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Quo Vadis offers a taste of seminary life

Zoey Maraist
Arlington Catholic Herald

Quo Vadis feature

Deacon James Waalkes talks with Quo Vadis campers. Photo by Zoey Maraist.

In between tossing a frisbee, chowing down on barbeque sandwiches and sharing time in prayer, the 116 high school boys at Quo Vadis will get to know 27 diocesan seminarians. Many campers will come to realize that the future priests aren’t unapproachable or strange, but a lot like them. Through informative talks, prayer and new friendships, the teens hope to learn how to discern the path God is calling them to.

That’s the idea behind the weeklong summer discernment camp and retreat for young men that the diocese has hosted since 2006 at Mount St. Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md. Translated from Latin, the words quo vadis mean, where are you going. A similar camp for young women, Fiat, will be held July 14-19.

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge opened the camp by celebrating Mass for the campers and their families in the Immaculate Conception Chapel July 7. He thanked the parents for bringing their sons and the teens for spending their week at Quo Vadis. “I am confident that if your ears, hearts and eyes are open, you will leave stronger in your faith and with a better understanding of God’s plan for you,” Bishop Burbidge said. “In light of what Jesus said in today’s Gospel — ‘the harvest is abundant, and the laborers are few’ — we must realize that those words also apply today, to our diocese and in our church. We need more laborers, we need more devoted holy, faithful and joyful priests.”

Some young men may feel unworthy to be priests, knowing their sins and failures, said Bishop Burbidge. Others may be distracted by material things and worldly concerns. Some may be afraid to face ridicule and suffering. He urged the campers to remember that, in the words of St. Paul, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. “(God) wants to use you as his instruments to touch the hearts and lives of his people,” said Bishop Burbidge. “And he only asks that you trust in his plan.”

Nicholas Reilly, a homeschooled rising senior from Holy Spirit Church in Annandale, doesn’t know yet whether he’s called to the priesthood or married life. But he’s grateful Quo Vadis has given him a chance to reflect on his future. “I’ve thought a lot about my vocation. It’s really been a big question for me,” he said. “Talks and the activities last year provided a lot of insight into the different vocations, with not just the seminarians but also somebody who was married who gave a talk about married life, and somebody who was a (religious) brother.”

One of Reilly’s favorite memories was playing volleyball in one of the many sports tournaments the campers sign up for. “We were named the Kittens and none of us knew each other, but we pushed through it and it was a great experience,” he said. “We were kind of an underdog team with Deacon (James) Waalkes as our head. We almost won it all. Almost.”

John Paul Vander Woude, a rising senior at Seton School in Manassas and a parishioner of Holy Trinity Church in Gainesville, said being at camp last year improved his prayer life. “We say the Liturgy of the Hours (at camp) and I started saying that a lot more afterward. (It) helped me develop a sense of praying throughout the day. It also made me realize when you say the morning offering, that's offering up your whole day to God,” he said.

As the nephew of a priest, Father Thomas P. Vander Woude, pastor of Holy Trinity, Vander Woude feels he has more experience being around priests and seminarians than most guys his age. But he’s glad Quo Vadis provides this opportunity to his peers.

“I just really love getting to know all the seminarians. They’re totally normal and really fun to be around,” he said. “It’s a lot of good fraternal time. I have more friends coming this year, so it’ll be nice to have deep talks about the faith.”

Zoey Maraist
Arlington Catholic Herald