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April 9, 2017 edition (abridged)

Gunnar Richardson, a St. Michael the Archangel of Schererville parishioner, closes his eyes as he is prayed over by TAPT retreat director Kevin Driscoll, coordinator of the diocese's Office of Youth and Young Adult ministry, during the peer ministry commissioning ceremony in the club house at Camp Lawrence near Valparaiso on April 1. TAPT alumni who return to the teen retreat can serve as peer ministers to lead group discussions, or OATies, who help pray for participants as well as complete cooking and cleaning duties. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)

TAPT veterans happily return to share their faith with their peers
by Marlene A. Zloza

VALPARAISO – For Brittany Williams, a senior at Portage High School, serving as a peer minister at the annual TAPT retreat for teens is a way to give back and say thanks.

“If (my TAPT leaders) hadn’t fostered me, I wouldn’t be where I am,” the 18-year-old parishioner of Our Lady of Sorrows in Valparaiso said during a recreation break at this year’s three-day retreat at Camp Lawrence. “My faith gets me through everything that happens in my life, and I hope to do for (these TAPTsters) what was done for me.”

High school students can attend TAPT just once, but can apply during the remainder of their high school years to serve as peer ministers and Our Auxiliary TAPT staffers, known as OATies. “In 2017, it’s hard for a teenager to commit to a three-day Catholic youth retreat, and we struggle to get them to come, but we never struggle to get them to come back to serve,” said Kevin Driscoll, coordinator of the Office of Youth and Young Adults for the Diocese of Gary.

“That tells us that once a teen experiences a retreat like this, they encounter Christ and want to continue that journey through prayer and service.”

While 55 youth attended the March 31-April 2 weekend filled with talks, discussion, prayer, reconciliation, the Holy Eucharist, activities, meals, music and fun, more than 100 participated, including 10 peer ministers, 8 OATies and the adult leadership team.

Peer ministers lead retreat activities, facilitate small group discussions, supervise dorm life and serve as role models, while OATies work behind the scenes, setting up and cleaning, assisting with meal prep, serving meals, and engaging in meaningful prayer for retreat participants and leaders.

Gina Santaquilani, a St. Mary of Crown Point parishioner and TAPT retreat peer minister gives her personal testimony of redicovering faith titled, "Choosing a Path" in the club house at Camp Lawrence near Valparaiso on April 1.(Anthony D. Alonzo photo)

Anastasia Watroba, 18, a peer minister from Crown Point High School and a member of St. Michael parish in Schererville, said an inspiring Reconciliation Talk by a peer minister last year, “and the strength of all the people saying they were praying for me, enabled me to confess something I had held in for years, and it was life-changing. It changed my relationship with my family, opened me up to them.

“I had been very hesitant to let people know about my faith, but you have to let them know. It opens you up as a person, lets you be who you are, no matter who you are.”

Mark Villanueva, 16, a sophomore at Lake Central High School and parishioner at St. Michael in Schererville, was happy to serve as an OATie after attending TAPT last year. “I’m looking forward to serving the Agape Dinner, where we set up like a restaurant, with candles on the table, and show our love and caring for the TAPTsters before reconciliation,” said Villanueva, whose own TAPT experience led him to “get more involved in my parish, go to Mass more, set an example, be the first to volunteer, comfort someone, lead the way.”

Becca Yagelski, a Crown Point High School sophomore from Holy Spirit parish in Winfield, agreed that service is the high point of being an OATie. “Between preparing breakfast and lunch, we cut out letters to make our banner that is our little gift to show the TAPTsters how much we care for them and are praying all weekend for them,” she explained.

This year’s banner featured Lamentations 3, 21-23: “Therefore I will hope the Lord’s acts of mercy are not exhausted, his compassion is not spent. They are renewed each morning - great is your faithfulness!” The background showed the vastness of the galaxy “to show that God’s mercy is never-ending; we don’t even know how big it is,” Yagelski said.

“It is like a window opens and there’s clarity," added Yagelski about TAPT. I see things in a better way, at school, church and with my family. I am more accepting of different things, happier, more joyful.”

Just halfway through TAPT, participant Sam Combs, 17, a Gavit High School junior and member of St. John Bosco in Hammond, was glad he came. “It’s a very emotionally moving weekend, not all about Jesus, but also about getting to know yourself and getting to know everyone else. You get in touch with your faith. . .and I’m realizing that I need to change to become a better person. . .view things in a more positive way.”

Peer Minister Coordinator Jesse Guadiana, a St. John Bosco parishioner from Hammond, said training the teen leaders at three Sunday planning sessions is about teaching them about being “on the other side of the table now. . .more responsible. . .and knowing when to be wacky and when to be serious.”

Guadiana said his son David, an IU junior, lived in a dorm for two years “and couldn’t remember the last name of a single dorm mate, but knew both his peer minister’s and adult leader’s names even after four years. That’s the kind of influence they have.”

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Story and photos reprinted courtesy of the Northwest Indiana Catholic newspaper.


Newly-commisioned TAPT peeer ministers hold hands as they make the traditional walk up the hill from the club house to the cabins at Camp Lawrence near Valparaiso on April 1. TAPT alumni who return to the teen retreat can serve as peer ministers to lead group discussions, or OATies, who help pray for participants as well as complete cooking and cleaning duties. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)