Mountain retreat reminds kids they’re unique

At a time in their lives when influences are at work to pull them away from the Lord, hundreds of middle school students encountered him face-to-face during a mountaintop experience Feb. 14-16 in stunning and snowy Rocky Mountain National Park.

“You’re hearing about God inside, then you go outside and see him,” John Dowling, 13, an eighth-grader at Our Lady of Lourdes School and youth group member, said of the surrounding mountain landscape.

The annual Mountain Madness retreat drew nearly 700 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders to the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, combining peaceful prayer time with “high energy speakers, dynamic worship, fellowship and adoration to help ignite a passion for Jesus in young people,” according to Michelle Peters, director of Youth, Youth Adult and Campus Ministry for the archdiocese, “that encourages them to live their faith in everyday life.”

“It was really cool to see everybody in the auditorium,” Dowling said of his impression when he entered Friday night’s opening session with Popple, a two-man acoustic rock band comprised of Dan Harms and Kyle Heimann.

Popple has been touring the country sharing a ministry that combines fun-loving music, humor and passion for the faith since they formed at Purdue University in 2004.

“In our culture, music is everything,” Dowling said. “They showed how ‘God’s music’ can be awesome, too.”

“They were hilarious,” according to Noah Kline, 14, a ninth-grader from the youth group at St. John the Evangelist in Loveland. “With songs and funny jokes (they talked about) how God created all of us even if we’re different; how we’re each like a fingerprint, everyone is unique.”

This year’s Mountain Madness theme, Imago Dei (Image of God) based on 1 Corinthians 15:10 “But by the grace of God I am what I am, And his grace toward me was not in vain,” was designed to empower the youth to understand all human beings are created in God’s image. It was the first year a musical group has been featured as keynote speakers. Popple also gave a concert Saturday afternoon.

“They were really funny and great to be around,” Dowling said. “They talked about putting God above everything, and everything else below his feet. … The devil hints around that you can do all these things you’d like to do, you just need a little God.”

It’s a common message youth encounter in today’s society. Kids definitely feel the culture is trying to penetrate their souls with bad information, Dowling said, but he found support and fellowship at Mountain Madness, particularly during Saturday night’s eucharistic adoration.

At 9 p.m. following a day filled with talks, small group discussion, outdoor free time, a concert, and Mass celebrated by Father Jim Crisman, director of Priestly Vocations for the archdiocese; Father Randy Dollins, pastor of Our Lady of Peace in Silverthorne and St. Mary in Breckenridge; led the group in an adoration procession.

“Adoration was the most moving part,” Dowling said. “To see all the youth reaching out toward God when he passed by. It just hit me: How could all these rowdy middle-schoolers just calm down in that second? Jesus was in the room and he was working with us.”

“It was extraordinary,” Klein added.

Also new this year: the opportunity for confession. For the first time 20 priests from around the archdiocese traveled to the YMCA venue to make the sacrament of reconciliation available to the youth on Friday night.

“We were really excited to offer them reconciliation,” Peters said. “About 400 confessions were heard.”

To help the kids understand service work and share the social ministry of the Church, each was asked to bring a new pair of socks to donate to the Office of Hispanic Ministry’s annual underwear collection for migrant ministry. The goal was to collect undergarments, in particular socks, for seasonal, male migrant workers.

Mountain Madness has transformed over the years, beginning in the late 1990s in the Denver metro area. Originally it was a one-day rally for teens and tweens, organized by Blessed Sacrament and St. James’ parishes, followed up with a ski trip in the mountains the next day.

“It continued at the parishes for about three years,” Peters said. “After attendance grew to about 500-600, the archdiocese took over.”

In 2001, it moved to the YMCA of the Rockies where the students stay in dorms for two nights.

“The conference wasn’t named ‘Mountain Madness’ until the archdiocese took it over,” Peters said. “I’d say the title applies: it’s held in the mountains and when you have that many junior high students together, there can be a little madness—but all in a good way.”

The students agreed.

“It was an amazing experience, to be with God and be talking about who he is,” Klein said. “I will always remember how much fun it was.

“And the snowball fights!”

Mountain Madness 2014
Youth attending: 680
Chaperones attending: 120
Priests attending: 20
Confessions heard: 400

COMING UP: Did Christians ban the Games? Tales, myths and other fun facts about the ancient Olympics

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The 2020 Summer Olympics began less than a week ago, and as is usually the case, there’s been enough stunning athleticism, shocking upsets and yes, even a little bit of drama on display to keep the water cooler chatter abuzz until at least the 2022 games.

At their best, the Olympic games bridge cultural divides and unite countries around the world as the greatest living athletes around the globe compete for the coveted gold medal in their respective events. There’s a spirit of global camaraderie that welcomely comes about during every Olympiad; whether watching the Games at home with the family or going to a local bar to cheer on your favorite country, the Olympics bring people together in a way that most other sporting events do not.

Another astounding thing about the Olympics is how they’ve endured over the millennia. Indeed, they provide a special glimpse into the history of the world and those common qualities of humanity that will never die; namely, the need for both unitive, universal community and friendly but fierce competition.

The first recorded Olympic games took place in 776 B.C., though some historians speculate that they could have began as early as the 10th century B.C. The games were held every four years in Olympia to honor the greek god Zeus as one of four Panhellenic festivals, this one coinciding with the second full moon following the summer solstice, usually at the end of July or early August. The Olympics became so significant that the term Olympiad was used to mark a year the games took place, and became a common unit of historical time measurement.

Now, the ancient world wasn’t exactly known for its amicability or even peacefulness, as indicated by the countless wars and power usurpations that took place throughout its history. However, Olympic festivals were marked by a truce among the Greeks called ekecheiria, which roughly means “holding of hands.” This ensured safe travels for athletes and spectators as they made their way to the festival and was a common basis for peace among the Greeks. That the Olympic games could get even the constantly feuding Greeks to lay down their arms and come together in a spirit of solidarity speaks to their significance in ancient history.

Early Olympic events included the footrace, wrestling, the long jump, the javelin throw, the discus throw and boxing. Of course, it’s nigh impossible to read about the ancient Olympics and not come across epic tales of chariot racing, an event which was briefly banned early on but was reinstated by the first century B.C. and drew the interest of several key Roman figures (more on that later).

By the fifth century B.C., athletes from all over the Greek-speaking world came to Olympia for the games. The footrace, also called the Stade or Stadion, was considered the most prestigious event, and is where the english word “stadium” is derived from. Stade was a unit of measurement in ancient Greece which modern historians say is the rough equivalent to 600 feet or 200 yards, though the actual length has been a subject of debate for many years. Either way, it represents the length which runners in the Stadion ran to prove themselves as the fastest sprinters in the ancient world.

Interestingly, very little record about the Olympics games during the time of Christ exists. History tells us that the Roman emperor Tiberius, who was emperor during Christ’s life, won the chariot races during the 194th Olympiad in 4 B.C. In 17 A.D., the popular Roman general Germanicus, who was Tiberius’ adopted son and the future father of the third Roman Emperor Caligula, won the chariot races in 17 A.D., presumably around the time Christ was a teenager.

About those chariot races: they were known to attract elite political figures, some of whom won based on true skill, and others who only wanted the appearance of winning to further exert their power and status. During the 211th Olympiad, Emperor Nero, known for his fierce persecution of Christians and rather narcissistic personality, forcibly moved the Olympic games set to take place in 65 A.D. to 67 A.D. so he could compete while on a tour of Greece. He participated in the chariot races (with six more horses than the other competitors), and declared himself the greatest Olympic victor of all time, though historical eyewitness accounts tell a different story. Nero actually nearly died after a severe wreck, but Nero being Nero, he was still declared the winner.

Thankfully, Nero’s title as an Olympic victor and the Olympiad he “won,” which did not adhere to the established chronology of the games, were subsequently stricken from the official Olympic records after his death.

The Olympics grew over the course of 1,200 years until 393 A.D., when Emperor Theodosius I banned all Pagan festivals from the Roman emperor after Christianity became adopted as the state religion. Popular culture and history has long maintained this story of Christianity being to blame for the halt of the Olympic games. However, in recent years, some historians have disputed this account, saying that it was not for religious reasons but rather economic reasons that the games ended when they did. In fact, even after Theodosius’ death, there are still records of Olympic games taking place up until the fifth century. As the administration of Roman Empire evolved, the Olympics could no longer be sponsored by civil funds and instead became sponsored more and more by rich elites of the time. Simply put, the games became too expensive, and no one wanted to pay for them anymore.

The Olympics did not make a return for 1,500 years, until the Athens Olympics in 1896. Over the last 125 years since their reinstatement, the Games have become an integral piece of modern culture and a remnant of ancient history that was revived to great avail. As the Olympics in Tokyo continue over the next week and athletes compete for the gold, the words of St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians serve as a pertinent reminder of how the spirit of an Olympian imitates closely that of a Christian:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:24-27).

So let the Games continue! And may the race be run not for a perishable prize, but an imperishable one.

Featured photo: Met Museum, Terracotta Panathenaic prize amphora (jar), ca. 510 B.C. Attributed to the Leagros Group.