SOUTH BRISTOL — From a distance, the scene in a field at Camp Cutler Sept. 23 looked fairly normal — more than a dozen young people had gathered to play what appeared to be a simple game of soccer.
Upon closer inspection, however, it became apparent that the youths weren’t playing soccer, and their game was far from ordinary. Sounds of prayer were audible from the field’s left side, where a young man was reciting the Our Father. Every once in a while his words were drowned out by the sounds of the children and teens running, kicking the ball and occasionally yelling something about a sinner.
These young people were participants in the Diocese of Rochester’s 56th annual Catholic Scouting Retreat for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts between the ages of 10 and 17. They were playing “Jesus Ball,” a game developed by some of the older Scouts who were looking for a way to incorporate their faith into a sporting activity, said Rosemary Varga, chairperson of the retreat and a member of St. Boniface Parish in Rochester.
“Basically it’s a combination of kickball, soccer and football,” Varga said.
In Jesus Ball, the ball is referred to as a sinner, and two teams of players, or “saints,” compete to see who can put the sinner into “hell,” or the goals, the most times. The referees are called apostles, and anyone who fouls out has to go to the penalty area, called purgatory, and as a penance must read a prayer aloud before returning to the game.
“It’s a way to talk about your religion a little differently and have fun with it,” Varga said.
The Scouting retreat, which was held Sept. 22-24, was more than just fun and games, however. Its primary goal is to encourage Scouts to feel comfortable talking about their faith, Varga said. Michael Wynne, 17, has participated in each retreat since 2000, and says the event has helped him realize his faith is not something to be hidden.
“This has really made me more open in my youth group at church. I’m used to talking about my faith,” said Michael, a member of Boy Scout Troop 163 from St. Rita Parish in Webster.
The retreat’s theme, “Why Jesus? Why, Jesus?” was born during the retreat committee’s brainstorming sessions. Members created the theme by combining the suggested themes of the Garden of Eden, original sin, redemption and Resurrection.
“We asked, ‘Why Jesus?'” Varga recalled. “Why did he happen to us, and then why was it Jesus? Why was it him that redeemed us?”
Each activity that took place during the week — with the exception of Jesus Ball — was directly related to that central theme, she added. Retreat staff hosted a garden party the first night of the retreat, and participants were tempted with plates of dark chocolate.
The chocolate looked delicious but was so dark that it actually tasted bitter, said Drew Smith, an adult leader with Troop 163. The garden party helped participants understand what happened in the Garden of Eden and the way sins or forbidden things or actions can be deceptively tempting.
“Even though it looks tempting, and even though it smells tempting, the end result is going to be different,” Smith said.
The next morning, the Scouts split into groups and went to different activity stations. At one of the stations, Scouts made clay tablets and expanded their knowledge of the Ten Commandments, said Kelly Stewart, leader of Girl Scout Troop 518 from Holy Family School in Elmira. The activity opened the Scouts’ minds and hearts to new ways of thinking about the commandments, especially “Thou shalt not kill,” she said.
“It’s not just about shooting somebody. Thou shalt not kill with mean words. Thou shalt not kill someone’s self-esteem,” Stewart said.
At another activity station, Scouts learned about false idols, or things that keep them from concentrating on God, said Adam Stewart, 14, a member of Boy Scout Troop 36 in Tioga Center. They built miniature idols to represent these things and burned them in the campfire later. Christina Musshafen, 13, also a member of Troop 518, said she enjoyed making a terrarium and learning how to take care of the earth.
Throughout the weekend Scouts also participated in “The Prophecies Trail” where they matched prophecies from the Old Testament with the New Testament Bible passages about the prophecies’ fulfillment. They also could make rosaries and earn rosary-related patches during their free time.
A new addition to this year’s retreat was a Living Stations of the Cross presentation by several of the older Scouts. It was supposed to take place outdoors and progress up a hill, where the Crucifixion would be acted out, but a steady rain forced the event to take place inside the camp’s dining hall. Rob Layer, youth minister at Our Mother of Sorrows Parish in Greece and youth-ministry representative on the diocesan Catholic Committee on Scouting, narrated the event from the point of view of Simon of Cyrene.
“You may not come face to face with the man that died for us on the cross, but you see him every day, with each person that you come in contact with,” Layer said at the presentation’s conclusion. “Never forget, and never stop asking the question, ‘Why did that man have to die for us? Why, Jesus?'”