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Adios, Zoom; Hello, ‘awe-inspiring’ Camp Emmaus

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SAN DIEGO — This year, it’s back to normal for Camp Emmaus.

The Diocese of San Diego’s annual youth leadership camp is returning to Whispering Winds Catholic Camp in the Cuyamaca mountains as a multi-day, overnight experience.

“It’s three years in the making,” Maricruz Flores, director of the Office for Youth and Young Adult Ministry, said of the camp, which will be held from June 20 to June 24.

Though it was never canceled, even at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Camp Emmaus was retooled significantly in the past two years to prevent possible spread of the coronavirus.

In 2020, it was presented as a series of six online sessions conducted through the videoconferencing app Zoom. Last year, it was held in person, but as separate day camps at two sites – Mission San Luis Rey Parish in Oceanside and St. Catherine Laboure Parish in Clairemont.

Plans for a return to Whispering Winds for the first time since 2019 began in earnest around the start of the new year, said Flores, whose office sponsors the annual camp for high school students who currently serve or have been asked to serve as members of the core teams of their parish youth groups.

Pat Clasby, who leads youth ministry at St. Patrick Parish in Carlsbad, has been the coordinator of Camp Emmaus since it began in 2003. He admits that the prospect of bringing it back as an in-person, overnight event this year left him “a little choked up.”

But back-to-normal doesn’t mean pretending that a global pandemic and its psychological, emotional and spiritual effects never happened.

“What we’ve seen in our parishes this year tells me teens will be happy to be together, but also unsure how to react at times,” said Clasby, who will be bringing about 20 youth and two or three adult chaperones from his parish.

Flores acknowledged that “a lot of issues” have come up in the lives of the camps’ teenage participants, as well as for youth ministers and chaperones, since the emergence of COVID-19. So, some flexibility will be required.

Emerging from two years of the virus, Flores said, participants will be free “to talk a little bit more about mental health or their emotions throughout the pandemic” if they need to, and leaders will accept that teens may be more reticent at times.

About 170 teens are expected to attend this year’s camp, where the theme will be “Living Justice, Proclaiming Peace.”

The schedule includes Masses, communal prayer, and opportunities for Eucharistic adoration and the sacrament of reconciliation, as well as keynote speakers, witness talks, time for both large- and small-group discussions, skits, games and an ice cream social.

Workshops will be offered on four separate tracks: first-timers, veterans, young adults and musicians.

Clasby said there are several things that make Camp Emmaus such a special event. He said organizers offer “a number of different ways to experience our faith at camp” and “empower the youth to take ownership of leading many of those experiences.”

“Any of these experiences on their own are nice, but when shared in community over the course of a week with peers from around the diocese, it tends to be an awe-inspiring experience,” he said.

Nicky Knuff, the youth minister at St. Charles Borromeo Parish, is a Camp Emmaus alumnus. Attending the camp three times as a teen showed him that “the Church is bigger than one’s local parish,” and played “a monumental role” in helping him to discover a calling in ministry.

“I’m a big believer that we can do good things by ourselves, but we can do great things with one another,” he said. “We are made for relationship. We are made for community. We aren’t made for isolation. We have all worked very hard to maneuver through a global pandemic as best we can, but things like Camp Emmaus can only reach (their) full potential when we’re all together as one.”

Registration for this year’s Camp Emmaus will close on Friday, June 3. The cost to attend is $325 per person; scholarships are available. Youth register through their parish youth ministry.

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