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Students seek and find God on retreat

Written by Darren Pereira, Youth Speak News, Catholic Register
Friday, 01 February 2013 13:01
Grade 11 students from Brebeuf College School in Toronto attend the Kairos VII retreat in Pickering last fall.
When Marc Viado, a Grade 11 student at Toronto’s Brebeuf College School, first heard of the school’s Kairos VII retreat, he did not expect much except to be told what to do with his faith. He saw the school’s semi-annual retreat as just another opportunity to skip school.
Before the retreat, his faith was not very strong. He rarely lived his Catholic beliefs, doubted God’s existence and went to Mass occasionally only because his family attended. As well, he had a strained relationship with his parents and did not know who to trust in his circle of friends.
However, as Viado heard more about how eye-opening and life-changing Kairos was for the students who participated last year, he became eager to attend the retreat and wanted to know if God was real. Today, he wants to go back.
“I thought it wouldn’t really change me,” Viado said, “but I thought wrong.”
Along with 29 other students, Viado took a great leap of faith when he chose to attend Kairos VII late last October for three days at the Manresa Jesuit Spiritual Retreat Centre in Pickering, Ont. Every Kairos retreat is empowered by the fact that no student knows what occurs when beginning the retreat, and so each person must place absolute trust in God, the staff and the student leaders.
As opposed to the Greek word kronos, which refers to regular time, the Greek word kairos refers to God’s time. In reflection of the Jesuit tradition from which this retreat developed, Kairos allows retreatants to step out of the regular routines of their lives and to recognize God’s presence in their daily encounters and situations.
Students had heard about Kairos, but retreat events are purposely kept secret from participants, which generated anticipation among them. During the retreat, anticipation turned into participation. Since students did not know what would happen, they did not worry about the next activity. Instead, they were given a chance to live in the moment, to experience and live in kairos rather than kronos.
Viado was grateful that he knew nothing about the retreat before he attended, and felt that it made his experience much better. “By not telling anyone, it makes people really think,” he said. “Only those who are willing to find out what kind of a change (Kairos) makes are going to go.” Viado, like his classmates, will not reveal the details of the retreat.
After Kairos VII, one student began praying for strangers he saw on the bus. Another student started to read Scripture regularly. And another chose to attend Sunday Mass for the first time in three years.
For Viado, the effects of Kairos VII extended to his relationships with friends and family. Before Kairos, Viado felt that his parents were not supportive of his plans for the future, nor appreciative of his extra-curricular involvement. However, looking back on the effect that the retreat had on his life, he said, “My relationship (with) my parents (is) a lot closer. I’ve come to realize how much they have given me, and that I should strive to do my best in anything I do to make them happy.” His relationships with his friends have strengthened as well, and he realized that he could also trust those who attended Kairos VII with him.
One of the biggest effects that Kairos had on Viado was on his faith life. He realized that he can trust in the Lord more now than he ever has. Although he struggled to believe in God’s existence before the retreat, he said afterwards that “God is real, and He will always be there for you in times of need.”
Rob Gregoris, one of the directors of Brebeuf ’s Kairos retreats, is always in awe when he sees the amazing things that God works through these retreats. “It allows students to experience and witness to Christ in a real, tangible way,” he said. “It gives rise to faith-filled opportunities, such as the Youth Ministry.”
Knowing that the retreatants of Kairos VIII, which takes place in April 2013, will come from his grade, Viado recommended that anyone open to the experience should go. “If you’re willing to take Kairos seriously, no matter how impossible it may seem to change, I guarantee that you will. Kairos will be the wake-up call from God.”
(Darren Pereira, 17, is a Grade 12 student at Brebeuf College School in Toronto, Ont.)