Retreat helps young adults support one another in faith

By Enedelia J. Obregón
Senior Correspondent

Statistics show many young adult Catholics struggle with maintaining their faith after they receive the sacrament of confirmation. Once in college or on their own, they may drift away from the faith because they cannot find ways to grow and nurture their relationship with Christ and the church. However, Awakening retreats, which are now present at many universities and colleges, seek to help young adults (18-30) connect with their faith. 
In the Diocese of Austin, Warrior Awakening at Central Texas College in Killeen is the latest to bring the retreat to young adults.
“It really opened my eyes,” said Jason Gee, 19, who was raised non-denominational but was never baptized by his Baptist mother or Catholic father.
Gee was so moved by the retreat experience that he enrolled in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) program at Holy Family Parish in Copperas Cove this spring.
“It’s a great booster to get you to the right place,” Gee said. “It really got me to where I needed to be.”
Having young adults minister to other young adults makes a big difference, Gee said. Everyone was welcoming, supportive and nonjudgmental.
“Times are different,” he said. “It’s easier for the younger generation to be with people who see at eye level with us rather than older people who see things differently.”
He was impressed by the communal aspect of the retreat, with people coming from El Paso and Arizona to attend and to help. He also likes the focus on communion and the fact that if a priest leaves a parish the Mass will continue with no changes.
“In the Baptist church everything changes every time there is a new pastor,” he said.
It was Lina Pérez Tuiasosopo, 22, who brought Awakening to Holy Family Parish. She attended Raider Awakening at Texas Tech in Lubbock at the encouragement of her parents, who had attended when they were students at Texas Tech. She took some friends with her, including Kathrine Myers, 19, and Mandy Horton, 24.
“It changed my life,” said Tuiasosopo. “I was not into church that much.”
Attending the retreat opened her eyes as to how big the church is and how many people her age “are on fire for God,” she said.
“The church is the Body of Christ and we are all intertwined and connected,” she said. “This is something bigger than myself.”
Tuiasosopo said the group –– many of whom are fellow students at Central Texas College and have family in the military –– helps keep her grounded and through her struggles.
Myers, 19, was looking for something to join after attending World Youth Day in Brazil in 2013. Upon her return, she was “on fire” but found no programs for young adults to keep that fire ablaze.
Raider Awakening, she said, “was life changing.” Upon her return, her then-pastor asked her to become a confirmation catechist.
“I felt so blessed to be teaching the future of our church,” she said.
Horton was raised Catholic in a military family that stopped attending after the birth of her younger brother because it was a challenge to get to military chapel. Upon their return to Fort Hood, she started attending church by herself at age 16. The only sacrament she had received was baptism.
Young adults, Horton said, experience a lot of struggles and temptations. It is important to have peers with whom to talk and not judge and to “be there.”
Awakening was the final push she needed to get into the RCIA process. In April, she was confirmed and received the Eucharist, which she realizes carries a deeper meaning as an adult.
“It meant so much more when I was sealed with the Holy Spirit” at confirmation, she said. “I began to (cry)! It was so beautiful and I was so happy.”
Others have joined the small group that meets Mondays at Holy Family. Caleb Miles, 20, was not raised Catholic. His father had been a chapel assistant at Fort Hood, where he heard a lot of negative things about the Church.
“Everyone here has been so accepting,” Miles said. “The stereotypes were all wrong. My view on religion and that of the church are the same and I hunger to learn more.”
Paul Bolicki, 27, said the Awakening exceeded his expectations.
“This really helped me when my dad got cancer,” Bolicki said. “It really helps make things better.”
Kevin Plude, 26, is a platoon leader in the signal corp. He grew up attending Catholic schools in southern Indiana and graduated from Notre Dame University. 
The retreat and the group, he said, provide him a sense of community and fellowship.
“It’s just good to sit and reflect and pray,” he said. “We get so busy we forget to pray the way we should. When you are busy and around people from different backgrounds, you kind of adapt to the easiest way to do things and you start fading away. They are not bad people. But if you want solid faith, you have to seek it outside the post.”
Keishla Arocho-Pérez, 20, was baptized Catholic in her native Puerto Rico. Upon moving to Central Texas, she decided she wanted to be closer to God.
After attending the Raider Awakening, Aroco-Pérez said she was on a “Jesus high;” she started RCIA as soon as she returned from the retreat.
“I want to be accepted into the church and receive the Eucharist,” Aroco-Pérez said, “I can hardly wait for the day. There’s a hole in my heart and I want to fill it with him.”
There are several Awakening retreats scheduled across the diocese. 
● Central Texas College: Nov. 6-8, Holy Family Parish in Copperas Cove, www.warriorsinfaith.com/warrior-awakening/.
● Texas A&M University: Oct. 23-25, www.aggiecatholic.org/awakening.
● Texas State University: Feb. 25-27, www.txstatecatholic.org/bobcat-awakening.
● Baylor University: March 27-19, www.baylorcatholic.org/bear-awakening.
● University of Texas at Austin: Oct. 16-18, www.utcatholic.org/awakening.