Universitas is a Catholic Formation Course which the Institute of the Incarnate Word offers to young adults in its retreat house in Upstate New York. This year the IVE welcomed 30 young men and women to this 3rd annual event. The participants, mainly university students, hailed from all over: some as far as North Dakota, others as near as Washington D.C.
The formation course began Sunday night, just a couple of hours after the annual IVE Youth Festival had ended. That night, after Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Evening Prayer, we simply enjoyed dinner as a community and then spent some time at the bonfire singing folk songs and making s’mores. On Monday, after morning Mass and breakfast, the participants had their first conference: a talk on keeping our faith in a secular world by Fr. Mark Pilon. The conferences are an important part of Universitas: by enlightening the intellects of young adults, we are giving them important tools they need to fully live out the Christian life in their personal circumstances. The topics for the following days were “The Consecrated Life”, “Blessed are the Pure of Heart”, and “Developing your Conscience”.
But Universitas is more than a series of intellectual talks: it’s a formative experience. Therefore, after lunch on Monday, the participants had the opportunity to take off for the Catskill Mountains for an over-night hike. The goal was to reach the summit of Hunter Mountain, and to celebrate the Holy Mass there on Tuesday morning. By the grace of God and the courage of all the hikers, these ideals were realized. The hike was a wonderful experience of the beautiful world of nature: breakfast was made by the fire side and consisted of some instant coffee and simple bread; animals such as snakes were encountered along the trail; finally, the top of the mountain boasted a watchtower which we climbed and from which could be seen the whole Catskill mountain valley. It was truly beautiful. To experience the beauty of the natural world is an important element in formation because it is evident from such natural splendor and order that an intelligent creator is behind the universe. As St. Paul says in Romans 1:20, “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they [those who do not believe in God] have no excuse”.
On Tuesday, after we had returned from the hike, we had our talk and followed by lunch. Then, straightaway we made our way for the Hudson River where we spent the rest of the day, each enjoying themselves according to their own liking: some placed soccer, some Ultimate Frisbee, some went fishing (thought with no success), some went on the boat, and some “hung out”. That night after dinner we watched the funny movie made last year by the seminarians, “Star Weirds”, and its sequel, “Star Weirds II: Fellowship of the Weirds.” These movies are made each year by the seminarians to entertain the youth at the annual Youth Festival.
On Wednesday after the regular routine of Mass, breakfast, talk, and lunch, we all went together to North-South Lake. The Lake was very beautiful, and we had prepared a wonderful day-trip, when suddenly the heavens let loose their water as we hadn’t seen in a long time. The heavy rain and thunderous lightning forced us to return to our shelter in the retreat house, but that didn’t stop our good spirit: some of the participants had a soccer game once the rain had slowed down, and others spend time in community playing ping-pong, pool, and other board games. That night we had our first-ever “The Games”, which was basically a competition between guys and girls which included trivia, singing, and acting out a scene from a famous movie. Our last night together was well enjoyed by all; in fact no one wanted to go to sleep in the end and I had to seriously (but kindly) remind them to keep the schedule.
Thursday was the last day of Universitas. After the morning talk, we celebrated our experience together with a barbecue. After we took a picture all together by the big cross, we packed our bags and called it a day – or better yet, a Catholic Formation Camp for university students.
A big thanks goes out to all those who helped organize the event, especially Fr. Brian, and to the seminarians and sisters who helped in carrying it out.
We entrust Our Lady to pray for all those who participated in this year's event, and most especially for their growth in holiness after the image of Christ her Son.