Dominican Youth Movement News
East Coast Regional Preaching Gathering
What to do? The National High School Preaching Conference once again had to be canceled. For the third consecutive year, students from our Dominican High Schools could not gather together to pray, study, form community, and prepare for mission. A new plan had to come forth.
So, along with the Dominican High Schools from the mid-west, west, and the south, our east coast schools planned a gathering of our high school preachers. Each region would decide when they would have their preaching workshop.
The East Coast came together for a weekend in late June, hosted by the Sisters of St. Dominic Amityville. Attending the workshop were students from Lacordaire Academy in Montclair, St. Dominic Academy in Jersey City, and Mount St. Dominic Academy in Caldwell. We wanted to include as many pieces of the National Conference as we could so the weekend was planned with that in mind.
The schools arrived at the retreat house we were staying by 11:00 am that Friday morning. After getting settled in their rooms and having some lunch we were ready to drive to Amityville for an afternoon of service. The students performed service on our Organic Farm. After an orientation with the Executive Director of the farm, they began the grueling work involved in farming. Not the glamorous work of planting, but the not so glamorous work of weed pulling. This is the work that all farmers have to do and the service that the farm needed the most help with. The students worked for about 2½ hours with the knowledge that their work would allow the crops to grow more abundantly and eventually feed more people. They were excited to help! After a tour of the building, which included the Old Chapel, the young preachers headed back to the retreat center to formally begin their weekend of study, prayer, and building of community!
The next morning we began with our study of the Dominican Saints. They were visited by both Mary Magdalene, the patroness of the Order, and St. Dominic himself. Both shared how their yearning to be in relationship with Christ and his people formed them into preachers of the Good News.
They learned about the four pillars of Dominican spirituality and the role those pillars play in the life of all Dominicans. They found that preaching through drama, enacting a scene from the Gospel of Matthew, was a powerful way to get the message of the Gospel to an audience.
Next, they were invited into the world of the Dominican Artists who preach to us by means of colored pencils, paints, photos, and other mediums. They became creators themselves by making reflective mandalas and drop paintings which they will use for prayer and meditation upon returning home.
Next, came the part of the weekend that the young preachers enjoy the most. They spent time with our sisters, sharing with them what they are presently doing and what their dreams are for the future. The sisters in turn shared their stories of life and ministry with them. Of course, they also shared some ice cream as well. The participants all said how they greatly appreciated their time spent with the sisters and how kind and welcoming they were.
Next, the preachers met our sister Flor who is native to El Salvador. Flor spoke to them, with the aid of a slide show, of the many projects that she is currently working on in El Salvador. In collaboration with the Salvadorian people, Flor has been instrumental in arranging for the building of a new chapel (the Church of St. Dominic). She has also helped bring a water system to two villages (the people had no water supply for drinking, cooking, farming, cleaning, etc.), create a camp and an after-school program for the young children of the village, and recently started another project to build houses for those in greatest need. I think the students were very moved by the pictures and S. Flor’s accomplishments for “the least of our brothers”. She is a powerful preacher of God’s love for the poorest among us.
The final presentation of the day was “Preaching through Sacred Movement”. Jessica Abejar demonstrated to the students how she “preaches” through the use of her body through liturgical dance. She then invited the students to experiment themselves with sacred movement by letting themselves feel the energy and power of the Spirit within them. They were then invited to use their newly-acquired awareness to practice a Sacred Movement that they would teach the sisters at the closing mass.
After eating some dinner they returned to the retreat center to prepare for the closing liturgy. The young preachers were excited that they would be able to use their “preaching skills” at the closing mass by being readers of the scripture, readers of the intercessions, and leaders of dance with the congregation. One of the young preachers also prepared to do a reflection on the Gospel during the mass. After finishing our preparations for the mass the next morning we concluded the evening with a commissioning ceremony for our “newest” Dominican preachers. Each student was given a certificate of participation and sent forth to “Preach the Good News using the Pulpit of your lives.”
The weekend was a tremendous success! The young preachers learned a great deal about the Dominican Order, its charism, and the people that make up the Order. Each group, as a result of their participation in this Dominican Preaching Workshop, was asked to present an action plan that they will work on in the upcoming year. What did they learn that they would like to bring back and share with their school community?
One of the wonderful things that happened during this gathering was that the students realized that they are sister Dominican schools and that they should gather more frequently together and collaborate on Dominican projects such as service and prayer opportunities. This was one of the goals of the committee in planning the workshop and all involved saw this as a positive step for uniting our Dominican high schools regionally.