This year, from May 20th to 22nd, the Institute of the Incarnate Word had its 15th annual IVE Youth Festival in Upstate New York. Sponsored by the IVE male religious and the sisters from the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará (SSVM), the Youth Festival is a weekend retreat for high-school-aged young people to help them grow in their faith and love for God. This year over 250 young men and women – representing ethnicities from countries as diverse as the Dominican Republic, Mexico, El Salvador, India, China, Togo, and Argentina – came from parishes in Canada, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, and Washington, DC.
Everyone began arriving at the retreat center on Friday evening. There was time for participants to meet some of the IVE priests, seminarians, and SSVM sisters. Some of the attendees were assigned cabins, while others had the opportunity to experience a little outdoor camping by sleeping in tents.
Everyone arose at 7:15 AM the following morning and headed to the big tent (colloquially known simply as “the Tent”) that would serve as the site for all of the upcoming major events. There, Morning Prayer was led by Deacon Timothy van Zee at 8 am, followed by hearty breakfast consisting of bread, muffins, croissants, peanut butter, jelly, cereal, coffee and juice. Upon finishing breakfast, all were entertained with a short skit and this year’s Youth Festival Song, “Youth Rise Up.”
Then, guest speaker Fr. Mike Paris, diocesan priest with the Archdiocese of Washington and UMD Catholic Center Chaplin – and planning to join the Carmelites in August – gave the first keynote talk. Fr. Paris talked about how empty he felt when he was living a worldly life, and that only by getting to know Christ in the Eucharist was he able to know joy again. He emphasized the importance of seeking God’s mercy, trusting in God, the source of peace. Fr. Paris stressed the fact that he considered himself a grave sinner and unworthy of the priesthood; nevertheless, God calls whom he wants to call and provides for them the means of reaching the goal so long as we trust in Him. “But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.” (Matthew 6:33-34) After the talk Fr. Paris stayed until Sunday morning, talking, hearing confessions and playing games.
As time for sports came around, the kids had a plethora of various games to choose from: soccer, basketball, football, ultimate frisbee, volleyball, golf and various board games. Everyone enjoyed the games, sometimes even getting a little competitive as some parishes got to test the skills and teamwork of the other parishes. After sports there was lunch and another entertainment show organized by some of the IVE seminarians. Later that evening, everyone had the opportunity to attend two of four workshops: “Corporal Works of Mercy,” “Spiritual Works of Mercy,” “Prayer,” and “Grace, Mercy and Sacraments.” That evening, everyone attended Holy Mass presided by Fr. Mariano Vicchi, IVE, during which all had the opportunity to go to Confession. (This happened to be one of the greatest fruits of the Youth Festival, as nearly all of the participants took advantage of receiving the sacrament throughout the course of the festival.)
Later that evening, after Holy Mass and another moment of sports and relaxation, the youth prayed the Rosary in procession led by a statue of Our Lady of Fatima. Following the Rosary there was a moment for Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament and Confession, concluding with Benediction.
Finally, the young people enjoyed watching the much-anticipated movie “Pink Panther: Nerd Lord Royale,” filmed and edited entirely by the IVE seminarians. After the movie everyone enjoyed s’mores and other snacks as they delighted in the warmth of a bonfire.
The following day, as yesterday, everyone arose at 7:15 AM, attended Morning Prayer at 8 AM, followed by breakfast. The youth of every parish had the great opportunity to grow in grace and holiness as each parish community were placed on kitchen service, helping to distribute food for the other youth. As stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Lumen Gentium, “All are called to holiness: Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect…[and] in order to reach this perfection the faithful should…devote themselves to the glory of God and to the service of their neighbor.” (CCC 2013)
Later that morning there was another moment for sports and relaxation before the last keynote talk given by Deacon Christopher Etheridge, IVE – who would later be ordained that Saturday, May 28 to the priesthood! – at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Deacon Christopher spoke about giving everything and living a life of grace in union with Christ. To live this life of grace, we live in the joy of Christ that fills us – for the Christian this means that he has no other option but to be happy – and to do this we must befriend Christ and ask for his forgiveness.
The festival concluded with a closing Mass on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. The Mass was presided by Fr. Brian Dinkel, IVE, and concelebrated by other IVE priests. At the conclusion of the Mass there was the blessing of the cross and the final group photo.
Thanks be to God, everyone – the young men and women, the priests, the sisters, and the seminarians – enjoyed the spectacular weekend. With God’s grace – including even the grace of the most beautiful weather imaginable – the Youth Festival in short was nothing less than spectacular.