During Christmas break, Robert Adragna, 16, went on an expedition to the Antarctic where he experienced the beauty of God's creations. Photo courtesy of Robert Adragna

Antarctic youth expedition inspires profound revelation

By  Robert Adragna, Catholic Register Special
  • February 27, 2015

Editor’s note: Robert Adragna, a 16-year-old student at Toronto’s Bishop Allen Academy, spent his Christmas break experiencing the beauty of Antarctica through the Students on Ice Antarctic Youth Expedition. Here he shares insights on his journey to the final southern frontier and how it relates to our Creator.

Antarctica — the vast, white, mysterious continent at the farthest reaches of the southern hemisphere. Some see it as a land of untamed wilderness, others as a land of science and research. To me, the meaning of Antarctica transcends the boundaries of our physical world. It is a living testament to God’s almighty presence on Earth and a symbol of our obedient but benevolent relationship with Him.

I experienced this revelation first hand through my participation in the 2014 Students on Ice Antarctic Youth Expedition over the Christmas break. I was given the opportunity to explore this fascinating region and to engage in hands-on educational activities including lectures, workshops and scientific research facilitated by polar experts, explorers and scientists.

For 16 days, our group of 66 students and 23 staff from around the world sailed past the edge of the human world to explore the majestic Antarctic Peninsula.

The raw and overwhelming beauty of the Antarctic cannot be described in words. At every moment, we were surrounded by the rocky, sculpted silhouettes of mountains rising like spires out of the deep vivid blue hues of the ocean. They were spotted with gleaming glaciers, enormous sheets of ice twisted and manipulated into creviced geometric patterns.

Their intricacy, along with their rich blue tint, was only surpassed by the glaciers’ offspring — icebergs. Meandering around the ocean, these blocks of ice were carefully sculpted by the wind to form beautiful, 20-metre high masterpieces of swooping ridges and gently rounded curves.

But perhaps the most majestic aspect of Antarctica was its wildlife. Thousands of towering whales, graciously agile albatrosses, seals and adorable, clumsy, awkwardly waddling penguins were everywhere. I could not believe that such complexity, massive scale and intricate beauty could exist on planet Earth.

This disbelief ignited a profound revelation within my soul. I realized that such utter, magnificent beauty could not have been placed on this planet by mere accident. It was impossible that such grand personal feelings of awe could be evoked by a random collection of atoms.

The only entity who could create such awe-inspiring beauty is God. And it must be a benevolent and generous God, too. The natural symphony of Antarctica is a heavenly realm, a place that we are not worthy to experience. Yet God has given it to us as a gift, as a symbol of His infinitely strong and undying love.

I felt immeasurable gratitude towards the heavens for providing us with such goodness and majesty in our world. At some points in my journey, this emotion was so intense that it compelled me to sit down and pray to acknowledge and give thanks to the Creator for this most gracious and revered gift.  

In the midst of His presence, God taught me lessons about how to live in harmony with His earthly kingdom. For example, to receive God’s grace and gifts, we must be prepared to endure moments of discomfort, even pain, without losing our fundamental commitment to serving Jesus by serving others.

To reach Antarctica, we had to cross the Drake Passage — a thousand-kilometre channel known as the windiest, stormiest, most dangerous body of water in the world. Our experience crossing the passage was difficult, plagued by the discomfort of seasickness and low morale. However, we were rewarded for our communal perseverance and commitment to support one another by eventually reaching Antarctica, the beautiful and majestic “promised land.”

I also gained new insight regarding our need to protect and preserve God’s gifts to humanity. One of the places we visited was Deception Island, which had previously served as the hub of the Antarctic whaling industry.

In the early 1900s, whaling almost destroyed the entire population of whales in Antarctic waters. This island is a spectacle of utter misery and despair. Rusting machinery and towers litter the beach. The surrounding cliffs are grey and totally devoid of the life which populates many other Antarctic islands. When we choose to glutinously sin and abuse God’s gifts, we create an environment of misery and pain.

Antarctica is God’s gift to humankind, a symbol of His undying love and the goodness that results when it is respected. It is a sacred place on Earth, where God’s message becomes vividly clear to His children.

Unfortunately, Antarctica is currently threatened by many anthropogenic acts, such as the burning of fossil fuels, consumerism and unsustainable fishing. In particular, some countries’ emerging interest in krill, a small marine plankton, has the potential to destroy the Antarctic food chain.

As stewards of God’s earthly kingdom, we cannot let Antarctica become a larger version of Deception Island. Instead, we must protect this place to fulfill our moral obligations to serve God and all of His creation.

Just as in the Parable of the Three Servants, God has given us a gift. It is a disgrace if we simply “bury it in a hole” and leave our planet’s health in neglect. Instead, we must increase God’s wealth by actively supporting environmental sustainability to preserve the gifts of Creation.

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