Under an open-air tent at twilight in Moraine State Park, eight high school girls and their camp counselors gathered July 25 amid the fireflies in the grass, not for a bonfire, but for a blessing from God the Father.
The evening of Eucharistic adoration was part of the weeklong Camp Lajas, a camp piloted this summer as a ministry of Holy Sepulcher Parish in Glade Mills, which took place July 23-27.
The camp’s mission was to immerse high school boys and girls in the wilderness of Pennsylvania to encounter the healing and redemptive power of Christ through challenging adventures, in order to live out the Catholic faith through a revival of confidence as sons and daughters of God. It was offered exclusively for high school girls this summer, but there are plans to add a camp for high school boys next summer.
Throughout the course of the week, the girls and their counselors related adventure activities such as hiking, kayaking, archery, whitewater rafting and rock climbing to the Christian life. Seminarians, youth ministry leaders and Felician Sister Desiré Anne-Marie Findlay served as staff.
The campers slept in tepees and ate organic food donated by local farms and cooked at the campsite. They encountered God in nature through Mass, worship music, reconciliation, adoration and spiritual talks.
Before the evening of adoration, Father Joseph Freedy, parochial vicar at St. Barbara and Holy Child parishes in Bridgeville, spoke about the desire to be loved that burns so fiercely in the human heart. He said that this desire can only be satisfied by the Father’s gaze.
“The Father wants to say to you, past all the lies and hurt and into the pain you have suffered: you are my beloved daughter,” he said.
Bishop David Zubik prayed over every camper and counselor with the monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament, extending to them the Father’s blessing.
“May that gift and that blessing convict you that Jesus loves you more than you can ever imagine. It was for that reason that he opened his arms on the cross for us,” Bishop Zubik said.
Diocesan seminarian and Camp Lajas co-director Gabriel Salibi was inspired to begin the camp after his own life-changing experience at a Catholic adventure camp in Denver, Colorado, during college, coupled with strong urgings from the Lord he felt in prayer while he hiked during his 2017 Christmas break.
Camp Lajas is named for Our Lady of Lajas, a Marian apparition in Colombia where the Blessed Mother’s intercession restored a young girl’s life.
“That’s at the heart of our mission: to bring the young men and women of our diocese back to life,” Salibi said.
“It’s important to know that we are loved in a fatherly way by God, and that we don’t have to live up to worldly expectations,” said Emily Cunningham, Camp Lajas co-director.
Camper Mary Zimmerman, an incoming senior in the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, recognized a model for the spiritual life through the rock-climbing activity. Like the rope that secured her, God is always there, but he gives her the free will to choose the rock or path to climb upward under his guidance.
“As my fear slipped away, his mercy came into me and said, ‘Breathe. You can do this,’” Zimmerman said of the experience.
“It’s a beautiful thing to realize that we each are God’s child,” said camper Ceci Ligouri, who will be a Kent State freshman in the fall. “We each are God’s daughter. We might not be made the same, we don’t look the same, we don’t have the same abilities, but that’s who we are.”