It was a beautiful Friday afternoon when Rianna Olmstead arrived at the Warren Willis Camp in Fruitland Park. The sophomore enrolled at the University of Central Florida (UCF) was there for the Catholic Campus Ministry (CCM) Fall retreat and hoped for a few days of reflection, peace and fun. The theme of the Sept. 21-23 weekend Verso l’alto or “To the heights”, is often associated with the life of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, the mountain climber whose short life represented a constant striving toward heaven.
Olmstead was familiar with the theme and learning how to climb the mountain, to nurture her relationship with God interested her. “You want the retreat high to stay consistent and keep climbing, not falling back into your old ways,” she explained. To do this, Brother Adam Neri, of the Brotherhood of Hope and director of Campus Ministry at UCF, began with a talk about Simon of Cyrene, who helped Jesus carry the cross on the Via Dolorosa.
Olmstead listened. “Try and find your Simon, someone who can help you in the long run. Are you a Simon to someone else, helping someone along the way in your faith journey?”
She wanted to build these types of relationships. “I have always wanted a group of friends that I could share my faith with so that I could learn from them and they could learn from me,” the student acknowledged. “Since being Catholic and in college can be challenging at times, I wanted a group of friends who I knew would help push me in the right direction.”
God answered her prayer. “He was like, surprise! Here are the people I want you to get to know and grow with,” she said. “For me, I have not always been open and ready to take on the challenges the Lord gives me. So seeing all the other people attending this retreat (110 students) and seeing how open they are and how their love for God is so strong and passionate – it was really encouraging to see that I could have something like that and I could end up being that for someone else.”
Courtney Coniglio also attended the retreat and began making friendships last year when she joined CCM as a freshman. She too acknowledged the difficulty of expressing your faith around other college students who might not understand. Coniglio said CCM gives her a place where she can “encounter a good community and find people I identify with and relate to. The friendships and relationships I’ve made have made my college experience a lot better.”
Those friendships were fostered during an Emmaus walk the students took in pairs, sharing about their lives and faith journeys. “You would just talk and let the mystery of them surprise you,” she said. “It was really amazing talking to my Emmaus partner… I learned so much from her.”
Coniglio, now a sophomore at UCF, admits life had been difficult. “I was looking for a weekend away from school and stress. I wanted to spend a weekend away with the Lord because I really could use it,” she said. Daily Eucharistic Adoration gave her the peace she was seeking in God’s presence.
But it was the talk on setting goals which encouraged her the most. “It was the kind of push that I needed to start really doing that for myself. That made a huge impact for me,” she noted. “They gave us classical tools in our faith to apply to our college years and beyond.”
Reflecting on her experience, Olmstead said the retreat opened her eyes “to see that you can live at home, go to college, and still have the opportunity to build a strong faith with people your age.” She added, “I was able to gain a better understanding of my faith. And, I don’t have to lose my so called ‘retreat high’ or fall back down the mountain. I can continue to climb up the mountain of my faith.”
The Diocese of Orlando has seven campus ministries. Locations include: Bethune Cookman University, Rollins College, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, Florida Institute of Technology, Florida Southern College, Stetson University and University of Central Florida.
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic – October 2, 2018