By Natalie Salameh
On the weekend of December 4 – 6, the Maronite Servants of Christ the Light helped facilitate the MYO regional Christmas retreat for the Eparchy of St. Maron at the Retreat Center of the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Attleboro, MA. Fr. Gary George, C.Ss.R, National Youth Coordinator; Fr. Vincent Farhat, Pastor of St. Maron in Philadelphia and Eparchial MYO Coordinator; and Fr. Kamil El-Choufeiti, Pastor of Our Lady, Star of the East in New Jersey, directed a dynamic group of 50 teens from several parishes, and were assisted by a great crew of adult advisors.
The theme of the retreat was Come, Let Us Adore Him, with a focus on the Maronite Liturgical Season of “Happy Announcements” leading up to the Glorious Birth of Our Lord. There was no better place to prepare for Christmas than the La Salette Shrine with their famous display of countless miniature lights and catechetical displays which switch on at 5pm.
The retreat began on Friday evening, December 4, with Supper and some fun icebreakers, followed by prayer and reflection. With Jesus really present and exposed before us in the most Holy Mysteries, the youth prayed our traditional Maronite Novena prayers. With lights dimmed and candles lit, and powerfully moving melodies in the background, Fr. Gary took the monstrance up to each of the youth.
The night concluded on a festive note with a bonfire, roasting marshmallows and socializing, in the crisp air, with cookies and hot chocolate. It brought out the child in each of us.
Saturday, December 5, turned out to be a day of deep prayer and transformation for many of the youth. We all know that Mary said Yes to God, but both Fr. Gary and Fr. Vince encouraged the youth to think about all the obstacles that were in Mary’s way that could have led her to saying No. For example, she was so young; she was unmarried; all the shame and disgrace and ridicule that she would have to put up with; the chance of losing Joseph; and the list goes on. But, despite all these considerations, the Blessed Mother had one thing, which is the only thing we need when we are called by God to do something, and that one thing is trust. She trusted that God would iron out all the issues and knots.
The youth were asked to break into small groups and discuss how do they say Yes to God? And what are some of the obstacles in the way? Their insights were deeply personal and profound. I was moved to tears when a young girl emotionally revealed how her family had been uprooted from Syria under painful circumstances. Yes she said, she had hope in God and accepted her lot, but a situation like that can tempt anyone to despair, and despair was an obstacle that many of the youth mentioned.
In the afternoon, we witnessed a powerful display of God’s transformative grace in his gift of forgiveness given in the Mystery of Penance. For approximately two hours the youth flocked to our three priests for confession and healing. It was an emotional time for many. While the youth were awaiting confession, Sr. Therese Maria led adoration, teaching them how to pray before the Holy Mysteries.
Following confessions, all of us went outside to the central place of the Shrine, the giant Nativity scene, where hundreds had already gathered to see the lights turn on at 5pm. It was wonderful, one minute we were standing in darkness, and the next we were bathed in a sea of light. The youth had the opportunity to tour the Shrine and its magnificent displays of lights later on in the evening.
Following supper, some of the youth who had attended the National MYO Workshop in July approached Fr. Gary and asked him for the same service of Eucharistic Healing they had experienced six months ago. Fr. Gary was delighted, and so the youth were able to experience the deep joy that comes from a close personal encounter with Christ in His Holy Mysteries, as each one came up and touched the monstrance holding Jesus. It was a moving sight as each teen emerged from their encounter deeply touched and unburdened.
The evening ended with lots of fun which included pizza and a party, where we celebrated our culture in the traditional way, with loud music and the dabke.
The retreat concluded with Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning, celebrated by Fr. Vince, where we commemorated the birth of St. John the Baptist. It was wonderful to witness the beautiful bonds and friendships that were formed over the weekend. Many of the teens came up to us at the end of the retreat and said they felt spiritually nourished.