Keeping Dreams Alive: Calvary Retreat House

For ten years, the Youth Group of St. Joseph's Parish, Spanish Town, Jamaica, has been making the two-hour bus trip to Mandeville, Jamaica, for a weekend retreat at Calvary Retreat House (entrance shown at right), sponsored by the Passionists. This year their weekend retreat began on January 27th.

The young people from Spanish Town, one of Jamaica's early settlements, come from a place particularly troubled by crime and violence. Their parish priest, Father Howard Rochester, was murdered some weeks before their retreat and, though suspects are under arrest, the case isn't closed. For the 33 young people, Mount Calvary Retreat House is where they bring their own experience of Calvary and look for hope.

Sr BernadetteDuring the weekend, they listen to conferences from the retreat house staff, discuss with one another, pray, fill the place with lively song, and play in the field next to the retreat house. They find this year's retreat theme particularly appropriate: The Love of Christ Empowers Us.

Calvary Retreat House is a place where Jamaicans, young and old, are empowered.

"Our retreats for youth are very important," says Passionist Sister Bernadette Hughes, Director of Mount Calvary, who has been working in Jamaica for 16 years. "Jamaica is such a young country. We try to help them grow spiritually and humanly here. And they want to come; in fact, they save the whole year for it. They enrich me. right: Sr Bernadette Hughes, C.P.

"They're such a vibrant group. They face so much violence and injustice, and yet they come back again and again. I love to see them as they grow and mature. I'm amazed at the discussions we have. About twenty-five percent of our retreats are youth."

The young people from Spanish Town, besides their yearly retreat, meet at their church every Sunday afternoon for devotions, discussion, games and singing. Most of them are Catholic, but others find support in the group, too.

"Spanish Town's a big town, with a lot of young people," Carlene Buchanan, one of group's leaders explains (at right). "After they graduate from high school they just wander around without anywhere to go. No plan, no direction, no jobs.

"The youth from the Catholic Church have the same problems. Some people have given up on the youth. They say this generation is too bad, too terrible, too difficult to work with. But personally, I believe there are youth out there that give us hope. They're interested, fired up and dedicated. And they will make the difference.

"Right now, in Jamaica, you have a lot of youth fired up for Christ. We have young people from ages 13 to 24 in our group. They are coming in and going out, leaving for other places, other schools. If you empower them with the knowledge of Christ, they can do anything. But you can't force Christianity on them.

"A retreat is one way to empower them. We took 33 people with us and some of them will tell you the retreat makes a significant difference in their lives. Something said or experienced here made a difference."

In Jamaica, Catholic young people are particularly challenged because of their religion, according to Carlene.

"Some people in Jamaica society are very skeptical about the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church gets a lot of knocks here, so some young people don't come to church because they can't take the pressure from people telling them their religion is wrong. They knock the Pope, Marian devotions; they say the church is oppressive and the Eucharist is not the presence of Christ.

"So we encourage others to come to our group and come on retreat so that they will know that all they heard is not true. And some of them do."

At the end of this year's retreat, Austin McDonald (right), a young Jamaican teacher, summed up the reactions of his group to their retreat experience with a song:

I have a dream, a kingdom dream.
I dream this dream each day.
I can see this dream,
I do feel this dream,
dream is my world.

Jesus Christ gives me this dream,
A dream turned reality.
I believe in this dream,
This dream shall be
my Kingdom dream.