First bilingual youth retreat draws high praise

Deacon Frank Moreno of Grand Island, Nebraska, speaks to a packed house at the first-ever Cathedral of St. Peter bilingual youth retreat on March 24. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JOE MCSORLEY

by Olivia Martin
olivia.martin@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Te gustaría go on retreat en Spanglish?

Some 75 students from grades 7-12 did at the first-ever Cathedral of St. Peter bilingual youth retreat on March 24 in Kansas City, Kansas.

The day was packed, with praise and worship, Mass, eucharistic adoration, confession and engaging speeches from speakers Sister Vicki Lichtenauer, SCL, of Leavenworth and Deacon Frank Moreno of Grand Island, Nebraska.

Martha Ramirez, the director of religious education at the cathedral, saw the retreat as an opportunity for the youth to open themselves to Christ and others.

“I think it’s beautiful learning together about each other and keeping God in the center,” she said. “Making things bilingual and bicultural helps us to learn, helps us to understand, makes it inclusive and helps build our community up.”

Having grown up bilingual and bicultural in the United States with Mexican parents, Ramirez understands from experience the tension that comes with belonging to two cultures that can sometimes oppose each other.

She wanted to draw on her experience and love of God to share Christ’s welcoming embrace with others.

“I want to build a bridge in communication. And once that bridge is built, [I want] people to actually be able to walk across it,” said Ramirez.

“It is important because it’s the reality,” she added. “It’s the reality of our city. It’s the reality of our community.”

Deacon Moreno also comes from a bilingual and bicultural background. Born in Texas, Deacon Moreno grew up speaking Spanglish — a mix of Spanish and English — and finds that in presenting in Spanglish, he’s able to better connect with the youth.

“For a lot of kids nowadays, that’s the way they speak — that’s the way they’re talking,” he said.

“I think it helps having teenage daughters at home!” he added.

Val Lobatos, a junior at Bishop Miege High School in Roeland Park, attended the retreat and was also part of the organizational team.

“I have worked on retreats, but this was our first retreat like this at the cathedral,” he said.

His fellow retreatants, he said, seemed to love both the talks and the opportunity to go to confession.

“I learned that God can provide all the resources we need to draw close to him,” said Lobatos, “but we are the ones who have to be willing to [respond to] that encounter.”

The team of 10 parishioners not only ran the retreat, but spent months in preparation by meeting and praying together.

“We dedicated ourselves to a daily prayer created for our retreat,” said Ramirez. “We intentionally gave up one hour in the evening of cellphone time [each day] as a sacrifice or ‘palanca’ — Spanish for ‘lever’ — to lift us up to Christ.”

Speaking of his own preparation for the retreat, Deacon Moreno said that he prepares his talks half in English and half in Spanish, then hardly looks at it again.

“Most of my preparation is prayer and Eucharist,” he said.

“I want everything I do and that I talk about — if I make [the kids] laugh or cry — to show that it’s Jesus that did something,” continued Deacon Moreno. “I didn’t do anything.”

Quite noticeable during the retreat was the change in the retreatants throughout the course of the day.

“At the beginning, they were very closed-minded,” said Deacon Moreno. “From the beginning to the end, you could see a change.”

Ramirez noticed the change as well.

“To see them transform their body language and silence from cold and reserved to opening their hearts and allowing the Holy Spirit to move them was amazing,” she said. “That was evident when they were kneeling at the cross, eyes closed, arms opened.”

Such a change in the vitality of the youth at the retreat filled Lobatos with hope that Christ will continue his work in all who attended.

“I hope the kids that attended the retreat opened their hearts to the Lord,” said Lobatos, “and let the talks and witnesses impact and touch them in a new and profound way.”

“We definitely feel God’s hand was in everything from the beginning,” said Ramirez, “and we are overwhelmed by the response.

“It couldn’t have been more perfect.”

For more information about upcoming youth retreats and events, send an email to Martha Ramirez at: mramirez@cathedralkck.org.

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