Retreats give us time to stop and think about ourselves and God, writes James McNamara
For most teenagers, the prospect of a class outing creates a sense of anticipation, excitement, adventure and fun. A break from school, an opportunity to relax, but Ms Ronan’s next two words rang alarm bells: ‘Lough Derg.’
I had vague recollections of my mother visiting there in the not-so-distant past and none of them equated with my definition of a class outing. But before my doubts could cloud my judgment, Ms Ronan had convinced both my friends and I to try something different – to reflect on our lives, to take time for ourselves, to stop and think.
As a result of this and in celebration of the Year of the Family and of the Pope’s visit to Ireland, 32 of Ennis’ Rice College fifth year students signed up for the following week’s Two-Day Youth Retreat to Lough Derg. On October 10, accompanied by Mr Bermingham, Ms Chambers, Ms Ronan and our school chaplain Fr Joy Njarakattuvely we set out for Donegal.
Our initial apprehension about the retreat and what it would entail quickly evaporated as on our arrival to the island we were warmly welcomed by our retreat team led by Bosco McShane and Eadaoin O’Kane from Síolta Retreats and of course the staff made us feel right at home.
Within a matter of moments, we were participating in various games and activities in order to allow us to connect more closely as a group. These activities consisted of team building exercises, icebreaking games and reflection on our lives. We learnt that as young Catholics in today’s society we face many difficulties in our lives, but if we continue to value our faith and follow its guidelines, we can get through these difficult times by supporting each other and with God by our sides.
After a busy afternoon of bonding and deepening our faith, we made paper boats containing all our worries and concerns which we symbolically floated across the lake, a very worthwhile experience.
That evening we wrote readings and prayers in preparation for evening Mass which was to be celebrated by Fr La Flynn (the Prior of Lough Derg) and Fr Joy. This candlelit Mass took place in the Basilica and had a profound effect on all present. Throughout the Mass, candles were lit, songs were sung and prayers were offered for our loved ones who had died.
During the Eucharist we were invited to join Fr Flynn and Fr Joy on the altar for prayer. The day concluded with a sing-song and the toasting of marshmallows on an open campfire. The absence of our phones, was no longer of any consequence (a profound change in our attitude in a very short period of time).
At the start of day two, the focus was on bonding activities and we were split up into teams and had to cross the hall balancing only on thin planks of wood. This exercise helped us to realise that even when it gets tough and we fall, it’s always important to get back up again. It also helped us to connect more as a group, encouraging us to work together as a team and help each other out in order to successfully achieve our goals.
Later we made our way to the Basilica where we wrote our private letters to God and silently reflected on all that we had learned about our faith and each other throughout our wonderful time at Lough Derg. We were very thankful of the opportunity presented to us and we hope that many more of our peers will be able to avail of similar experiences in the future. This short break from a very demanding modern society has provided us with necessary supports and coping mechanisms for our future lives.
While returning to the mainland, we were informed by Mr Bermingham that we would be visiting Knock on the journey home. Here we visited the Shrine and spent some quality time in the Apparition Chapel which still contained the flowers and decorations from the Pope’s visit. This experience really was the icing on the cake to a great retreat and made us realise how fortunate we are to have teachers who are focused on our holistic development as young adults.
Like all trips the purchase of memorabilia adds to the occasion. My grandmother’s appreciation of a beautiful pair of Rosary beads (each decade symbolised by a red rose) and a bottle of Lough Derg Holy Water, was priceless and has reinforced her faith in the youth of today.