By JORDAN MCMORROUGH
WINTERPLACE, W.V. — Close to 350 teens from 18 parishes across the Palmetto State took part in the first annual diocesan ski trip and retreat Jan. 12-15 in Winterplace, W.V.
Buses departed from five locations; Spartanburg, Columbia, Garden City, Charleston, and Hilton Head; on Friday morning and deposited their cargo of tired teens in Beckley, W.V., that night. Over the weekend a combination of daytime and nighttime skiing, snowboarding, and tubing dominated the holiday, as teens, many of whom had never before hit the slopes, tried their luck at runs as varied as Panoramic View and Easy Street to Plunge and Nosedive. For the less faint of heart, karaoke singing in the Winterplace Lodge provided a less strenuous form of relaxation, as well as socializing with friends over a game of cards. Back at the hotel an indoor heated pool proved tempting to some, although two youth rallies were the main features in the evenings.
Entertainment at the Saturday and Sunday concerts was provided by Steve Angrisano, a presenter at diocesan high school youth conference last March. He is also on the schedule for the upcoming rally to take place in two months.
Angrisano is a musician, composer, and storyteller who has performed at conferences and events in 150 dioceses across the United States and Canada.
He got the teen audience involved in the Saturday concert early on, beginning with a series of “icebreaker” games and two interactive songs, “Pharoah, Pharoah” and “Our God Is An Awesome God.”
After the youth had settled back into their chairs, Angrisano told them that they were at the event because of faith. “God is present to us in so many ways. It’s an awesome thing. Open your hearts to God.”
He then asked, “What is God saying to you? Do you experience God being out in nature?” Angrisano replied, “I experience God in the chapel in my church in a very powerful way.”
Angrisano then used a skiing analogy to describe to the teens what they need to do with regards to their spiritual life: “Lean into it,” he said, “the reality is that unless you give it all you’ve got, it won’t happen. Know there’s a reason for you being here.”
Angrisano continued by saying that all things work together for those who love the Lord, and that God holds us all in the palm of his hand. “Jesus is real. He is not a storybook character. He walked on this earth, and he talked to us. He is not a stained-glass window.”
Closing the emotional rally, Angrisano sang, “Open My Eyes Lord,” written by Jesse Manibusan, another charismatic musician on the program for the upcoming high school conference.
At the Mass which followed, youth served as lectors, musicians, and eucharistic ministers. Father C. Thomas Miles, parochial vicar at St. Joseph Church in Columbia, gave a homily focused on the Gospel reading.
“In the story of the wedding at Cana, dealing with the sacrament of marriage, look deeper at what has been said. In a deep intimate relationship, each was transformed to a son or daughter of God.”
He continued, “Before creation even took place, God saw each and every one of you. He saw the times of struggle, sin, temptation — the good, the bad, and the ugly — and God loved you into life. You are a unique gift to him and to other people in the world.”
Father Miles said that the Cana message shows how much God is connected to us. “Realize how special we are in his sight. If you are having difficulty in your faith, God will help you if you ask.”
Following a night of little sleep for some and a full day on the slopes for others, Angrisano opened his Sunday evening concert with yet another high energy set, singing, “You Can Count On Me,” “Lean On Me,” “Open My Eyes Lord,” and “I Could Sing Of Your Love Forever.”
After those performances, Angrisano quietly told the youth that he moved from Texas to Littleton, Colo., a couple of years ago. He said the situation there is still growing and changing following the Columbine High School shootings.
“God has a grand plan,” he said, describing how he relocated to Colorado just months before the Littleton tragedy. He attends church at St. Francis Cabrini Parish, just three miles from the infamous high school.
Angrisano described his relationship with Amber, the teen-age foster daughter of a family with whom he has become best friends. He said that three weeks ago Amber told him, “I see the hand of God in my entire life. Many people I knew are dead, in jail, or on drugs.” He then added, “I can’t explain what a year and a half of emotion looks like when it finally comes out.”
Amber was in the Columbine cafeteria at the time of the shootings. The two student gunmen set off homemade bombs near her; however, they did not explode. She then ran upstairs with a group of students as the gunmen fired into a crowd. Amber dived into an empty classroom to avoid gunfire, and then escaped by running down a long hallway as bullets ricocheted off lockers and shattered the glass doors in front of her.
“I’ve never known God to be more gracious than he was April 28 of 1999 when he saved thousands of lives,” Angrisano said. “Thousands of bullets were fired, and dozens of homemade bombs were detonated, yet the only ones who died were shot in the head or neck at almost point blank range. The gunmen were not shooting at lockers or ceiling tiles trying to scare people; they were trying to kill them.”
Angrisano continued, “God put his hand down and said, ‘No sir.’ This is the God who loves us and holds us in the palm of his hand.”
Angrisano discussed the spiritual warfare that is taking place, with school shootings and teen suicides, and said, “I believe it is time for youth to make a choice. Prayer that is choice is infinitely more powerful. We can abuse the power of choice that we have.”
Daniel Mauser was termed by Angrisano as one of the heroes of the Columbine tragedy. Angrisano, with tears in his eyes, described Mauser as a small boy with a big heart. He said Mauser was killed not from his initial wounds, but from throwing a chair at the gunmen as they aimed at his friends across the library. Angrisano said a cross was recently dedicated in Mauser’s memory at St. Francis Cabrini Parish.
Angrisano also talked about another event that took place at St. Francis Cabrini two days after the Columbine shooting — a prayer service in which students at Columbine High School prayed over their principal as well as their parents. Angrisano called it “one of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had. It’s a story of faith no one will ever tell on the evening news. You have to live it and tell it.”
Angrisano then told a story of a trip he took with his son to a lake. Angrisano told his son to be careful and not walk close to the edge of the dock. He did, fell in, and Angrisano dove in the water and lifted up his son, who he said was wearing a life vest.
“If I love him so much, how much does God love me,” Angrisano asked. “I don’t know what you’re big trouble is. I know God loves us. We can’t do this alone. There is a God who is real, who does miracles.”
He concluded the talk by performing “You Are My God” and “God Make A Difference.”
Then Angrisano thanked Jerry White, diocesan director of youth ministry, for all of the organization that had gone into this first ski trip. Afterwards a pizza party was held, with attendees feasting on close to 100 pizzas.
The next big event for teens in South Carolina will be the 11th annual diocesan high school youth conference March 9-11 in White Oak. However, the second annual ski trip is already being planned, slated for either late December or early January 2002.