Youth, adults gather for multi-cultural event to discover the power of God’s presence

MICHIGAN CITY – Although it was rainy and dreary outdoors, the interior of Queen of All Saints parish center exuded an obvious radiance emanating from the youth and adults gathered for a daylong retreat on May 21.

“Today is a very special day (as) we gather together, as a community, to get to know the Lord more deeply,” said Lucia Bim-Merle, QAS’s director of religious education/liaison to the Hispanic community.

The QAS retreat, entitled Power of His Presence, brought two groups together as one community to experience guest speakers, small group discussions, music, food and Mass. The nine-hour retreat was attended by 50 youth and a similar number of adults in attendance.

“What’s especially exciting about today is that we’re having a multicultural event where we have Hispanic adults participating in the retreat at the same time, on a parallel track, with the English-speaking youth retreat,” said Bim-Merle.

Bim-Merle explained that a 2019 Pew Study showed only 30 percent of Catholics believe in the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. “This was our response to help confirm the belief amongst young Catholics and (adult) Catholics alike in our parish – that Jesus is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament,” she said.

“I’m really delighted to see that many people came forward and gave up a Saturday. It’s a sacrifice. I see God’s grace working in their lives,” added Bim-Merle.  

Guest speakers included Jason Yurechko, director of religious education at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage, and diocesan priests Father Nate Edquist, Father Roque Meraz and Father David Kime.

Father Meraz, speaking to the Hispanic-speaking group, focused on Eucharist and the Blessed Mother.

“We go to Mass or Eucharistic Adoration, and say’ yes,’ Jesus is there. But do we truly believe that’s Him there? We know this, but we have to keep reminding ourselves of the power of his presence and how we can benefit from being in the presence of Christ,” said Father Meraz.

“Since we cannot see the face of Christ in this piece of bread, sometimes we begin to doubt,” Father Meraz said. “We need to remember our faith is what helps us to see beyond the appearance of bread and wine. Sight, touch, and taste will betray us, but only our hearing will help us in our faith. Our hearing reminds us that Jesus said, ‘This is my body.’”    

“Why?” is the question Father Edquist asked the youth to ask themselves to help find their purpose and mission in life.

“So many young people are unhappy with their lives,” said Father Edquist. “They have everything they could possibly need, yet there’s so much unhappiness today. Everyone knows what they have and knows how they got it, but they’re not asking ‘Why?’ Why do I want all this stuff, why do I want to be a doctor, teacher, father, mother? We’re losing the purpose of why we’re here.” 

When a person starts with the “what”, he suggested, they wander aimlessly. “Your whole life changes when you realize why God put you here; you find your purpose,” said Father Edquist.

Yurechko kicked off the youth retreat by asking the group “How do we know God is around us?” and asked the youth think of the blue skies and even themselves as examples. “He created everything. He made the invisible visible,” he explained. “We must have the eyes to see it. How do we get those eyes? Through the sacraments, scripture, and the Eucharist.”

Yurechko suggested that the presence of Jesus brings true happiness. He explained that the happiness that comes with a Christmas gift soon wears off. Conversely, “When we’re doing what God truly calls us to do, it’s amazing. There’s so much joy. But you have to listen. It may not be easy,” he said.

Father David Kime spoke to both groups on the seven virtues and their opposing vices. He explained if a person is struggling with a particular sin, the best way to overcome it is to act on the contrary - if greed is an issue, don’t focus on not being greedy, but focus on becoming more generous. “Virtue comes to us as a development of a habit that is good, with the assistance of grace,” he said. 

Retreats, Father Kime said, allow participants to step away from daily life to “evaluate and remember how much they love their faith. A retreat is an opportunity for a shot of energy, a burst of grace, to once again realize the joy that comes from living our faith well.

“If we have people growing in virtue and sanctity, a life of prayer, imitation of Christ, even if it’s just one small step every day, then we’re advancing the qualitative effort of the Church to minister,” he added.

Elijah Arnold, 12, said that he’d never been on a long retreat before and was glad he attended. He saw it as an opportunity to meet new people and learn different perspectives. “But we all have one thing connecting us together - Jesus,” said Arnold. “It’s important to set aside time to spend time with Jesus.”

Cousins Jhoseon and Mariana Ramos believe the retreat will help them grow stronger in their faith together. “It’s good to know someone. We are able to relate to someone which makes us stronger in our faith. We can talk about our faith and grow together as cousins and as family,” said Ramos.

Jhoseon said the retreat showed her “how I can do more in the world, even though I’m young.”

“Jesus’s presence is here today. There’s a lot of joy in my heart because Jesus is here,” said adult Leticia Haro. “We all know that Jesus is real, but once you hear it once again, it gets stronger.”  

Blanca Rojas, a member of QAS for nearly 10 years, said offering the retreat in Spanish for the first time was a blessing. Rojas feels the two groups sharing the day made it very special, creating a stronger sense of God’s presence. “It was good for the youth to see adults at the retreat. It sets a good example for the kids.”

Evelyn Ruiz Montero said, “It is beautiful to see the commitment of people trying to bring the word of the Lord, trying to be united, not because they’re English or Spanish, children or elderly, but as a family, as one body.”

High school and college students from the parish helped lead the small group activities, including siblings.

Luke and Claire Salyer. “Their answers (of the speakers) actually really helped me,” said Claire. “The joy is definitely a gift from God. The smiles are a sign of God’s presence. That’s the whole point of this retreat, an outward sign of his presence.”