Now, I’m not really the type who talks about religion, nor do I fancy imposing my religious views on to others, but this past weekend I went on a short retreat to Christ the King Spiritual Life Center in Greenwich, New York that served as milestone in my journey with religion. There were four students from Union, including myself, who attended. Originally, I had no real intentions of going because I was never truly comfortable of what could come from the words “catholic retreat,” but through careful persuasion from a friend and knowing that I had nothing else planned for the weekend, I decided to go and keep and open mind.

Photo of surrounding at retreat. Group picture of Union students who attended the retreat. Photo of surrounding at retreat.

As far as my journey with religion goes, I’ve never really viewed myself as a religious person and there are things about Catholicism that I don’t quite agree with one hundred percent. But from this retreat—though I grew up to attend morning and midnight mass (on Christmas Eve), take part in Lent, attend Easter Vigils, go to Vacation Bible School, and had my First Holy Communion—my definition and identity of being a Catholic has taken a different route. I’m a strong believer that what one chooses to belief spiritually or religiously is an independent journey that is handled through personal experience. I never liked the thought of others imposing their views on to others, especially without consent or effort to understand the other person’s perspectives. I’ve always been rather interested in learning about other religions, and putting great effort to refrain from real bias. At the end of the day, from my perspective, the main religions in the world are all claiming the same thing: to be a good person, be kind and respectful to others, and let your actions better yourself and others—regardless of what god or entity one claims to be in power.

On Friday evening, we arrived in Greenwich which is a fairly rural small town. Students from nearby schools such as SUNY Albany and Russell Sage gradually arrived with us, as we settled in our bunks for the weekend and got ourselves situated. The students were separate from the adults/coordinators, and their building was parallel to ours. Most of our group talks and meals were held in that main cabin where the adults were. The first night we sat around and got to know each other, ate pizza, drank soda and tea, did some relaxation exercises, and had a small chat about our theme “I’m Catholic, So What?”.  We ended the night on good terms, filing out to our domains in our cabins.

Students and adults socialize during the evening. Students gathering and chatting. Photo of coffee.                           Main cabin on retreat. The cabin for students on retreat.

The next morning, we had to be up by 8 AM, and then around 9 AM we began more in-depth and interactive discussions about community, politics, and values. We did a Labyrinth activity as well, which was an interesting time to reflect on the things we’d learned or discovered about ourselves. What I enjoyed most about this retreat (and what calmed my fears) was that the coordinators and speakers were so genuine and of themselves when they spoke. It wasn’t the typical priest or whomever speaking to you, they were just adults who identified themselves as Catholics and were speaking form their own separate views and experiences on issues that weren’t just all about religion, but society . We had students who weren’t even Catholic which made it even more enjoyable. Though I was guilty of presuming some stringent order of Catholic routines, prayers and rules, everyone there was really relaxed and had different backgrounds. We hardly ever talked about church or what it traditionally meant to be a Catholic.

Religious figures exhibited during Labyrinth activity. And that’s just it. I grew a new set of eyes, that enabled me to feel more comfortable with my religious journey. The “So What” factor of our theme made sense to me; redefining what being a Catholic meant, knowing that it was okay to have differences on things, and that no one Catholic was the spokesperson for all Catholics. Bottom line: not all Catholics are alike. I finally understood the theme of “I’m Catholic, So What?” It set to redirect the preconceived stereotype of Catholicism that makes many young Catholics have the tendency to defend themselves on their religious views in today’s modern world. No, I don’t feel our society is as religious as it was 300 years back, but that’s because times are changing and we’re gradually becoming less of a traditional society.

Overall, the retreat further strengthened my flexibility in exploring the religion I grew up in and to what extent I’m associated with it.  We ended our last night there with a group dinner followed by a bonfire where we sang tunes and roasted marshmallows. We shared phone numbers and “friended” each other on Facebook because we’d gotten along so well with one another in a short amount of time, and intellectually clicked during deep conversations about life and social issues. On the Sunday morning before we left, we attended mass at the local church and walked around town to a nearby deli to have lunch as a group.

               Dinner table Everyone eating dinner at the local church.  Students roasting marshmellows. Fire during bonfire Students roasting marshmellows.           Local Catholic church. Participants taking the crosswalk around town to eat at Deli.

The retreat is something I don’t regret attending and I don’t feel that any Union student should miss out on an opportunity to formulate and feel comfortable with their own religious and non-religious views.

                                             Board in common room with writing.