by Olivia Martin
WILLIAMSBURG — Three years is a long time.
A child learns to speak, educational degrees are undertaken and completed, and the blue moon comes and goes.
But in some places in Brazil, people wait for three years to go on the Rescue Me retreat of the Fraternity of the Poor of Jesus Christ.
That’s right — three years.
“Rescue Me is very intense,” said Sister Mariana, PJC. “It’s a retreat on how you miss God in your life and how he invites you to an encounter with him.”
And on Aug. 18-19, the fraternity held the first-ever Rescue Me retreat in the United States at Prairie Star Ranch in Williamsburg.
Held in Spanish, the retreat is specially designed for youth struggling with drugs and alcohol and marks a new era in the fraternity’s life in the United States.
In the dark
The Sisters and Brothers take the Rescue Me experience very seriously.
Like with many other retreats, they don’t want anyone to know what happens until they live it.
This presented a special difficulty for their first Rescue Me here, as laypeople were in charge of giving talks, performing in skits and praying for the retreatants.
“It’s a good challenge,” said Sister Miracles, PJC. “If you think about it, it’s like a mother preparing others for the birth of her child. She says, ‘Even though we cannot see the face of the baby yet, we can feel the heartbeat.’
“It’s very exciting seeing our first baby being born!”
In anticipation of Rescue Me, the Sisters and Brothers have felt blinded themselves.
“As this is the first time we’ve done this in the United States,” said Brother Israel, PJC, “we don’t know how it’s going to go, how the American people are going to receive this encounter.”
“We hope it’s not too shocking,” Sister Mariana added.
“The majority of young Hispanics were born in the States and have the American mentality more than their parents,” said Brother Mateo, PJC, “so there is a cultural difference even within the family.”
Often confronted with the difficulties of moving to a new country, pressure to speak both English and Spanish and frequent translation responsibilities, Hispanic youth feel the weight of their circumstances.
“One of the most impactful things I’ve seen in the short time I’ve lived here,” said Brother Mateo, “is that there is a kind of depression in the Hispanic youth.”
“We want to help them see that they can be healthy and happy with God,” added Sister Rahamin, PJC.
“And our next goal,” said Brother Mateo, “will be to do Rescue Me in English.”
How it all started
Years ago in Brazil, newly ordained Father Gilson Sobriero attended a retreat for young drug and alcohol addicts.
He was struck by the conversations he witnessed among the youth. At the beginning, they only spoke of the bad things they had done and seen.
“But toward the end,” said Sister Miracles, “the subject changed.”
They were talking about God in their lives and asking, “Now what?”
In response to their question, Father Sobriero co-founded the Fraternity the Poor of Jesus Christ in 2001.
“As we work in the streets,” said Sister Mariana, “we call the people to this retreat. It is a place where we can invite them to know God personally.”
“Today in Brazil and other countries that have Rescue Me,” said Sister Miracles, “we have about 10,000 young people engaged in our community.”
After the retreat, retreatants are accompanied by the fraternity through various formation and catechesis. They meet twice a month for lessons on church texts that are readily applicable to their lives.
“It’s so important for us to devote ourselves to this generation,” said Sister Miracles, “we know the struggles they face because we are in the same generation.”
With rates of suicidal thoughts, depression and loneliness in youths at an all-time high, the fraternity presents Rescue Me in response.
“Our community wants to propose that we are not alone,” said Sister Miracles, “and you have someone here you can trust and share.”
“In Brazil, we say the high is crazy,” said Sister Mariana. “It’s the craziest high we can ever get because we are overwhelmed by the love of God on this retreat.”
Ric McDonald met members of the fraternity a few years ago around Thanksgiving.
“As soon as I met the Sisters and friars, I instantly fell in love,” he said.
Occasionally helping with the Sisters’ street ministry and food pantry, McDonald found himself becoming more involved in their community.
“I had a substance abuse problem when I started coming to see the Sisters,” he said. “But over the last three and a half years, they have helped me truly find recovery and find a church and God.”
McDonald converted to Catholicism and is now a parishioner of Queen of the Holy Rosary in Overland Park.
He has been a lay missionary with the fraternity ever since.
And in February, he went to Brazil for three months to visit the origins of the fraternity, where he attended his first Rescue Me retreat
“[It] was the most amazing, powerful, perfect thing I’ve ever seen,” he said.
“It wasn’t just a weekend,” he continued. “Three months later, these people’s lives were still changed, and they were still with the community.
“It changed lives.”