The Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus hosts 350 young people and their chaperones for a week of work and worship
By Emily Booker
In June, hundreds of teenagers from across the country packed their bags, loaded buses and vans, and left home for a week-long mission trip. Their destination? The Alive in You camp in Knoxville.
The Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus hosted 350 teenagers and their chaperones June 19-24 for a week of work and worship. Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga hosted Alive in You camps for several years in the past, but this was the first year Alive in You has been in Knoxville.
Alive in You is a retreat and mission trip rolled into one. Youth groups spend their day volunteering with different organizations throughout the city. In the evenings, they come together for a program of games, talks, and music. There is also daily Mass and time for adoration and confession.
Jim Weir, founder of Alive in You along with his wife, Heather, said that the program was created to bridge the gap between spiritually focused retreats and work-focused mission trips.
“We combine the elements of a work camp with that of a Catholic conference, kind of having those two experiences for our participants in one week. The goal is to instill in the teens a heart for service, to educate them more about our Catholic faith, and to send them home with some fi re to do some good in their own community,” he said.
The theme of the week was “Everlasting” and focused on the paschal mystery.
“In our evening sessions, you can really get a vibe for the whole camp. The vibe at this one has just been energy, excitement, but also, I would say with this group, reverence, too.
“And then each parish has an opportunity to come together every night after our big session is over to kind of break out as a parish and meet and talk about the day, so it makes it like a more mini-retreat within that,” Mr. Weir explained. “It’s a pretty cool opportunity for them to come together in parish time every night and process everything.”
The youth from St. John the Evangelist Parish in Streamwood, Ill., have taken the mission of Alive in You to heart, devoting their week to hard work, deep prayer, and connecting with one another.
St. John the Evangelist was one of 15 parishes participating in Alive in You that week. The youth from the parish had groups working with Knoxville Area Rescue Ministries’ distribution center, Special Spaces, and Restoration House.
Chaperones overseeing the group at Restoration House had to urge the teenagers inside for lunch. Despite the midday summer heat, the teens wanted to keep working, landscaping the property for the single parents and children who live there.
Restoration House provides transitional housing, financial literacy training, an ally team, and other resources to help low-income, single-parent families get on their feet.
Melissa Warder, a chaperone and adult leader for the St. John the Evangelist youth, said that representatives of Restoration House explained the program to the teens so they would understand who would be benefiting from their hard work.
“We tell these teens all week that it might just seem like landscaping, but it’s going to make a whole lot of difference when these families come home and when they are trying to invite more families to come and participate in this program and see the work that they’ve put in and how well it turned out.
“It’s so important. These people are paying rent, and they are expected to take care of their house. They are supported in so many different ways with the ally teams and with the housing program and just making them feel dignified. They prepare them for moving past this and also finding a safe place for their children.”
This year was Hannah Jenig’s first time attending Alive in You. She said that while her favorite part of Alive in You is the evening music and witness talks, she has enjoyed volunteering and learning more about the difference Restoration House makes.
“One thing that stuck out to me at Restoration House is that they call it The Village, so instead of putting it out there, ‘Oh, this is a restoration house for all these single moms and dads,’ they call it a village, so it just keeps the dignity for the moms and fathers, and it’s just a really nice thing,” she said.
“What we’ve been doing is we’ve been planting all around the facility to make it look pretty. It’s going to look really, really nice, especially for the kids that are here, because they’re coming from these horrible situations, and then they can come to what looks like a home and something that’s beautiful,” camper Angelina Furlan said. It was her fourth year participating in Alive in You.
“My favorite part of Alive in You is that they can bring so many churches together, and I can see so many different people from across the country that are my age and believe the same thing I do. I think that’s just incredible,” she said.
“I remember on my first mission trip, we were all saying the Our Father, and I looked around me, and I was like, ‘There are hundreds of other people my age that believe the exact same thing I do,’ and I think that is so cool.”
Joseph Stahler has also participated in Alive in You for four years. He said his favorite part of Alive in You is the bonding that happens in the youth group from working together all day and having time to share in the evening.
“Every night we have a program where we get to listen to a Catholic band play a bunch of their songs, Catholic songs, and we have a thing called parish time, which is where our own youth group is able to talk about the day, because each day we have a theme, and we get to talk about it. We get to have a couple witness talks. Overall, I think it helps us get to know each other and not just about others around us but our faith, too.”
Ms. Warder said that their parish has been participating in Alive in You for the past six years, and the teens always get something out of it.
“I think it is amazing to come to Alive in You . . . to see so many teens come together and share their Catholic faith together. They grow together in friendship. They grow together in their faith, and they grow closer to God each and every day. Every day they’re coming here and doing service projects voluntarily, working really hard, skipping lunchtime, just wanting to volunteer and please other people as well as every night getting serious during prayer time and worship and witness talks and really opening themselves up to each other,” she said.
She noted that the teens return to their parish with a deeper desire to serve and learn more about their faith.
“We always call it ‘on fire.’ By the time we leave Alive in You, the teens are on fire, they want to get involved, they want to share.”
Mr. Weir said he was amazed by the beautiful cathedral campus and welcoming community in Knoxville.
“It’s just been amazing to watch everybody here welcome us into the community, for the school to host us, and for the cathedral to host us. It’s been awesome. It’s been a great experience.
“It’s been really cool to just see how willing the diocese is to allow us to do everything in here—daily Mass, reconciliation, adoration. It’s been an amazing experience to have a space like this for all of our participants. It’s been great. And it just enhances their experience with us, which is service and getting to know God and getting to know their faith better.”
Scott Barron, campus events coordinator for the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, helped the weeklong camp take place at the cathedral.
“I thought the week was a tremendous success,” he said. “The group brought a lot of enthusiasm and energy onto our campus. It was inspiring to see them interact with [Bishop Richard F. Stika and Cardinal Justin Rigali]. I feel like this was a home run for our campus, Alive in You, and the organizations they came to help.”
Mr. Barron was happy that so many of the coordinators and campers enjoyed worshiping in the new cathedral. The partnership was so successful that Alive in You has already agreed to return next year.
“Everyone was impressed by the cathedral. Even their accompanying clergy was profuse in their praise for our worship space. We were proud to host them and with the completion of the parish hall we look forward to being a destination for our community and others around the country,” he said.