by Peter Harb
The 2018 Maronite Youth Organization (MYO) Retreat took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from June 26 until July 1, 2018. We were graciously hosted by Fr. Vincent Farhat and Saint Maron Church in Philadelphia, and were blessed with beautiful weather, amazing people, and an exciting schedule full of wonderful events. Over 275 youth, advisors, and clergy were welcomed from all over the United States for this intimate and prayerful week. Fr. Gary George, the director of the MYO for the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon and Sr. Therese Maria Touma, the director of the MYO for the Eparchy of Saint Maron, along with the leadership team and advisors, were essential in preparing and executing the retreat. The presence of our clergy, included Fr. Rudolph Wakim, Fr. Aaron Sandbothe, Fr. Pierre Khoury, Fr. Vincent Farhat, Fr. Joseph Daiif, Fr. Kamil Al Chouefati, Fr. David Fisher, and Fr. Gary George. We were especially grateful for the presence of both Bishop Elias Zaidan of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles and Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn throughout the week.
The theme for this year’s retreat was ‘United We Stand, Divided We Fall.’ This theme is especially meaningful in today’s day and age, with society tearing our youth apart through negativity and hate that has stemmed from recent events. The goal this year was to unite our group more than ever and to give them the tools necessary to overcome these challenges that they will face. Our theme song, “Bleed the Same” by Mandisa vividly expressed how we are all human beings, made in God’s image and likeness, and always loved by Him. It is so important that are youth know that they have a voice in this world, that they matter to so many people, and that they are so important. The theme of unity was further discussed through breakout sessions on topics such as social media, bullying, social justice, and self-worth.
Our excursions this year included a trip to the Shrine of Saint John Neumann, where we celebrated a mass with Bishop Gregory, along with a trip to the Rocky Steps and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where we had the opportunity to see the Liberty Bell. The theme of our MYO Competitions this year was the MYO World Cup, and as such we had our youth split into teams 15 different countries, and participate in team building activities together. Our MYO’s Got Talent Segment was a huge hit as always, with the MYO showing off their wide variety of skills and God given talents to their peers. During our masses every day of the retreat, the youth took part in presenting the gifts, offering intercessions, and distributing peace. The choir sang their hearts out beautifully, praising the Lord through their wonderful voices. However, the amazing power of the Holy Spirit was especially present at Saint Maron Church and at Saint Joseph University, where most of the retreat took place. The mission services included reflections, praise and worship, and confession, along with adoration. The youth bonded so much during these times, discovering so much about themselves, and praying from their hearts not only for their own intentions, but also for the intentions of the entire MYO, for all those who were hurting. The love, passion, and zeal in the room during these powerful, moving services is beyond words. The Maronite youth in this country are so intelligent, faithful, and loving, and we should be so proud that they are the present and the future of our Church. The retreat was than concluded with our Hafli and awards ceremony, where team Argentina won the World Cup Competition. The winners of the talent show competition were as follows:
1st Place: Joseph and Leo Kubelka- Tap Dancing (Austin, TX)
2nd Place: Amanda Semaan & Amy Sahlani- Singing Breaking Free (Cleveland, OH)
3rd Place: San Francisco Dabke Group (San Fransisco, CA),
and Honorable Mention: Alan Soueidi- Playing Fortnite (Cleveland, OH).
The youth then celebrated a fulfilling week by dancing, singing, and celebrating the end to an amazing week together.
We are so grateful for the youth, advisors, clergy, and organizers for being a part of this year’s retreat, and that the youth answered yes to the call to grow closer to Christ and to each other. We look forward to welcoming everyone to the regional retreats in the next few months, and the next national retreat in the Summer! (Location&Dates TBA)
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