By Howard Roberts
Imagine 36 young men in two groups of 18 dropped off at different points in the evening at the top of a hill in the middle of heavily forested Catoctin Mountain Park. The second group of night-hikers have just exited their mini-bus and are gazing on a nearly full moon, light shimmering from a sky seemingly scattered from one end to the other with stars of every shape and size. It’s blue black outside. When compared to the light at night in our cities, everything appears suspect, moving or resembling the backdrop to a scary movie drama.
There’s no need to hush the group, there are no conversations or discernable sounds being made. As the group gathers around the leader, you can hear, though barely, labored breathing with mumbled words from those not properly prepared for the cold. The fading red lights of the departing bus disappear behind the trees. The night seemed its darkest.
Then, as if cued, there was an apparent realization by most of what would be the focus of the Harambee Leadership Development Weekend: that the only light that can guide us in the way that we should go must come from above, from those around us, and from within. The official start of an intense series of mini-presentations – on decision-making, mental toughness and vocations – together with Park Ranger and U.S. Navy Seal-led hikes and talks, a fire-circle commissioning and closing liturgy, began with words from the center of our circle.
Those same words would become our refrain throughout the weekend: “Lord, how good it is that we are here.”
There comes a time in everyone’s life when one faces the sure reality that the situation at hand demands more than what we have. Can we agree, as a church, that today young people travel through an hour of time unlike any other era in human history? Our young people are required to explore compelling questions and tap into their personal genius just to survive. Youths today are forced to deal with complex and life-threatening questions daily; they must navigate through situations of terror, moral conflict as well as mental, emotional, physical and spiritual challenges, long before we who are adults did. As our young men begin to develop their identities it is critical that we present them with positive role models and tools that build confidence and maximize their success in life.
Together with our Catholic schools, the archdiocesan Department of Evangelization and the Vocations office, and dedicated pastors and youth ministry volunteers at Harambee-affiliated parishes citywide, joint initiatives encouraged by Bishop Denis J. Madden are being planned that challenge our youth to seek higher ground in every aspect of their lives. What are our youths to do and where can they get the necessary power to rise above the trials and superficial living in which the world is enticing them to participate?
The “Night Hike” was the opening effort of the Nov. 30-Dec. 2 weekend. Those young men, placed in an unfamiliar environment, were given instructions to “seek out the light.” After stops and starts, walking and talking together, they found the lights of the campsite and reflected later as part of the opening session entitled: “Unity Is Strength … division is weakness … sharing is wealth … seek out the light … because there you will find God.”
Youths today can learn the ways of “overcoming” from our ancestors who realized God’s will for them. Youths today can seek higher ground through physical, mental and spiritual strengthening with other young people. Our youths today can tap into their God-given genius and discover not only tools for living but also their purpose for living.
“ There are two hard things in life. One is to know your purpose and the other which is harder is not to corrupt your purpose once you know it.”
– Gabriel Okara
Howard Roberts is coordinator of Harambee for archdiocesan Office of African American Ministries.
Copyright (c) Dec. 28, 2012 CatholicReview.org