Teens encounter Christ on P.E.I.

By  Anna-Therese Pierlot, Youth Speak News
  • May 28, 2009
{mosimage}RUSTICO, P.E.I. - The floors shook at Belcourt Centre in Rustico as 47 youth from across the island jumped in unison to a song in the centre’s chapel. The teens, ages 16 and up, gathered May 15-17 for the bi-annual 2009 Teen Encounter retreat.

Teen Encounter is a unique, relationship-based retreat for Catholic youth, led by youth under the supervision of spiritual directors. It is all about “helping teens form healthy relationships with Jesus, themselves and others,” said Sr. Joan Chaisson, who with Fr. John Molina acted as spiritual advisors throughout the weekend.

Debbie Simmonds, who with her husband Gary was one of the leader couples, said a Teen Encounter weekend provides an opportunity for youth to be supported in their faith journey, through the various talks, activities and meditations offered in a peaceful and relaxing environment. 

“It isn’t easy being a Christian in today’s world,” Simmonds said. “There are so many obstacles today that our youth need positive guidance, nurturing and love to help see them through it all.”

The first Teen Encounter retreat in Canada was held on P.E.I in the early 1980s, after the idea was imported from Boston. 

Chaisson said that although the number of youth who attend fluctuates, there are normally lineups for both the October and the May retreats. This makes youth leaders like Shawna Perry, 19, very happy.

“It’s exciting to see that Teen Encounter is still alive, with so many kids still interested,” she said. “I find that seeing others still coming also strengthens my own faith.”

Not everybody signs up for Teen Encounter the first chance they get. Some need extra persuasion to spend a weekend at “church camp.” But many of the youth who do come often find themselves wanting to stay.

“I came to Teen Encounter mostly because I had heard a lot of great stuff about it and my friends kept pressuring me to go,” said Kelly Mackenzie, a Grade 12 student from St. Peter’s Bay. “I wasn’t into it at all at first, but now I really don’t want to leave.”

It’s not hard to see why teenagers enjoy themselves at Belcourt. At any given time music can be heard pouring out of the “common room,” where youth gather (with their guitars) during breaks. Outside, friendly football games break out periodically. The youth seem to relax and enjoy the feeling of genuine fellowship which permeates the retreat.

“I loved it,” said Joshua Scott, 16. “The music was great, everyone was so full of life and no one was at all judging. The hug circles, the people, everyone coming together, it was all great.”

Keeping with the theme of “by teens, for teens,” the talks given over the weekend, focusing on topics from faith and discipleship to ideals and morality, were given primarily by youth who have made the retreat before. Talks were spaced out by short breaks and meals, and Confession was offered Saturday evening, followed by time in the chapel for reflection. This, and the fact that the whole atmosphere was one of openness and acceptance, appealed quite a bit to participants.

“Having kids our age get up to give the talks was great,” said Jena Nicholson, 17. “It made you feel like you weren’t alone and you could relate to their stories.”

Those involved say you don’t need to have already reached a certain level of faith formation to take part.

“Everyone seems to have the impression that Teen Encounter is about a bunch of holy, pious, perfect people meeting together,” said youth leader Steve Brown. “But really it’s just a bunch of normal people. Anybody can come.”

(Pierlot, 18, is a Grade 12 student at Morell Regional High School in Morell, P.E.I.)

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