By: Edwin Ortiz
Director of Campus Ministry
Why am I here? What am I bringing with me on this journey? What do I want to take from this journey?
These are the questions I ask our seniors to ponder as they embark on the Emmaus retreat. Named for the New Testament town journeyed to by two of Jesus’ disciples after his death and resurrection, Emmaus serves as a spiritual, formative retreat for Regis seniors. A more challenging, intensive experience than the Quest retreat of their sophomore year, Emmaus is a time of discernment, calling students to reflect on their own journeys through their 4 years at Regis and the new journeys they will make after graduation.
Before the start of the 2020-21 academic year, Regis had successfully led seniors through 117 Emmaus retreats, travelling with them to a retreat house for three days to grow in faith, hope, and love for one another. But as this year approached, we clearly understood two things: Emmaus retreats would have to be quite different because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and our work must not become hindered in creating opportunities for students to explore and deepen their spirituality.
Regardless of whether the departure students make for retreats is physical or virtual, it is my aim as Regis’ Director of Campus Ministry to give Regians an outlet to imaginatively exit their every day. With the normal stresses of high school only being compounded by a global pandemic and incidents of racial injustice, students need and deserve the time to step back, to look inside themselves, and to consider the world and their place in it.
Now more than ever, Regis students need to come together to experience community, but unprecedented times like these call for creative problem solving to produce safe, yet valuable, faith experiences for them. When I began to brainstorm what a virtual retreat would look like for students, there were clear limitations and circumstances that needed to be considered. Rather obviously, meeting with peers over Zoom is not the same experience as traveling away with them to a retreat house for three days. It was clear that outside distractions would inevitably arise, and even though we couldn’t control for technical difficulties, ambulance sirens, or our family pets, I still wanted to keep retreat participants engaged as much as possible, and make the virtual experience feel as close to our in-person retreats as possible.
Emmaus CXVIII this September became our litmus test for virtual retreats. To best work with our seniors on such an important period in their development as young men, I designed an experience that I hoped would meet them where they were, and allow them to grow with their brothers before their formal time at Regis comes to a close. Along with standard retreat programming, I designated ample unstructured periods to limit students’ screen time and encourage them to spend time with their families and friends. I was also intentional in splitting seniors up in pairs or small groups during more serious conversations and reflections. The smaller settings were meant to create a setting for students to share things they might not be comfortable sharing in a larger group, allowing them to talk more candidly about what was on their minds.
Holding our retreats virtually has certainly not been an easy task, and while there are still many hurdles we need to jump through, I can see our students making the most of these circumstances and immersing themselves fully in their faith. Regians are leaders, listeners, and learners, and though we are physically distant, that has not stopped them from being spiritually connected with each other and with God. Just as Jesus’ disciples walked together on the road to Emmaus, one never travels alone in their journey through life, and though we cannot take those journeys in person at the moment, we will continue to find significant growth virtually, discovering ourselves and the kinds of men we want to become.