NEWTON The soft notes of “Canon in D” by Pachelbel float up from an upright piano that sits in the corner of the recreation room at Sacred Heart Spirituality Center here. The mood changes, as 16-year-old Aldo Bangiola of Assumption Parish, Morristown, switches to playing the bouncy standard “Heart and Soul,” rocking the jaunty bass line with his left hand. J.C. Castillo, also 16, of St. Anthony Parish, Passaic, sits next to him, following along.
Bangiola and Castillo take a break filled with music, during the Diocese’s annual Quo Vadis Discernment Days Retreat from July 8-10, which was filled to capacity. There, they joined 28 other local Catholic young men, from ages 15 to 25, who put their hearts and souls into asking God and themselves the question “Where am going with my life?” The diocesan Vocations Office organized the retreat, where participants explored God’s call — as a priest, religious, married person or single person — during a busy schedule of activities, which included daily Mass, prayer, talks on vocations and the priesthood by clergy and seminarians, a visit with Bishop Serratelli and time for fellowship and quiet reflection.
“At first, I wasn’t super excited about coming to Quo Vadis. The priesthood is not my vocation. I think that my talents could be better used elsewhere. But now that I’m here, I’m glad that I came,” said Bangiola, an usher and so-to-be lector at Assumption, who comes from a family that is active at their parish. He attended the retreat at the invitation of Msgr. John Hart, the pastor, who has told him that he would make a good priest. “This retreat has given me time to reflect on my relationship with God, especially in the summer, when it’s so busy and you don’t have time to sit down. Even though I don’t want to be a priest, I still want to give my life to God. It’s also good to be with a group of young men, who have the same faith as you and are not apologetic about it,” he said.
These young men of faith explored the theme of this year’s Quo Vadis, “Men of Truth,” by listening to a series of talks by a few members of the retreat team, which consisted of 14 priests and seminarians. Topics included: “Does Truth Exist?,” “What Is Truth?,” “Modern Men of Truth” and “Men of Integrity.” After each presentation, retreatants divided into small groups to discuss the topics, said Father Jared Brogan, administrator of St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Mountain Lakes, and assistant diocesan vocations director, who organized the retreat.
The young men at Quo Vadis — Latin for “Where are you going?” — discerned, while praying alone and by participating in Mass, Adoration, Liturgy of the Hours, the rosary and Reconciliation. On Thursday night, Bishop Serratelli visited the spirituality center — operated by the Salesian Sisters — to celebrate Mass, share dinner with them and then answer any of their questions about vocations in a special session.
During the retreat, participants also got time to socialize, often sparking friendly competition, and took in the bucolic beauty of the woodlands that surround the spirituality center. They hiked; played sports, such as soccer, basketball and volleyball; and enjoyed playing music on piano, organ, guitar and violin. All the while, they engaged in enlightening conversations. One night, the Knights of Columbus of St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish, Sparta, hosted a cookout for participants.
“Attendance for this year’s Quo Vadis filled every opening we had, thanks to the Holy Spirit and our pastors, who have been supportive in identifying young men [to attend the overnight retreat], said Father Brogan. He noted that Quo Vadis already has borne fruit within the Diocese with five seminarians currently studying for priesthood, who previously attended the retreat, and two men on retreat this summer, who will enter seminary in the fall. “The retreat experience helps these young men recognize God’s presence in their lives and their call — a pull in the direction of marriage or the priesthood. This is a spiritual experience that will help them become the best Catholic men possible,” he said.
Another retreatant, 16-year-old Jesse Hilario of St. Philip the Apostle Parish, Clifton, was formed in the faith by his parents, Mayra and Raul, who take him and his six siblings to Mass weekly and lead them in saying the rosary and praying before meals. He previously was an altar server at St. Philip’s.
“I feel that I’m being called to the priesthood. I’ve been asking a lot of questions. The people here have answered most of them. The retreat has helped clear up any doubts. I’ve been talking to members of the retreat team, who have been kind and open and have so many different stories and personalities,” Hilario said. “This has been a great experience that has enabled me to get closer to Jesus, which every person needs. My relationship with him has gotten twice as good as it was before,” he said
Early in the retreat, Luke Agnew, a first-year theology student at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., sought to help deepen the faith of retreatants by giving a talk that explored the question, “Does Truth Exist?” The 29-year-old parishioner of St. Michael’s, Netcong, converted to Catholicism from the Dutch Reformed Church when he was 20 while studying for a bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Penn State University in State College, Pa.
“The source of truth is God, the source of all creation, and comes to us through the incarnate word of Jesus Christ. Jesus referred to himself as ‘The Way, the Truth and the Life.’ By knowing Jesus and his Church, you know the truth. Knowing the truth can lead you to a vocation — God’s truth,” said Agnew, who discerned his vocation, in part, by asking: “Lord, help me to want what you want for me.” He was accepted as a diocesan seminarian last year. “This retreat benefited the priests and seminarians here, because we can get together in a time of fraternity. We also get to know the young men and share life with them. They are seeking direction in their lives and we are helping form and guide them,” he said
[Information about vocations in the Paterson Diocese: the Vocations Office (973) 777-8818, ext. 711 or www.welcomehometohealing.org.