Sitting here in New York I sometimes find my mind going back through the trees, back up into green Portsmouth Abbey, Rhode Island. It was so open and pretty, with the breeze coming off the sea and sounds of the crickets and shouts of joyful activity all around. Several weeks ago we finished the first ever World Youth Alliance summer camp, up at the Abbey, a small Benedictine boarding school and abbey. Things could not have gone better, really, we were lucky to have such good weather, and the campers were fantastic. There was a pretty small group, ten counselors and thirteen campers, so it didn’t take long for us to become a tight knit group. The campers were ages 11 to 18, which is a pretty big gap but it didn’t feel like it, everyone fell in together so well.
There is a lot to be thankful for there. I have been at camps where it rained all day every day, or where someone gets injured or lost in the woods. And young boys and girls tend to have quite an interest in one another, and I worried about that too. Well, these kids proved that my worries were unfounded on more issues than one. They were always ready to learn more, to help however they could, to take the issues seriously and to bring their best to the table. And we did ask a lot of them. The camp schedule called for a Spartan level of engagement and discipline- getting up early, sports and lectures all day, nighttime activities. Don’t get me wrong, it was all fun stuff, but we also asked the kids to engage with some tough issues like AIDS, bioethics, and UN advocacy, all of it framed, of course, around the idea of the intrinsic dignity of the person. Well, we asked a lot and the campers really delivered, taking the issues very seriously, and not being shy or timid about their role in solving them. I sometimes hear talk about how we as a culture should worry about our young people and their habits, but that week erased any doubts I might have had. It’s truly remarkable to watch solidarity form between people, and to see young men and women take seriously the issues that are facing their world and embrace the hope to change them. Just being there- it stirred an immense hope in all of us who took part.
Of course, we also wanted to teach them the value of competition and humility, and so when the campers challenged us to a game of Ultimate Frisbee on the last day, we got up early, painted our faces, and roused them at sunrise for the ultimate showdown. No comment on who won, but a hint is that it rhymes with trounce-lors. And there was kayaking and city building and campfire songs and the rest. I’d say a good time was had by all, dignity was discussed and lived out, and genuine solidarity attained. Not too bad, ladies and gents, and we’ll see you next summer for round two.
Casey Downing – World Youth Alliance