This summer, the diocese’s Vocation Office is hosting three camps for young men in grades seven-12. Father Ben Kociemba, the office’s associate director, said the camps provide an opportunity for young men to “meet Jesus.”
“In meeting Jesus, they open themselves to a relationship with him and to holiness of life,” Father Kociemba said. “From this, they have the opportunity to trust in and seek what God wills for them. They are able then to ask important questions that will lead them to discern what particular vocation Jesus is calling them to.”
At the camps, Father Kociemba, along with the help of seminarians, creates a special environment for the young men, incorporating opportunities for Mass, adoration, confession, Liturgy of the Hours, rosary walks and traditional prayers such as the Angelus.
“They also experience Jesus in fellowship as they play soccer, ultimate frisbee, volleyball and two-hand touch football. We swim in the lakes, go fishing and have campfires with skits and songs,” he said.
Campers are introduced to a series of talks by seminarians and priests which, Father Kociemba said, “allows God to speak to them through daily prayer, forming holy friendships, growing in virtue and encouraging devotion to the Eucharist and the Blessed Mother.”
The first camp was held in Battle Lake with six campers; the second camp in Avon had about 25. First-time camper Nathaniel Walz, 14, is a member of Holy Spirit Parish in St. Cloud and attended the Avon camp June 20-22.
An avid sports fan, Walz, who will be a freshman at Cathedral High School in St. Cloud this fall, enjoyed the opportunities for physical activities and also especially liked hearing the vocation stories of the priests who spoke to the young men.
“My favorite thing about the camp was listening to the stories of the priests and how they entered the priesthood. Their stories were very inspiring,” Walz said.
The theme for this year’s camps is “Siempre Adelante,” which means “Always Forward.” The motto comes from St. Junipero Serra and is based on the Scripture verse from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call in Christ Jesus.” Each camper received a T-shirt with the phrase printed on it.
The men were also given bolo ties during the week to which beads were added representing different symbols.
“The ties were red and putting them on symbolized putting on the Heart of Jesus,” Father Kociemba said. “The sliding bolo in front had the Holy Spirit and Mary symbolizing that it is them who lead us to Jesus. Seven beads of different colors were added, each bead corresponding to a different talk, which gave a concrete way we can follow Jesus. A cross was given to them at the last Mass to remind them of our daily call to take up our cross and follow Jesus.”
Walz liked the bolo ties and said it was a good way to keep them focused.
“I will keep it as a reminder,” he said.
Father Kociemba hopes the camps encourage friendship and camaraderie that is Christ-centered.
“They can realize that it is cool and possible to follow Jesus in today’s world and that they are not alone. They also continue to meet priests and seminarians in a whole new way by experiencing that they are normal men who have hobbies, love Jesus, and can be approached with their spiritual questions,” he said.
Walz said he isn’t sure if God is calling him to the priesthood, but he was glad to have the opportunity to learn about God’s will in his life.
“I think it is a good idea for young men like me to go to these camps to learn about what God has planned for them, to learn more about their faith and religion,” he said.
“I think God might have other plans for me. Maybe there is something more he wants me to do. But if God wants me to do something, a priest or something else, I will do it,” he said.
A final camp is scheduled in the Big Lake area at Sand Dune State Forest July 11-13.
Father Kociemba is grateful for the hosts who have been generous in providing much of the food and support for the camps, and he hopes others will add their prayerful support to those discerning their vocation.
“I would like to remind [everyone] that it is the calling of all of us, clergy and laity, to pray for and encourage vocations,” he said. “A word of encouragement given to a young man can be the difference of whether he will act on a calling that Christ has for him.”