by Moira Cullings
WILLIAMSBURG – It only happens once.
First Communion is a special time for young Catholics — and the Prairie Star Ranch in Williamsburg doesn’t want the excitement surrounding the sacrament to fade easily.
Last April, the ranch launched its first Emmaus Eucharistic Wonder Retreat to help young Catholics understand the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
“We want to help them experience the joy of Eucharistic wonder at a young age so that the fulfillment that comes from meeting it fills their hearts early on,” said Gregory Wellnitz, director of Prairie Star.
Prairie Star will be offering its Emmaus Retreat throughout the coming school year for second, third and fourth graders – an experience designed to help them build a relationship with Christ in the Eucharist.
The road to Emmaus
Wellnitz believes a First Communion retreat can have a lasting impact on young people who have received or are preparing to receive the sacrament.
“We work knowing that about eighty-nine percent of Catholics who remain faithful to the church after college can identify a particular event or experience that triggered that commitment to faith,” he said. he declares.
“And we want to make sure these events and experiences are designed and available to all of our parishes and schools here at Prairie Star,” he added.
The idea for the “Emmaus” theme was initially drawn from the inspiration of Msgr. Thomas Reservoir.
“At the very beginning of the Prairie Star Ranch,” Wellnitz said, “Father Tom Tank had a desire to ensure that the programming and facilities had a Eucharistic orientation.
“The very first chapel here at Prairie Star was called the Emmaus Chapel.”
The name of the chapel, inspired by the encounter of the disciples with Christ on the road to Emmaus in the Gospel of Luke, corresponded to the purpose of the retreat.
To top it off, Wellnitz said, the moment of national eucharistic revival, which began last June, made the idea even more relevant.
Grace Malinee, Retreat Team Missionary at Prairie Star, was delighted to help write the program for the retreat.
“I reached out to friends of mine who are DREs or do religious training in different parishes for ideas,” she said.
The Prairie Star team also spoke with teachers who regularly prepare students for the sacrament.
Malinee said classroom preparation is key, but a day-long retreat in a different environment can offer even more.
“What we’re hoping for is giving them time to walk away and retreat from those minute details and practicalities,” she said, like picking out a first communion outfit.
“We really want them to know that the Eucharist is a person, and that person is Jesus, and Jesus desires to enter into a very deep friendship with you,” she continued.
This message is conveyed during the retreat in a way accessible to young minds through games, skits, contemplation and reflection.
Students also scour the ranch for icons of saints, which include letters from each saint about their relationship to Jesus.
They finally meet in the chapel for Eucharistic adoration.
“We have beautiful fabrics draping our altar,” Malinee said. “Children can walk towards these fabrics and hold them, as if they were touching Jesus’ coat.”
talk about the city
Ottawa’s Sacred Heart School was one of the first groups to participate in the Emmaus retreat in April.
Second-grade teacher Megan Staley said the retreat was beyond what she had planned for her students, who were preparing for First Communion.
“One of my children’s favorite things was when the team told the story of the road to Emmaus,” she says. “They had been talking about it for weeks.”
Staley’s class was especially touched by the Eucharistic adoration and the opportunity to touch the fabrics that draped from the altar.
“It helped make it real for my kids,” she said. “It was beautiful for me as a teacher to see my students really connect with Jesus in such a real and personal way.”
Paola’s Holy Trinity School was also among the first to participate in Emmaus, and principal Michelle Gavin was impressed.
“The students learn the basics in the classroom,” she said, “but the Emmaus retreat provided an amazing experience that brought their knowledge to life.”
The lasting impact was clear.
“The following week at Mass, Father Joe [Sellas] talked about one of the saints they met at the retreat,” Gavin said. “You should have seen their excitement as they smiled and pushed each other in recognition of the saint.
“When they left mass, they told everything to their classmates. It was beautiful.”