Simone’s Canadian Food for Children, Good Shepherd Ministries (and) GR Walk,” said Cabrera.

Canadian Food for Children sends non-perishable foods, clothing, school supplies, etc. to children in developing countries. Good Shepherd in Toronto provides food, clothing, shelter and other essentials to homeless and disadvantaged men. And GR Walk is street patrol, where the youth make, package and distribute sandwiches to the city’s homeless.

“Participants learned so much from the people they served and encountered just as those individuals, who experienced the touch of a Gospel Road participant, were able to see the good, the compassion of humanity,” said Cabrera, calling it “a service for our hearts to recognize that we too are in in need of God’s love.”

A typical day during the week also includes Mass, eating meals in community, recreation, group teachings on topics such as social justice, group discussions, faith sharing, reflections and evening prayer. Retreatants are also encouraged to journal every day.

“The most formative part of any retreat is the self-reflection,” said Cabrera, adding that it’s easier for some to express themselves in writing. “At first, they really don’t know what they’re writing about, but at the end of the week (they see) just how much they’ve learned, how much they’ve grown in their faith and learned from other people or about themselves that they haven’t heard before.”

The week’s activities also include eucharistic adoration and vocations-geared talks followed by a casual question and answer period.

Salesian Gospel Roads began in 2001 in South Orange, N.J., with about 28 participants. Since then, it is held a few times a year in different American cities. The program can be split by age group where high school and university/college students are separated. Next year will be the fourth year that Gospel Roads has taken place in Canada.

“Salesian Gospel Roads allows all participants to truly deepen their faith,” said Cabrera, “being the beacon of love and compassion that Jesus asks us to be.”

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