By Rich Reader with Fr. Jesse Esqueda, OMI
The youth at the Tijuana mission have just completed another biannual SEARCH retreat in June.
This may have been the most well attended to date with over 300 participants. Many of those who participated are youths that have attended a SEARCH retreat in the past, which qualifies them to serve in a retreat. As a server, they are part of a team: Drama, Animation, Kitchen, Palancas (sharing), Liturgy, Support (support staff), Coordination (support the directors), Direction (leaders).
According to Fr. Jesse Esqueda, OMI, Superior of the Tijuana Mission, “Search is our Oblate Youth Ministry in Tijuana. We have about 400 teens and young adults active in our Youth group due to this retreat ministry.
Every retreat has a two month process. The team of 200 members meet weekly for two months before the retreat. I attend these meetings and journey with them during this spiritual preparation. We celebrate many masses during the two month process.
In addition to the 200 members, over 100 teens and young adults are invited to the weekend retreat. These new candidates are also invited to join our youth programs after their weekend retreat. I am an active participant at the weekend retreat. I celebrate two masses and give two conferences. Fr. Lucio Castillo, OMI helps during the weekend retreat with the sacrament of confession and other activities.”
The program must remain fresh and unknown to new participants to achieve the greatest impact. Accordingly, no one is supposed to post pictures or divulge information about the specific content, which is why this article is generic. Judging by the very high rate of return-to-serve, the program connects with youths’ hearts and minds very effectively. There is always a theme and a slogan. This year’s slogan was “If you want to communicate with God, you don’t need Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, or a cell phone; all you need is to close your ears and open your heart.”
There is a high level of soul searching and opportunities to share, discuss, confess, praise, and ultimately deepen your faith and focus your direction. The number of servers is generally about equal to the number of participants and this is by design to maximize one-to-one opportunities and to seed each small group with youths that have made a decision for Christ. There are a few carefully selected speakers that deliver powerful personal testimonies of how they overcame and then came over. However, the pool of potential speakers is so rich it is hard to choose. One retreat you will be in the limelight and the next you will be learning how to serve not in the limelight (such an important lesson).
The amount of preparation is remarkable. During the weekly meetings; teams strategize and create; speakers are peer reviewed; leaders change to make room to develop new leaders; servers invite their friends to become participants; logistics for food, sleep, fun activities, and worship are carefully thought out. There is always a Eucharistic Adoration room open almost the whole weekend. Confessions are available. The drama skits hit the mark through humor and solid spiritual messages of encouragement, direction, and truth.
The new participants will partly come from the immediate area through the youth groups that are fostered at each chapel in the parish. However, the youth group reaches out to other parish youth groups by attending youth meetings at the deanery and diocesan level and participating in events like the 5000 youth Easter procession hosted by the bishop. The result is many youth from other parishes get to experience a retreat that will probably change their lives. The retreat is followed up with a Fourth Day event, wherein the participants are invited back a week or two later to share how they are doing with their new found truths and deepened convictions.
This retreat was the first for our four now resident immigrants from Central America. This observer can safely say that God must have had a hand in leading these four to this mission.