Middle school retreat offers students a message of hope


PROVIDENCE — More than 200 middle school students from parishes throughout the diocese gathered at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul for a retreat centered on the theme of defining hope and teaching those present how they could serve as vessels of hope for others.
The retreat, organized by Rejoice in Hope Youth Center of the diocesan Office of Family, Youth & Young Adult Evangelization, began with a series of brief remarks from Deacon Greg Albanese, the chaplain for the Rejoice in Hope and theology teacher at Bishop Hendricken High School, in which he drew a close connection between the virtue of hope and the liturgical season of Advent.
“Advent is a season of hope. It’s a season of expectation. It’s a season that we dare to believe that God loved us so much that He sent His only Son into the world to save us, first as a baby in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, and then, when the time came, for His only Son to give His Life that we may be saved,” Deacon Albanese said. “We walk around as Catholic Christians, as people of hope.”
Bishop Richard G. Henning delivered a talk in which he retold the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and how the events concerning the first Marian apparition on American soil shed light on the nature and necessity of hope. He noted how one of the miracles associated with St. Juan Diego’s vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary was the blooming of a rose bush on the spot where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him, as well as rose petals falling from the tilma of St. Juan Diego. This was taken to be a sign of God and the Blessed Mother’s presence among the nascent Church in Mexico, as the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego during the winter months, a time during which roses don’t bloom. The bishop spoke how this miracle has often been interpreted as revealing the true nature of hope.
“God speaks to hopelessness, to those moments in our lives when the days seem dark and dreary, when life is difficult and we don’t know what is coming,” Bishop Henning said. “It is in those moments, actually, that hope is most important, that it has its most powerful effect.”
“Hope is not just what we feel. Hope is what we’re called to be, one for another in the life of the Church, and as a sign to the world around us. … You have the power, as disciples of Jesus Christ, to be changed by His grace and mercy, to be that person who is a sign of goodness and love and beauty for another,” he concluded.
Over the course of the afternoon, those in attendance partook in a series of activities, enjoyed a guided tour of the cathedral and a talk from Deacon Albanese on the relationship between hope and our duty to treat our fellow humans with Christian charity.
“It was really great to watch the videos and do the activities and learn about hope,” said Eliana Hardy, a seventh-grader at North Smithfield Middle School who attends Holy Trinity parish in Woonsocket.
“The cathedral was really cool. It was quite magnificent to see it,” said Daniel Osorio, a seventh-grader at St. Cecilia’s school in Pawtucket and a parishioner at Holy Family parish in Pawtucket. Concerning the day’s presentations, Osorio was particularly moved by the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“My grandfather always used to tell me that story. Recently he died. So, it reminded me of him.”
Deacon Albanese added that the event was a wonderful opportunity to introduce young people to the idea that they are a much bigger Church.
“A lot of times they only see their own parish, they only see their own priest, they only see their own director of religious education. And when you’re this young, that’s what you think the Church is. The fact that they came to the mother church of the Diocese of Providence, the fact that they met the bishop, the chief shepherd, the fact that they saw that they are part of a much bigger whole, is quite beneficial for them. Hopefully they’ll take this message of hope that they learn today and not only put it to work in their own families, but hopefully in their parishes as well.”