SOUTH BRISTOL — It was drizzling, gray and cold outside, but Nicholas Smythe didn’t want to be anywhere else Oct. 22 than at Camp Cutler, near Naples. About 90 girls and boys, ages 10 to 18, had come here for the 55th Annual Diocese of Rochester Catholic Scouting Retreat Oct. 21-23.
“It’s not that great to sleep in,” Nicholas said of camping on the wet ground. “But it’s a nice place to calm down.”
Camping gets him in touch with God the creator, he noted.
“You don’t have the hustle and bustle of the city life,” he said. “It’s nature, not man-made. It’s something you have to go and see for yourself.”
Nicholas, 15, is a Boy Scout and a parishioner at St. Boniface Church in Rochester’s South Wedge. He noted that he lives near the spot where a boy only two years his junior recently was slain.
That death, he said, “hit close to home.”
However, he added that he and his Scouting friends have an alternative to life on the city’s sometimes dangerous streets. They regularly go on camping trips; help out by cleaning the grounds at their parish; collect food and clothing for the needy; and talk about what they share, including their Catholic faith. Scouting offers a safer environment, he said.
“It’s more friendly,” Nicholas said.
The retreat drew both Scouts who meet at Catholic parishes as well as Catholic Scouts who belong to troops that meet in such locations as public libraries or churches of other denominations. Given the amount of rain that fell during the retreat, many of the Scouts remarked that it was fitting that the theme for this year’s retreat was Noah’s Ark.
Participants were encouraged through presentations and discussions to reflect on the example set by the Old Testament figure, according to Rosemary Varga, a St. Boniface parishioner who chaired the retreat. Noah exemplifies how to respond to God, she said, pointing out that he spent years building an ark in a desert for a flood God told him was coming.
“He was a person who was able to listen to the word of God and not expect it to happen in a moment,” she said.
Michael Wynne, a Scout with Troop 163 at St. Rita’s Parish in Webster, led younger Scouts in group discussions about the theme, and acknowledged that he didn’t know if he could have handled the challenge Noah was presented.
“I think I’d have a real hard time,” the 16-year-old said. “I’d ask a lot of questions.”
However, Michael said there’s no question that Scouting has enhanced his faith and desire to serve the community. Michael has participated in such projects as leading the troop in a discussion about the church’s teaching against euthanasia. His troop has received every type of citation issued by the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, including the National Gold Medallion for excellence in Catholic Scouting in 2004.
Michael noted that he would be serving the following weekend at a Knights of Columbus meal and working at a St. Rita’s Halloween Party for children — all in his role as a Scout. Community service is a particularly fulfilling aspect of Scouting, he said.
“It makes me think of how many dedicated people are out there helping people, and you’re just adding on to it, making it so much better,” he said. “It’s the strength of everyone.”
Indeed, pick up most parish bulletins throughout the year, and you’ll see that Catholic Scouts are constantly involved in giving back to the church and the community.
Take Gina Middleton of Troop 452. The eighth-grader, who attends Rochester’s St. Augustine Church, said her troop has made toys for seeing-eye dogs that assist people who are blind or visually impaired. She has also traveled with her troop to area nursing homes to sing Christmas carols.
“I enjoy like knowing that I actually helped people,” Gina said. “You know you’re doing something good, and it’s fun, so it works out both ways.”
Jordan Culotta, 11, a parishioner of St. Charles Borromeo in Greece, worked last year with fellow Girl Scout Dehlia Drennon to spearhead a fundraising effort that helped improve the water-supply system in a Kenyan village. The girls were inspired to take on the project after a Kenyan priest serving at St. Charles talked about the need for the system, Jordan said. She added that it made her happy to help the Kenyans.
“It made me feel good because I was like helping them with something that we get every day,” she said.
Community service also can open one’s eyes to a world of people one might not otherwise notice, according to Chelsea Cicora, 14, a parishioner of St. Mary Our Mother Church in Horseheads.
“A lot of people think that older people are boring, but if you sat down and talked with them for awhile, you’d be amazed at how fast the time went,” said Chelsea, who has visited an area nursing home as a Girl Scout.
Attending the retreat with Chelsea were her friends Stephanie Kaysa, Lizz Mauri and Julia Himmelreich, all 14. Lizz added that she likes helping people.
“It just makes me feel happy,” she said.
Interestingly, Chelsea and Lizz’s friend, Julia, said she is Presbyterian, and their other friend, Stephanie, noted she isn’t affiliated with a church. But both girls said they were glad to be on the Catholic retreat, and Stephanie added that she was searching for spiritual answers.
“I used to believe that there wasn’t really a God,” Stephanie said. “Now I definitely believe there’s a power and that it’s an influential thing.”
Chelsea said the Noah’s Ark theme also had an impact on her.
“It taught me that if God asks you to do something, you should do it because he usually has a reason for you to do it,” she said.
And there’s a reason the diocese holds an annual Scouting retreat, according to Dan Servatius and Colleen Hauryski, who co-chair the diocesan Scouting committee.
“This is a part of youth ministry … and this retreat is a big part of that,” said Servatius, a parishioner at St. Joseph’s Church in Penfield. He added that troops located at parishes often award members religious emblems, and that Bishop Matthew H. Clark celebrates a special Mass with the Scouts every year.
Hauryski said that the retreat is valuable because it lets Catholic Scouts know there are dozens more like them throughout the diocese. With the world growing more morally challenging for today’s young people, Scouting plays a crucial role in forming their souls, she noted.
Meanwhile, Father Mickey McGrath, pastor of St. Columba/St. Patrick in Caledonia, said he served as chaplain for the retreat because he wants to promote priestly vocations and because Scouting emphasizes leadership development, faith formation and social outreach.
Most importantly, Varga said, combining Scouting and a church experience allows boys and girls the freedom to experience God without wondering what their peers will think of them.
“You have a whole weekend where they can talk about Jesus out loud,” she said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To learn more about Scouting in the Diocese of Rochester, visit www.dor.org and scroll down to the Youth Ministry link under Offices and Ministries.