Summer camps offer faith, fun and heart

By Glenda Meekins / June 29, 2017

Every summer the Diocese of Orlando provides food for the soul through a variety of summer camps, from weeklong overnight camps at San Pedro Spiritual Development Center in Winter Park to a plethora of day camps known as vacation bible school, offered through local parishes with diverse themes and activities.

At San Pedro, each day campers dive into different aspects of the heart of the gospel, the camp theme. Kimmy Zeiler is the camp’s new youth director. “As I dove into that theme, I was looking at the kerygma of our faith. That is the heart of the gospel message—the good news of Christ,” she said. “I focused on the four points: God loves us; we’ve sinned and turned away; He sent His son to save us; by the power of the Holy Spirit we are brought back into union with God and His love through the Church.”

Over the course of seven weeks, more than 200 youth played games, shared faith and formed friendships while breaking bread over the topic. “My favorite part is the dinners,” said Ethan, a high schooler from Most Precious Blood Parish in Oviedo who attended the overnight camp. “Everyone is in the same room and can talk and hang out. They make being yourself feel really easy to do.”

Ethan reflected on his initial reservations about attending, acknowledging that he had drifted away from his faith for some time. “It didn’t feel that special anymore. It felt like something I did to just do,” he said. “I didn’t really have that strong of a connection with God. Plus, I went to high school and got more friends and just stopped. I had no motivation to go. This has made me reconsider going—that it really is important to go. This made me realize I need to reconnect with God.”

For others, the summer camp experience was a must. Sofia, a ninth grade student at Lyman who attends Nativity Parish in Longwood, was back for her fourth year at San Pedro. “I stopped going to church because I had more friends and I’m doing a lot of sports,” she said. “What made me reconnect was that my father was in the hospital for a week. I started praying that God would help him heal. And everything that’s been going on in my life made me realize that, it wasn’t just me helping myself. It was God pushing and guiding me to the right path. I realized that God is with us no matter what, even if it might not seem like it. Once your faith grows, you realize that He was always there to protect you.”

And Sofia was not the only one feeling the need for a sense of protection and security. Sin Fronteras (Without Borders) is a youth group of more than 100 high school students from Apopka, Wekiva and Lake Brantley high schools who come together every Wednesday at Hope CommUnity Center in Apopka. Each year the youth group goes to Peace Camp.

Sister of Notre Dame de Namur Ann Kendrick, director for community relations at Hope CommUnity said, “The students have been on an interior journey as individuals and as a group. With personally crafted passports they engaged in dynamics, reflection time, rituals of trust, solidarity, self-discovery, spirituality, and commitment to make a difference in the world. Importantly, they had a time of peace and freedom from stresses of family and school and fear of what is happening in the world and to their own families.”

This year’s topic was “Living a Culture of Peace” and looked into the “inner journey because peace begins with ourselves,” said Mariela Delgado with Hope CommUnity’s youth services. The camp helped them to face their fears and learn how to overcome them. The camp also provided down time for volleyball, dancing, art and a talent show. Campers were selected based on attendance, participation and community hours.

Many youth volunteered countless hours in parishes throughout the diocese to be crew leaders or assistants to numerous vacation bible school programs. This year, St. James Cathedral chose Rome – St. Paul and the Underground Church. Participants were given the chance to become part of history as they saw, heard, touched and even tasted what it was like to live in Rome during biblical times! They explored an authentic marketplace, visited the Apostle Paul (who was under house arrest) and snuck into the cave or catacomb where the underground Church met.

Members of the faithful looking to make the most of the remaining summer days can still do so by checking with their local parishes for upcoming vacation bible school dates. San Pedro Center has one week of overnight camp (July 16-21) and one week day camp (July 24-28). Visit www.sanpedrocenter.org for more information and to register.