Introducing Annunciation Heights

New camp seeks to create new traditions for youth and families

Aaron Lambert

 

Nestled in the Rocky Mountains and resting in the shadow of Long’s Peak, a new adventure for Catholic youth and families awaits.

Annunciation Heights is a new Catholic youth and family camp located just south of Estes Park in the Archdiocese of Denver. Acquired late last year, the four-lodge, 188-bed camp will serve as home for new summer youth and family camps, spring and fall outdoor lab programs, and year-round youth, college and parish ministry retreats.  The hope is for Annunciation Heights is to provide a place for visitors to get away from the hustle and bustle of life to gather in a beautiful setting only Colorado can offer, be served by a great staff and ultimately, grow closer to Christ.

“At the very core of everything, we’re trying to provide a beautiful, adventurous, and sacred setting for youth and young adults, parish groups and families to be brought into a deeper friendship with Jesus,” said Kyle Mills, Executive Director of Annunciation Heights.  “Our camp offers all the adventurous elements kids will love; a zip line, a lake with fishing, paddle boarding, and canoeing; a low and high ropes course and climbing wall, just to name a few, but most of all, I believe our camp will make a difference in the lives of young people because we intend to shower them with the love of Christ.”

The name of the camp was chosen deliberately because of when the camp was discovered – during the Archdiocesan consecration to Jesus through Mary.  Mary’s example of openness and responsiveness to God’s plan for her life is what Mills hopes the camp can emulate.

“What the name does is it begins telling the story of Christ and the story of every believer,” Mills explained. “If you think about it, the Divine Messenger comes to a teenage girl, at a particular place in Israel, at a particular point in history and says, ‘The Lord is with you’. Presenting the sublime reality that Lord is truly with each of us will be a special point emphasis at Annunciation Heights.

“The mystery [of the Annunciation] helps introduce what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, exemplified most of all by the Blessed Mother who demonstrates by her faith and docility how to respond to the Holy Spirit speaking into our lives: ‘Let it be done according to your word’.  Mary’s simple trust and total surrender served as the launching point for the entire gospel and sets the example for us as well.”

Same legacy, new traditions

Annunciation Heights is conveniently located two miles down the road from Camp St. Malo, the old archdiocesan youth camp founded by Monsignor Joseph Bosetti in 1916 and famously visited by St. John Paul II in 1993. The camp was ravaged by a fire in 2011, and while there were plans to rebuild the retreat center there, a 2013 mudslide foiled them.

However, the iconic Chapel on the Rock still stands and remains as beautiful as ever, and Annunciation Heights will be utilizing the space in its operations. Mills expressed how providential it was that Annunciation Heights is located so close to Camp St. Malo, “As we begin to develop a new summer youth camp in 2019, we do not need to reinvent the wheel, but can draw upon the legacy of two great men who walked here before us and laid for us a solid foundation on which to build.”

Monsignor Bosetti and St. John Paul II were both faithful and holy men who were committed to the youth of their day, were both avid outdoorsmen, and knew the enormous impact that bringing youth and families to God’s creation has.  Mills is hopeful that Annunciation Heights can carry on the legacy started by them and become a source of new traditions.

Annunciation Heights is a new youth and family camp in the Archdiocese of Denver just outside of Estes Park . (Photo by Jason Weinrich)

“Based on their legacy, we want Annunciation Heights to create new youth and family camping traditions for the Archdiocese of Denver,” Mills said.

Annunciation Heights is making it a point to build not only a dynamic summer youth camping program, but also family camps.  “As Catholic parents, my wife, Amberly, and I see how much good it does for us and our kids when we are given an opportunity to pray and play with other Catholic families.  Jesus himself often withdrew from the frenetic pace of his public ministry to the wilderness.  That’s what we hope Annunciation Heights will be – a place where youth and families can withdraw from the normal routine of things and go to the wilderness to be refreshed by the Lord with other like-minded friends and families.”

Annunciation Heights is opening its first two family camps this July and will follow next summer with new summer youth camps for boys and girls.

‘Authentic Christian hospitality’

Annunciation Heights has been in operation since mid-March, and has already hosted several groups.  In August, the camp is also beginning a missionary program for young adults to come for a year-long mission to lead and serve at the camp. The missionary program will be the “heart and soul” of what the camp is all about, Mills said.

The missionaries will receive a robust faith formation and will simultaneously serve guests in a tangible way. They’re currently seeking applicants for the AIM program.

“We’ll be given an opportunity to go deeper with these individuals,” Mills said. “They, in many ways, will be the frontline people our guests will encounter.”

“There is nothing more powerful than living and serving in a close Christian community,” he continued. “We want the culture of the camp to be anchored in prayer, to really demonstrate authentic Christian life and hospitality.”

To aid in this endeavor, the Archdiocese is sending a full-time priest, Father Salvador Sanchez, to live and serve as the camp’s chaplain.  “We are so blessed to have Father Salvador.  We will then be able to center the life of the camp around the daily Eucharist,” Mills said.

A camp with open arms

While Annunciation Heights is primarily a Catholic camp, other groups from different Christian churches and denominations will be “absolutely” welcome to use it, Mills said. In fact, its picturesque location just outside of Estes Park makes it an ideal spot for any sort of group to hold a retreat.

“I can’t help but hope we become a place where true ecumenism happens; we don’t sacrifice in any way our Catholic identity, but rather, clarify and proclaim it respectfully to those who come to the camp,” Mills said, a former Evangelical Protestant.

Annunciation Heights will also be the new location for the ever-popular JPII Outdoor Lab program.  Beginning it’s 11th year of operation, and under the dynamic leadership of its director, Julie Morrison,  JPII Outdoor Lab will continue to serve all the Catholic schools of the Archdiocese, and will even serve some public schools for their outdoor education classes.

Annunciation Heights will serve a variety of guests, hosting and providing programmed camps and retreats throughout the year. No matter who stays at the camp and experiences the beauty of the natural wonders that surround it, the mission remains the same.

“Youth and families are particularly hungry for a place to encounter Jesus, and hopefully in a way that is tangible,” Mills said.  “At the very heart of everything, we want to make Jesus known.”

Annunciation Heights

Book now: annunciationheights.org
Or call 970-586-5689

COMING UP: Seeking justice, transparency and accountability, archdiocese voluntarily enters agreement with Colorado attorney general

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Seeking justice, transparency and accountability, archdiocese voluntarily enters agreement with Colorado attorney general

Initiatives include independent investigation and independent reparations program

Mark Haas

With a desire to “shine the bright light of transparency” on the tragedy of sexual abuse of minors within the Church, Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila has announced that the three Colorado dioceses have voluntarily partnered with Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser to conduct an independent review of the dioceses’ files and policies related to the sexual abuse of children.

In a joint news conference on February 19 at the attorney general’s office, it was also announced that the three dioceses will voluntarily fund an independent reparations program for survivors of such abuse.

“The damage inflicted upon young people and their families by sexual abuse, especially when it’s committed by a trusted person like a priest, is profound,” said Archbishop Aquila. “While this process will certainly include painful moments and cannot ever fully restore what was lost, we pray that it will at least begin the healing process.”

It is well known that child sexual abuse is a societal problem that demands attention and action,” said Weiser. “I am pleased the Church has recognized the need for transparency and reparations for victims.”

Discussions for these two initiatives began last year with former Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, and then finalized recently with Weiser. Both Coffman and Weiser praised the dioceses’ willingness to address this issue.

“It is well known that child sexual abuse is a societal problem that demands attention and action,” said Weiser. “I am pleased the Church has recognized the need for transparency and reparations for victims.”

Coffman added: “Childhood sexual abuse is not specific to one institution or to the Catholic Church. The spotlight is on the Catholic Church, but this abuse is indicative of what has happened in other institutions. We want to shine a light on what has happened.

“[The dioceses] demonstrated their commitment to acknowledging past abuse by priests and moving forward with honesty and accountability.”

The independent file review will be handled by Robert Toyer, a former U.S. Attorney for Colorado. His final report is expected to be released in the fall of 2019 and will include a list of diocesan priests with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors, along with a review of the dioceses’ handling of the allegations. The report will also include an evaluation of the dioceses’ current policies and procedures, something that was not included in other states’ reviews, such as the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report.

“We in Colorado have found our own way in the wake of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report,” said Weiser. “We have a set of dioceses here who came to the table to develop appropriate solutions that are collaborative, committed to transparency and put victims first.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, alongside Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, speaks during a press conference announcing a comprehensive joint agreement with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office to conduct an independent review of the dioceses’ files and policies related to the sexual abuse of children at the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center on February 19, 2019, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Archdiocese of Denver)

“This is not a criminal investigation. This is an independent inquiry with the full cooperation of the Catholic Church,” said Weiser.

Since 1991, the Archdiocese of Denver has had a policy of mandatory reporting of all allegations to local authorities. The procedures were further strengthened by the 2002 Dallas Charter to include comprehensive background checks, zero-tolerance policies, safe environment training, and training for children as well.

“This independent file review presents an opportunity for an honest and fair evaluation of the Church in Colorado’s historical handling of the sexual abuse of minors by priests,” said Archbishop Aquila.  “We are confident in the steps we have taken to address this issue and that there are no priests in active ministry currently under investigation.”

We have a set of dioceses here who came to the table to develop appropriate solutions that are collaborative, committed to transparency and put victims first.”

The independent reparations program will be run by two nationally recognized claims administration experts, Kenneth R. Feinberg and Camille S. Biros, who will review individual cases and make financial awards to victims who elect to participate. The victims are free to accept or reject the award, but the Colorado dioceses are bound by what the administrators decide.

The program will have oversight provided by an independent committee chaired by former U.S. Senator Hank Brown. More details will be announced in the coming months, and the program will officially open closer to the release of the final report.

This is similar to a program instituted by former Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput in 2006. Archbishop Aquila said it is important for local Catholics to know the program will be funded by archdiocesan reserves, with no money being taken from ministries or charities at parishes, annual diocesan appeals, or Catholic Charities.

“With humility and repentance, we hope the programs announced today offer a path to healing for survivors and their families,” Archbishop Aquila said.

And acknowledging how painful this has been for everyone in the Church, Archbishop Aquila said he hopes this is step towards restoring confidence among the faithful.

“Helping people to restore their trust, to live their faith, that is essential,” said Archbishop Aquila. “And to help them have a deeper encounter with Jesus Christ, so that is my goal in all of this. I know that healing is possible in Jesus Christ.”

For a copy of the full agreement and a detailed FAQ, visit archden.org/promise.