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May 23, 2016 | Volume 91 Number 15

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photo: Boy Scouts who completed the St. George Trek in the mountains of New Mexico gather for a photo.

Boy Scouts who completed the St. George Trek in the mountains of New Mexico gather for a photo.

Scouting and the St. George Trek

I met Father David Friel last summer when I had the great privilege to be a member of the 2015 St. George Trek, a Catholic leadership program sponsored by The National Catholic Committee on Scouting and is geared towards vocational discernment.

The Trek brings together youth, seminarians and priests from all over the country to hike, meditate and enjoy the beauty of Philmont Scout Ranch in northeast New Mexico.

Philmont is a National High Adventure Base of the Boy Scouts of America and the largest youth camp in the world at 212 square miles. This trek appealed to me because of the opportunity to further develop my leadership skills, discern my vocation, and build relationships with like-minded youth and religious from all over the country.

I applied for the St. George Trek in October 2014, emphasizing my commitment to my Boy Scout Troop (800 of Chesapeake) and my church: altar server and eucharistic minister at Holy Trinity Parish in Norfolk and Our Lady Of Victory, with the Archdiocese of Military Services, also in Norfolk.

Our assembly location was at a diocesan retreat house, the Madonna Center, in Albuquerque. Our group consisted of about 80 male and female scouts, seven seminarians, nine priests and two nuns.

We spent the next day getting to know each other better, taking refresher courses on how to use our crew gear, religious formation and celebration of Mass. Our three-hour bus ride to Philmont included praying the Rosary along with chatting while enjoying the distinctive scenery.

Upon arrival at Philmont we spent the rest of the day busily preparing and staging gear. That evening about 400 people who were to begin the hike attended an opening campfire where the staff formally welcomed us with skits and taught us Philmont history. The staff also presented an American flag to each crew leader to wear on our pack, making us easily identifiable. It was a moving ceremony and a great official start to our first day on the trail.

We woke up at five o’clock the third morning to celebrate Mass in front of what is considered to be the most beautiful sunrise location at Philmont at Sawmill camp. After Mass, we hiked about six miles to Cyphers Mine. A tour of the mine followed. The mineshaft was cold and incredibly dark and the tour was fascinating. It had been a real working gold mine in the 19th century.

On day five we celebrated Mass then continued up to Cimarroncito where all eight St. George Trek crews converged for a layover day. Cimarroncito is a large rock climbing camp where we would be spending that day and the next. To kick off our time together we all went to Confession and Adoration.

After rock climbing in the morning, we hiked a couple of miles to Window Rock, finding spectacular views of the valley. I recognized that we had reached the storming phase as a team, so we discussed crew dynamics and soon were able to progress to the norming stage.

That afternoon, all of the St. George Trek crews again converged at Cimarroncito for Mass and the priests and nuns from our treks gave talks. They gave valuable insight into their calling to the religious life, the duties of being a priest and how they determined their vocations. The night ended with Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction while we focused on discerning our personal vocations.

A few miles down the trail on the next day, my crew and I horseback rode across miles of Philmont terrain, allowing us to see many of the unseen highlights of Philmont streams and valleys.

Early the next day, I woke my crew up to get a head start on our hike for the day to Black Mountain. This proved to be our most challenging summit but the camaraderie took our minds off of it. We arrived at the summit around lunchtime after a five-mile hike that included a 2,000-foot elevation change and celebrated Mass at 10,889 feet. The difficult hike was worth the view but we descended quickly seeing impending thunderstorms. Though we arrived at Black Mountain Camp in the rain, our spirits were not dampened. We enjoyed a game of bandiballa, a rather wild version of baseball, common only to Philmont and made another, more-improved spoon at their blacksmithing forge.

On day nine, our last full day of hiking, my crew and I were able to feel pride in our accomplishments, as our trek was about to conclude.

We enjoyed the view at an overlook called Lovers Leap and then hiked up to camp and turned in early. Rising at two o’clock in the morning, we hiked up the steep incline to the Tooth of Time and arrived in time to celebrate Mass while the sun rose at this prominent Philmont landmark. All our prayers for a successful and inspiring trek had been answered and the wonder of God’s creation lay before us. We could see 50 miles in every direction and even detected the curvature of the earth.

Finally our trek was over and our team dissolved but the lessons learned and friendships still last.

In the secluded environment of Philmont the objectives of the St. George Trek come clearly into focus. Over ten days in the backcountry, my crew of 12 hiked just under 50 miles and summited three mountains.

As a vocational discernment opportunity, the experience of being surrounded by priests, seminarians and nuns was the most valuable part of the trek. Their experiences as youths were similar to ours, though we often forget that, and their insight into discernment was invaluable. I continue to enjoy Fr. David’s mentorship and friendship. The St. George Trek is a phenomenal program.

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