Catholic Scouts took time to worship, pray and think about their vocations against a backdrop of mountains and waterfalls during the first Bishop England Trek held June 12-18.
Eleven Scouts spent five days hiking and camping along the Foothills Trail in the Upstate, on a trip that included spiritual reflection and prayer.
The event, named after Bishop John England, was patterned after the St. George Trek, an outdoor hiking and retreat experience held every other year at the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone established the St. George Trek nearly 25 years ago, and said he would like to see a similar event take place in South Carolina.
Adult advisers accompanied the youth, along with three priests: Father Jason Adams, Scout chaplain of the Diocese of Savannah; Father Matthew Gray, Scout chaplain for the Diocese of Charleston; and Adorno Father Giovannie Nunez, parochial vicar at Jesus Our Risen Savior Church in Spartanburg.
Nine boys and two girls, ages 14 and up, met on June 12 at Jesus Our Risen Savior for orientation and to hear a talk on discernment by Father Pablo Migone, vocations director for the Diocese of Savannah.
On June 13, they started their hikes. One group did 30 miles and the other went 50.
The priests celebrated daily Mass on the trail, offered the sacrament of reconciliation, and prayed and talked with the young people. They shared their vocation stories and described seminary life.
On June 17, the teens completed their trek at Oconee State Park, and on June 18 Bishop Guglielmone met with the group and celebrated Mass for them.
Participants described an exciting week full of physical challenges and spiritual revelation. They enjoyed seeing mountain views, lakes, streams and waterfalls, but also experienced the challenge of bad weather in the backcountry when a fierce storm struck during the middle of one night.
Isaiah Colon, a member of Boy Scout Troop 79 at Jesus Our Risen Savior, participated in the 30 mile hike.
“It seemed that every single time I thought about God on the trail the sky became brighter and clearer,” Colon said. “I thought it was a sign that He is there with us and that He was watching us. I also enjoyed being able to talk to a priest at a moment’s notice. That was the best thing I could have done for my faith.”
Colon recalled a few times when he struggled on the trail because of his heavy backpack, but Father Adams gave him a message of encouragement.
“Father Jason told me that Jesus had suffered and died on the cross and that got me thinking,” he said. “I thought that if Jesus had done all of that for us I should be able to get through this hike, and as long as I stayed with God I would be fine.”
James Seezen, a member of Venture Crew 100 from St. Joseph Church in Columbia, said he learned that he could complete physical challenges and also cook for a large group in the outdoors. The beautiful and varied scenery also offered serious chances for reflection.
“I learned that I’m much closer to God than I thought I was,” Seezen said. “I really felt God’s presence during reflection time we had by the river on June 15. I felt so close to God in his beautiful creation.”
Alden Ward, also a member of Troop 79 at Jesus Our Risen Savior, said he was moved by the Scripture reading from the Gospel of Luke one day, which dealt with the disciples encountering Jesus on the road to Emmaus. He said the reading’s message of overcoming uncertainty and disbelief through faith was helpful to him.
“Through that reading, I started to see all of God’s creations around me and realized how much I’d taken for granted,” Ward said. “I really feel after the trek it will be easier for me to talk with Him.”
Several of the Scouts said they hope to do the St. George Trek in the future and felt the Bishop England one gave them a good foundation of experience for it. Bishop Guglielmone congratulated all of the teens for completing the trek and challenged other dioceses to establish similar events for their Scouts.
Featured photo: Father Matthew Gray, Scout chaplain for the Diocese of Charleston, celebrates daily Mass along the trail during the 50-mile hike. Also pictured are Father Gio Nunez, James Seezen and Father Jason Adams.